The Playground at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat dancer can turn down a five dollar class?
$5.00 seems like an incredible deal for an hour and a half of dance technique — but that’s not all Greg Dolbashian (The DASH Ensemble)and Loni Landon (Loni Landon Projects) offered at The Playground, their three week workshop series hosted at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. From November 28 to December 16, Dolbashian and Landon recruited some of the hottest up-and-coming contemporary dance artists (one each day) to teach in their individual style, and to explore repertory from their current projects. This means that dancers were not only students at The Playground, but in fact a professional working canvas for new pieces in the beginning phases.
Realizing the rarity of this opportunity, I booked it to MMAC to join the other dance freelancers anxious to meet and work with such a diverse roster of choreographers. Before class, dancers casually stretched and caught up in the hallway outside the studio. It was like a social mixer. Dancers ran into collaborators and fellow cast members from past gigs. A feeling of community, so often lacking in our business, was strikingly present. Teachers were not outside the circle in the slightest, they too were greeted by old friends and long lost acquaintances.
The three weeks of Playground classes are not structured like typical technique classes with lengthy warmups and strengthening exercises. Each teacher begins class like they would a rehearsal, with improvisations or movement in line with their unique philosophies. For example, Emery LeCrone began with loose continual following meant to lubricate the joints and get dancers relaxed for her sinuous phrase. Zoe Scofield (zoe|juniper)started with some Qigong visulaizations to put dancers in an intimately internal focus. Greg Dolbashian warmed up with an improv focused on presence and connection: both elements key to his work. Danielle Agami jumped right in, gradually building a very specific sequence. In each case, dancers who came in as blank slates began to move like company members, working to fit themselves into the idea presented. This is a step above technique, its practice for the real world of auditions, performance and being a creative chameleon. Class continues with combinations that are not watered down. The expectation is that students will pick up the movement and focus on its intracacies and dynamics as if it were to be performed publically. I was excited to see teachers stopping to communicate key ideas behind their bodies of work. And I can’t wait to see the material I learned on stage in company seasons, as all the artists teaching have upcoming gigs.
It is precisely the no-two-days-alike element of The Playground which sets the program apart. As a true sampler of current choreographic waves in the city and worldwide, dancers can use the opportunity to narrow the broad horizon to a style that feels authentic to them. Then, after class, the dancer can make the connection on the spot by offering their contact information to choreographers they click with. On the flipside, choreographers met new performers they may want to integrate into future work. It’s networking+self awareness+class. It’s as effective as any business seminar, marketing conference or political rally.
It’s hard to go back to paying $18 for less punch. But there is good news: they’ll be back in the spring.
To get involved with The Playground and to find out about upcoming workshops, visit theplaygroundnyc.org.