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Dance: Off Stage Support for Dancers and More

By By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES Spring 2013

Eiko in “Hunger” (photo by Gregory Georges)
Eiko in “Hunger” (photo by Gregory Georges)

We often say writers were born with ink in their blood and theater people are stage struck.  It appears that in the dance world there are many non-dancers who commit themselves and their working lives to dance.

Naturally there are the costume designers, set designers, lighting designers, all of which are allied arts. In addition to being a live stage event, dance often is depicted on film and TV as well.

Frequently, however, creative people do not have the inclination, time or expertise for the business side of dance. In 1976 Pentacle, (Dance Works, Inc.) formed to assist small and mid-sized companies in these areas: booking and artist representation, fiscal administration, grant preparation, graphic design services and individual consultations.

It has since grown and its ongoing programs are Educational Programming, Movement Media (services, strategies and opportunities for artists to use media in their work), Cultivating Leadership in Dance (administrative internships program and Arts Management Paradigm including Back Office.) Pentacle now has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, dealing with certain grant request forms, handling programming, bookkeeping, doing promotions of the company, setting up bookings, graphic design services, individual consultations and the like.

Co-directors since they founded the company are Mara Greenberg and Ivan Sygoda. Hearing Mr. Sygoda was stepping down from that position this summer to take up the role of Founding Director, I decided to find out more about him and his dedication to dance companies.

“I was never a dancer, only a fan,” he said early in the interview.

Mr. Sygoda fell in love with performance art at a Great Neck, New York puppet show when he was a little boy. The moon rose just when they said it would: he felt it was magic.

He found further magic later in dance when he saw EXILES and realized dancers’ seemingly straight lines were actually on diagonals and wanted to know more about the names of steps and how dances came into being. He took dance classes to learn the names of the various moves and positions.

He was teaching French in a school where dance was part of physical education, rather than a department of its own. In his second year, he choreographed a dance to a Stravinsky piece. It has been performed several times. On stage, announcing a student showing of dance, Sygoda noticed Anna Sokolow in the audience and asked her to stand up to take a  bow. Instead, this dance legend joined him on stage.  His face lit up like a child’s in a candy store when he recalled the thrill of that event.

Pentacle, (Dance Works, Inc.) still helps many small companies, particularly single choreographer companies with these business side areas. No company needs to sign on for all Pentacle can do. They may just want assistance with booking venues, or handling the intricacies of doing NYSCA grant requests or the financial end of their company business. Because in addition to being an art, dance companies, like theater companies, are a business.  They need their grants, they need to keep their books in order, they need assistance with finding venues, publicizing their performances, etc.

Ivan Sygoda in front of Disney Hall, Los Angeles photo by Michael Korie Ivan Sygoda in front of Disney Hall, Los Angeles photo by Michael Korie

Sygoda says what he’s liked most about his 37 years with Pentacle, was talking with artists and choreographers. “Choreographers are smart and I get to talk to them,” was how he summed it up. He will continue talking to choreographers in his new position with Pentacle. He will also continue working closely with several dance groups, including Eiko and Koma.

It was a slow growth for Pentacle, with many cash-strapped moments. He still recalls how excited they were to be able to get a second IBM Selectric typewriter for their company. That sounds like the dark ages to young people today, but for those old enough to remember the advances these IBM machines were over regular typewriters, it is a recognizable landmark. It is difficult for those born after 1975 to realize how different technology was back then, in its infancy.

He compared Pentacle’s offer of services to a Chinese menu, where companies pick out from column A or B only what is needed by them. He also referred to dance companies by the Goldilocks concept, some too large, some too small and some just right for various services they offer.

“It will be a long, slow change,” Ivan said about his new position. “I will be spending more free form time on my work and less business defined responsibilities.”

He talked about companies attempting to present the “original” versions of various Graham, Limon and Sokolow dances.

“Graham was a revolutionary,” he noted, going on to say the re-creation of her dances depends on the performance; not all are automatically wonderful. “Often they correctly have the steps right but the spice is missing. Often ballet strength is missing.”

He feels he is a good audience member, like many adults who are non-dancers but watch dance and see what it adds up to for them.  He feels he can relate to how they average viewer will react to a dance piece.

He laughingly recalls a children’s dance company (presenting Aesop’s Fables relating them to Egyptian Goddesses, Mae West and other more modern tie-ins). Someone ran to the dean of the school where it was performed claiming it was bestiality. Interestingly, the janitor was the only one who understood the program. This supported his theory that dance is in the eye of the beholder.

You can learn more about Pentacle by checking it out on line.

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The start of 2013 offered a host of inviting dance offerings.

Hearing that BalaSole Dance Company’s mission was to bridge the gap in the field of concert dance, and promote balance in concert dance where the public can experience a dance concert filled with diversity, where dance artists can fully demonstrate their individual artistic potential. Who could resist wanting to see their performance at Alvin Ailey early this year?

La Bayadère, as only The Bolshoi can do it; this is a photo of Svetlana Zakharova as Nikia, Courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet; (Photo by Damir Yusupov)
La Bayadère, as only The Bolshoi can do it; this is a photo of Svetlana Zakharova as Nikia, Courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet; (Photo by Damir Yusupov)

Eager for all this diversity from ten choreographers in one evening, I booked my seats. Sadly, I found more conformity than diversity in the twelve dance pieces presented. The two most memorable were Ssssssshallow, choreographed and danced by Riberto Villanueva, founder and Executive & Artistic Director of BalaSole and the other was Inside Looking Out choreographed and danced by Sarah J. Ewing, an Australian dancer/ choreographer. Both had the passion and technique one needs in contemporary dance.

A case of re-creating the great dances of yesteryear was brought forth in the film, “Passing the Torch.”

It is a modern dance pastiche film honoring Jose Limon and Anna Sokolow by showing footage of Limon brilliantly dancing a bull-fighting piece and then showing his Moor’s Pavane, his elegant modern piece. The next segment showed Sokolow choreographing a dance and the intensity and uniqueness of her way of working with her dancers, teaching them stillness and silence as well as movement. It concluded with her disciple, Debra Zall working with ten dancers to marvelously recreate Sokolow’s solo Kaddish, (selections of Sokolow performing  were shown on screen). Zall reconceived it  as a dance for ten women (Kaddish requires 10 men to perform the rite in Jewish temples).

The film was followed by a lively discussion on the concept of passing the torch to keep Limon and Sokolow choreography alive and fresh. The  discussion was so absorbing that when the theater had to be vacated to allow for another screening, much of the audience went into a nearby room to continue the talk back.

Dance on film is also a part of programming at Dance Film Sundays, a series which started in June 2010 under the auspices of the Rosendale Theatre Collective. They are held on the 2nd Sunday of every month at Rosendale Theatre.  A film of La Bayadère will beperformed on March 10 by the Bolshoi Ballet at Rosendale Theatre  408 Main St,. Rosendale N.Y. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under.

So classical or modern, dance is being kept alive and well by enthusiastic audiences, dedicated performers and choreographers and support organizations such as Pentacle.

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