by Lauren Warnecke
Getting people to come to dance shows is hard, but getting friends and colleagues to come to a Works In Progress showing (WIP) is even harder. With dance happening virtually every day of the week in my home city of Chicago, why would I want to go see a work that’s in progress when I could spend my night out watching something that’s “finished” (1)?
Choreography can at times be an insular art form. Though you are working with other dancers and collaborators, it can be difficult to find the time and resources to get others to give you feedback. But ultimately, dance is as much about what the outside viewer witnesses as it is about you and your vision. Ergo, from time to time throughout the development phase of a piece it’s nice (if not critical) to bring in some of those outside eyes to tell you what they are seeing. That way, you can either ensure that your message is being clearly communicated – OR – a viewer could throw a wrench in and discover a hidden jewel in the work that you never considered or saw previously, giving you further inspiration to keep exploring.
That sounds like it could be a pretty enlightening and important thing to do.
I recently had the pleasure of showing new work at a series called Fraction at Links Hall in Chicago. Having been on both sides of the WIP scene (as both choreographer and viewer), I had low expectations in terms of attendance and the potential for feedback. These things can often include long, awkward silences during the feedback session in which people feel like they need to say something but don’t exactly know what to say. Amazingly, Fraction was packed.
It could have been that it wasn’t simply one, but seven different artists presenting new work, or it could have been the promise of snacks. Heck if I know, but Fraction was a super positive experience for me that afforded great feedback and I made $17 to boot! Instead of a verbal dialogue, audience members were encouraged to write feedback on an index card and place the cards in a basket to be given to the artists later. Perhaps due to the anonymous and non-verbal nature of feedback, I got a plethora of cards that said everything from “Razzamatazz” and “I want some grits and eggs!” to “I wonder what it would be like to change the soundtrack. I feel an antiquity and nostalgia surrounding the piece and wonder if it would remain with different music/sound or silence.” All of this is informative and inspiring and helps me decide where to go next with this piece. Or not. Either way, the value of hearing what people see cannot be underestimated and gives me direction in a sometimes arduous process that emulates a long and winding road.
So is that really the answer to getting butts in WIP seats? Snacks? I suppose it could be, or maybe it’s a matter of educating our audience and letting them know that dance isn’t always about the finished product but also about the process. We the small and independent choreographers often spend the better portion of a year developing ONE piece, that will only be performed anywhere from one to six times (if we’re lucky). Whether or not it was just the snacks that got people there, participating in Fraction exposed my work to audience members who had never and probably wouldn’t ever have sought me out. Those comments are all the more valuable since they don’t know the typical nuances, niches and schticks that often come to play in my dances.
Moral of the story: do WIPs, and do them often. Whether it’s getting one person to come into a rehearsal or a more formal multi-artist showing such as Fraction, share your work along the way. You as a choreographer can only benefit, and the guests you invite into your process will feel as though they’re a part of the finished product (translation: butts in seats at your show). Oh, and of course, it helps if you bring snacks.
(1) I use quotations around “finished” to elude to the fact that dance is a fluid art form that is always changing and never quite… well… finished.
BIO: Lauren Warnecke, M.S., is a Chicago-based dance artist, educator, and writer. She trained at the Barat Conservatory of Dance before earning a BA in Dance at Columbia College Chicago. In 2009, Lauren completed her MS in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a concentration in Motor Control and Learning. Lauren is a Visiting Instructor for the department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC, and teaches master classes and seminars in ballet, modern dance, creative movement, and dance pedegogy. She is certified in ballet by the Cecchetti Council of America and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
In addition to teaching at UIC, Lauren owns and operates Art Intercepts, under which she creates, informs, and writes about dance. The primary mission of Art Intercepts is to bridge the gap between the scientific and artistic communities to present programming that is informed, inventive, and evidence-based. Lauren is a freelance writer/blogger and maintains monthly columns at Danceadvantage.net and 4dancers.org. and is featured on a panel of nationally reputed dance writers at the 2012 Dance/USA conference. She also works periodically as a grant writer and production/stage manager for artists in the Chicago dance and performance community, and volunteers for initiatives encouraging Chicagoans to engage in local, sustainable, and active lifestyles. Lauren likes to hike, bake scones, and dig in the dirt.