National Dance Lab
A pilot project of NEFA's National Dance Project, National Dance Lab enabled choreographers to conduct creative research and develop projects without the normal pressures brought on by commissions and performances with revenue expectations. Dance Lab's unique approach emphasized artistic process instead of product. Participants engaged in collaboration and community interaction to break from the isolated environments in which new work is often created, and the result was an innovative, experimental, and successful new model for dance research and development.
The involvement the University of California, Berkeley in the project helped Dance Lab participants and founding partners to examine and redefine the role of public universities in supporting, encouraging and developing the arts, and to forge links between scholars, researchers and artists. The exploration of new ideas in a semi-public forum provided an important step in reclaiming engaged, enthusiastic audiences for contemporary dance.
In fall of 2000 at the UC Berkeley Extension Gymnasium in San Francisco, Choreographer Margaret Jenkins became the first Dance Lab participant. Her Lab was a gathering of artists: nine dancer/choreographers, a writer/translator, a designer, and a composer.
A series of public showings punctuated the Jenkins Lab with points of interaction among young people, students, peers and others who were interested in a dialogue about the creative process. Ms. Jenkins writes about the experience:
"...Dance Lab allowed us to experiment with a variety of ideas and the physicalization of those ideas in movement, sound, gesture and light. It was a time to research ideas for work, not a specific work, and in so doing give process "center stage." We had many points of departure - from poetry and memory to architecture and circumstance- from which we investigated movement and its necessity...we were fully engaged in what was being discovered, not necessarily how it would coalesce."
After her six-week Lab, Ms. Jenkins continued to work with her collaborators, and premiered a new dance piece entitled May I Now at Theater Artaud in San Francisco in October 2001.
The University of California, Berkeley was the host site for the second dance lab with New York-based choreographer Elizabeth Streb and her company, STREB. The host site provided the artist with access to the "brain trust" of the university while giving the campus community the benefits of having an artist in residence.
Drawing on ideas stemming from chaos and catastrophe theories, Ms. Streb worked closely with design and engineering students at the University. Eventually, her student collaborators created four pieces of equipment designed specifically for the Lab; the "Catastrophic Realizer," the "Kit of Parts," the "Rattleback," and "Tied." Working with these tools, Ms. Streb was able to investigate and demonstrate the ideas she had set out to explore.
The collaboration between the university and the Lab benefited all parties involved. Working with the university afforded Ms. Streb the opportunity to meet scholars and academics and get an inside look at working laboratories within the university. Professors from the sciences and humanities enjoyed the rare opportunity to share ideas with a working artist, and the unique experience of collaborating with professors from other disciplines. Furthermore, students from the campus, particularly the Center for Theater Arts, gained insight and inspiration from their interaction with STREB.
Founding partners of National Dance Lab are Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, NEFA's National Dance Project, University of California, Berkeley, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
National Dance Lab was made possible with generous funding from Chris and Warren Hellman and the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation.