by Lizzie Leopold
Balance seems like a potent metaphor for running a dance company. High on releve, eyes fixed on one still point, center held tight, arms strong, shoulders relaxed and just a little bit of luck…
Whether you are a one-man-show, wearing all the hats yourself, or an organization with a hundred employees, the balance of the artistic and administrative branches is a significant challenge. The priority to make new, exciting dances and the priority to run a solvent, growing business continually compete for top billing.
One of my favorite explanations of this divide comes from twentieth century German-born philosopher Theodor Adorno. He calls it culture vs. administration. Culture, the artistic branch, is the reflection of pure humanity without any regard for its functional relationships within society. It is defined by a spontaneity and is not concerned with expansion or preservation. One the other end, Adorno’s administration is the task done “looking down from on high,” that assembles, distributes, evaluates and organizes. Administration has the unavoidable tendency towards expansion, both quantitatively and qualitatively. These categories slip seamlessly and eerily onto the mold of the not-for-profit dance company.
The two branches are both completely opposed and yet completely dependent on one another. The challenge from the outset is a precarious balancing of artistic vision and commerce, a dance between art and money carefully choreographed by the artist and facilitated by the board of directors and administrative team.
From where I sit, the intent from both sides is not only harmless, it is honorable. The artistic side is brought into the world to create spontaneity and remind us that there are things beyond ourselves and our needs. This is what drew me to dance and to making dances in the first place – to fill the world with beautiful new ideas, expressed through moving, breathing, sweating bodies. The endless possibilities for understanding ourselves and the world around us are what keep me coming back.
On the other hand, administration works to help disseminate these artworks to the masses. They fill the seats so we can share what we do. When put so simply, the two certainly appear to be working in tandem. But somewhere in the single mindedness of both goals, their paths diverge and begin to run perpendicular. New choreographic risks are traded for safer re-stagings of older works and budgets begin to determine artistic output.
Admittedly, I am pessimist about the possibility of a happy marriage between artistry and business. I know it can happen and has happened. I just get very nervous about the process of turning a dance work into a commodity. (Although I know it is naive to think that ticket sales and money haven’t always effect the dance itself.)
This is why I am the artist and not the administrator. I should go back to my dug out and continue to push boundaries on the stage and allow the professionals on the other team to push right back at me. We need each other, even if we don’t always like each other.
In dance class, opposition is the key to success. Your head reaches up as you plie downward. Arabesque reaches equally and simultaneously through the toes backwards and through the finger tips in front of you. These internal struggles create space for line and expression and allow us to see the dance more clearly. So maybe I should trust the struggle. I will make the dances and feel the pull to be more accessible artistically and financially. Sometimes I will win and sometimes I will plain old fall out of the pirouette in one direction or another. But once in every blue moon there will be that perfect balance – center held tight, arms strong, shoulders relaxed and just a little bit of luck…
Contributor Lizzie Leopold is a dancer, dance maker and dance scholar. She holds a BFA in dance from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Performance Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, with thesis work titled Choreography and Commerce: Tracking the Business of Dance Through the Rite(s) of Spring . In fall 2011 she will begin work on an Interdisciplinary PhD in Theater and Drama Studies at Northwestern University, continuing to focus on the intersection of dance and business, both historically and theoretically. Her writing has been presented at the Congress on Research in Dance 2011 Special Topics Conference, Dance and American Studies, and the Cultural Studies Association Conference 2011. She is also a contributor to the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University blog writing about their dance performance series.
Lizzie is the founder and Artistic Director for the Leopold Group, a Chicago based not-for-profit modern dance company. She was awarded Best Choreography for Green Eyes, a new kind of musical in the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival and has been in residence at the Workspace for Choreographers’ Artists Retreat in Sperryville, Virigina and at the Chicago Cultural Center through DanceBridge. In addition to choreographing, Leopold has danced with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She also works for Audience Architects (www.audiencearchitects.com, www.seechicagodance.com) , a service organization working to build audiences for dance in Chicago, and is working to launch the New Books Network Dance Channel podcast. She currently serves on the Alumni Board of Governors at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance.