It is no secret the Cleveland, Ohio area dance scene has taken it on the chin the past decade losing both its major ballet companies (Cleveland San Jose Ballet and the Ohio Ballet) as well as its high-profile ballet series put on by the Playhouse Square Center. It also almost lost one of its most important contemporary dance presenting organizations, DanceCleveland. So in a period where seemingly everything was going so wrong for Cleveland dance, Cleveland Public Theatre's introduction of its danceWORKS series in 2000 breathed new life into the Cleveland-area dance scene. The series offers the city's local dance troupes affordable and well-publicized performance opportunities and Cleveland-area dancegoers a unique 6-week event in which to revel in the incredible talent the area's dance scene has to offer.
In its ninth season, the series has become a mainstay in Cleveland dance and for Cleveland Public Theatre. I talked with CPT Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan about the series and what it has meant to CPT and the Cleveland-area arts scene.
Steve Sucato: Why a dance series?
Raymond Bobgan: Two reasons. The first is there are simply not enough venues for smaller dance companies in Cleveland to perform at. Second, because we are an interdisciplinary theater we had already carved out a relationship presenting dance over the past 15-years or so and we realized we could do a better job marketing dance by investing more in a series than we could in 3 or 4 different weekends throughout the season. It was a way we could cut costs overall, but also create a great deal of momentum for the series which has really paid off.
SS: What are the criteria for getting on the danceWORKS series?
RB: The danceWORKS series is primarily focused on supporting local dance companies and premiering new works. The few dance groups we have presented on the series from outside the region such as last season Lingo from Seattle, Washington were already in the area doing a residency. It made sense to present them because we could offer our audiences something different without having to bring them in ourselves.
SS: Not all the local dance companies in the area end up on the series each year, is there an adjudication process?
RB: For whatever reason some dance companies will choose not to be a part of the series one year so they opt out of the process. There are also always one or two companies we don't select for one or another reason. We try to use the resources we have on the most interesting projects. Ones we feel will have the most interest to the public now coming to this event. Also, we try and share the wealth. If a company was not in it the last year they have a better chance of being in it the following year.
SS: The majority of the companies on the series tend to be modern and contemporary dance companies. Is danceWORKS open to all styles of dance?
RB: We are pretty open. We are not prescriptive on the genre or aesthetic. The one requirement we have is the company needs to include a premiere. A new work that is a significant part of their program.
SS: What do you feel is the importance of the danceWORKS series to Cleveland Public Theatre and the community at large?
RB: One of the things that the dance series allows is a certain period to focus on dance where there is a lot of energy going on around dance. It does a lot to promote local dance in the larger community and an awareness of how rich an area for dance this is. For CPT it does a couple things. One is that since we started the series our theater audiences who typically did not attend dance performances have steadily become patrons of the danceWORKS series. We are clearly adding something great for our audiences and the dance community. For the artistic community at CPT, danceWORKS is not only inspiring but has lead to other connections.
SS: How so?
RB: One of the challenges, at least in my experience, working as an artist in Cleveland is our artistic community is quite segregated. When I go visit my friends in Chicago and we go out after a show sitting at the table might be a visual artist, a theater artist, a dancer, and a musician. When I go out here it is just theater people. There is not as much crossover. I think what the danceWORKS series has done at CPT, is it has allowed for a lot more crossover and crosspollination between the artistic communities at CPT. For example, I ended up casting a dancer from the series in a play I directed who had never been in a play before. That kind of thing is a huge benefit that is not easily quantified but certainly has an effect on the theater.
SS: What do you see in the future for the danceWORKS series?
RB: Because we are not a producing dance organization and I am not from the world of dance, we really try to be responsive to the needs of the community and the needs of the local dance companies. This year the series is much later than it has been in response to a lot of conversations we had with the dance companies who felt they could do better in terms of scheduling and box office if the series were pushed back. We are really trying to let the local dance community have a hand in shaping and growing the series and its direction in the coming years.
danceWORKS 09 runs through May 24, 2009. Look for reviews of its programs featuring Verb Ballets, Inlet Dance Theatre, Antaeus Dance, Ohio Dance Theatre, Double-Edge Dance and Open Window Dance Company at Exploredance.com. For more information on Cleveland Public Theatre and the danceWORKS series visit www.cptonline.org.