The first opera I ever saw was Carmen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during a dress rehearsal. I went with hoity-toity charlatans who told me repeatedly that this was a ‘good introductory opera’ with an air of disgust for my lack of exposure to the art form. Now, I hate that opera and everything it personally stood for (not to mention if I hear the music in another commercial I might just take up arms). I digress, opera is meant to be shared, explored, and enjoyed with a company of feelers rather than judgers. My first experience was less than extraordinary; yes, Milena Kitic was stunning, and yes, the spectacle was more than I imagined; but the taint of others is still palpable.
Since then, I have been to many operas during their actual runs, and enjoyed some more than others. What sticks in my craw; however, is the lack of diversity of the audience. As a college student who received free tickets through a generous donation to my university, my ‘kind’ was outnumbered. The audience was a veritable sea of pink and purple hair (if you don’t know what that means, it’s the color of elder women’s hair).
The last opera I went to was over two years ago, when I was still in LA. This time I was with a friend at Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, a far cry from Carmen. It was exquisite. Thus was the end of my opera going days, with Opera Pacific shuttered and difficulty in affording a ticket to the LA Opera.
My path back to the opera took an unexpected turn this weekend in the most unusual of venues with the most unusual of audiences seeing one of the greatest operas ever written. Opera in the Outfield at National’s Stadium streamed the live performance of Don Giovanni from WNO‘s performance at the Kennedy Center. The crowd assembled was massive, the entire outfield covered in blankets and the sweater-clad. Up into the stadium near half the lower level was filled with people of all ages and creeds. Children were running around or like the little one next to me, positing questions about the show to his parents. The entire audience on a whole was a good 30-40 years or so younger on average than the crowd inside the Kennedy Center. For once, my age group was the majority.
We were free to talk and comment, free to check our phones for everything from the score of the Orioles/Red Sox game to information on the opera itself, free to eat M&M’s and drink coffee, free to sit wherever we pleased, and free to enjoy the way we wanted to enjoy. I didn’t have to pay for a ticket (although I would have happily paid up to $20 – it was chilly, outside, and the seats weren’t super comfy). I’m sure thousands of others (for indeed, it was in the thousands) who attended would have paid as well; but we were not asked, nor were we solicited for donations. Instead, we were simply expected to see and hear.
WNO brought the opera to the masses, in an old custom akin to the Opera Buffa days of Mozart. People still love opera. The current problem is the delivery system, but by focusing on social aspects rather than financial and puritanical artistic facets, opera succeeds.
45 dance companies in 4 days. After some reflection (and catching up on sleep) over the past couple days, I can, without a doubt, say that seeing so much dance in such a short period of time was most definitely the highlight of my APAP|NYC experience. For those who aren’t aware, APAP|NYC is the annual international conference for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, a “national service and advocacy organization dedicated to developing and supporting a robust performing arts presenting field and the professionals who work within it.”
I (Cathy Teixeira) attended the conference with some co-workers from American Dance Institute (ADI), a presenting organization just outside Washington, D.C. One of our main goals for this conference was to get a feel for what companies were out there, both nationally and internationally, see what they were creating, and of course to see if there were any potential companies ADI should look into presenting in the future. If it weren’t for the APAP conference, it would not have been possible to see so much in so short of a time span. I can’t begin to imagine how much work goes into organizing and coordinating showcases, not just for dance but for all disciplines, so I commend APAP for their fine work.
The showcases, usually running from 9:30am to as late as 10pm, took place in various venues across the city. Often times, the agents and/or choreographers would introduce the piece and indicate whether or not the companies were eligible for funding from NEFA’s National Dance Project (NDP). Working in development, I especially appreciated this key
piece of information. Presenting can get very expensive, and receiving a bit of support can make all the difference in whether or not an organization can afford to present certain companies. I also noticed that most choreographers would emphasize that fact that their work was flexible (in the number of dancers, staging, size, etc) and customizable based on the financial capacity of the presenter and the confines of the performance space. Again, another important factor when considering the possibility of presenting a company.
