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Laura Muehlberg
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Dance at Chashama - or Window Dancing in New York

by Laura Muehlberg
August 19, 2002
New York, NY

Dance at Chashama - or Window Dancing in New York

Laura Muehlberg

August 19, 2002

Ever considered dancing in a window on 42nd Street?

In 1997, an experimental theater company called Chashama took over a Herman's Sporting Goods store between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. When artistic director Anita Durst first saw the windows, which were designed for big retail displays, she said, "Ooh, look at that excellent space."

Since then, Durst, who is the fourth generation in a family of New York real estate developers, moved into three other storefronts on the block. In the spaces, she and her colleagues built a 100-seat black box theater, a 40-seat theater, a 12-seat theater and a couple of flexible spaces that can be reconfigured as needed. Artists can apply to perform in these spaces free of charge, as long as they agree to give 40 percent of their box office revenue to Chashama to cover expenses.

Even more unusual than the opportunity to perform without paying rent is the chance to appear before the thousands of people who walk on that block every day. Chashama has invited workers and tourists in the area to attend performances such as Deli Dances, a series of free dances held at lunchtime in its windows and theaters, and an extravaganza of dance, theater and performance art called Oasis. In June 2002, one week of the five-week Oasis festival was devoted to dance. "It's a really interesting opportunity with many different people coming in to watch….It feels like a raw performance," said Amy Cox, a modern dancer and choreographer who was one of the featured performers.

Several months earlier, Cox danced in Chashama's windows. As she describes it, snow was falling and 42nd Street was quiet and vacant. "It was kind of a magical night," she said, recalling a funny exchange with an onlooker who stood on the street below. Caterina Bartha, curator of a window performance series at Chashama, said that passers-by are sometimes surprised by what's going on in the windows and often wonder what the performers are trying to sell. Usually, though, she says that audiences are delighted to learn that it's free art created to entertain them.

In a neighborhood that's more accustomed to polished Broadway shows and big Hollywood movies, Chashama adds a dose of unpredictability and excitement. "We're here to create a community with an energy that is very unafraid to experiment," said artistic director Durst. She and her colleagues will occupy the storefronts on West 42nd Street - 111, 125, 129 and 135 - until December, when their part of the block is scheduled to be demolished to make way for her family's next building, an office tower called One Bryant Park. After that, Chashama will continue - Durst just isn't sure where. But she says she plans to continue finding unused and unusual spaces for artists around New York.

While most of Chashama's theaters are booked for fall, programming associate Cathy Bellavia says that window space is still available. And, as of November 1, Chashama will begin accepting applications from artists for the winter season. The best way to apply is on-line. Check Chashama's website, www.chashama.org, for details.

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