One lesson I learned: choreographers are pretty darn clever. Several of them had incorporated a community engagement component to their work. From a fundraising perspective this is wonderful because it makes raising money a lot easier when you are creating a unique experience for the audience/community that goes beyond just sitting in a theater. The most common way to do this is through master classes, post-show talks, or meet-the-artist receptions. But in David Dorfman Dance‘s newest work Come, and Back Again the music of Patti Smith is played by a five-piece band; a band that can tour with the company or alternatively, be comprised of local musicians in the presenter’s location. The music would be sent ahead of time, the company would come, they’d rehearse a couple times, and BAM! put on the show. Genius. I know this isn’t a novel idea, but David is creating opportunities for true community involvement by including this possibility in his work.
David, aside from being one of THE nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, has a knack for involving the audience and making his art truly accessible. ADI presented his wildly successful work Prophets of Funk back in November, and at the end of the show, the audience was invited to come dance with the company on stage. Check out the awesome moment below:
There were so many impressive dance companies, but this blog post would get out of hand if I tried to mention them all so here are just a couple of my personal* favorites:
Lar Lubovitch Dance Company– Lubovitch’s choreography was simply beautiful. I particularly enjoyed their setting of Histoire du Soldat, composed by Stravinsky. The
narrative (a soldier sells his violin/soul to the devil and tries to win it back), music, and choreography worked together seamlessly resulting in a cohesive piece.
Keigwin + Company– Keigwin’s work is often described as “sexy” but it’s so much more than that; it’s clever and utterly captivating. In fact, I was so drawn in that I didn’t notice how badly my leg had fallen asleep. They’ll be at the Kennedy Center in March— even if you aren’t a dance person, they are a MUST SEE.
Brian Brooks Moving Company– The company performed an excerpt of DESCENT, described by the NY times as being “visually arresting”. And it was just that. In the duet, one dancer “manipulated” the other dancer’s falling weight, creating quite an impressive effect.
In addition to all the dance we saw, Jessica (the Development Director of ADI) and I scheduled three consultation meetings: a fundraising consultation with The North Group, Inc. and meetings with the NEA presenting and dance specialists. I didn’t know what to expect in these one-on-one meetings, but they proved to be informative and encouraging. For the fundraising consultation, Jessica gave the consultant a run-down of the current development situation, and then we were given ideas on where we should be prioritizing our efforts. As for the NEA meetings, the presenting and dance specialists were able to tell us what types of grants we were eligible/most appropriate to apply for, and which grant cycle would give us a greater competitive edge. It was great to meet the specialists in person, and to receive positive feedback on what was going on at ADI.
One of the sessions I attended was called What Jazz Can Teach Us About Winning Audiences, where Christy Farnbauch and Bob Breithaupt of Jazz Arts Group presented the results of Jazz Audience Initiatives, their ground-breaking study on jazz audiences. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about the session being applicable to the dance field, but actually left with a lot of useful information and ideas. They found that 86% of ticket
buyers (ages 18-34) attend because of recommendations from friends and family. As they pointed out, this is intuitive information, but the research just further proves the importance of the initiators (those doing the inviting) in building an audience. It challenged me to consider how we can identify these initiators and what we can do to reward/provide incentives for them to ultimately become active advocates of an organization. For the full report, click here.
If you’ve been reading the wonderful blog posts from my classmate and fellow EALS committee member, Steven Dawson, you’ll find that our experiences at APAP were quite different. (In fact, we only ran into each other once the entire conference!) The great thing is that the APAP Conference is so comprehensive that there’s a rich experience for everyone: across all disciplines, presenter or exhibitor, student or executive. There is so much going on that you can mix and match sessions/meeting/showcases and tailor your schedule to fit your needs. Thank you APAP for a wonderful conference!
This is a non-APAP related piece, but something that I thought was worth mentioning, especially for opera lovers. I had Monday night free, so on my bus ride up to New York, I
decided to see if there were any operas at the Met that I could go see. It was a piece of cake to get $25 student tickets (for orchestra seats that are usually $95!) to their new production of Faust. And if you aren’t a student, you can go to the box office two hours before a show and get $20 rush tickets.
*Disclaimer: These are my own personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of American Dance Institute.