2007 USA Dance Selection Panel

Ana María Alvarez

Artistic Director and Choreographer, contra-tiempo, Los Angeles, CA

Neil Barclay (Chair)

President and CEO, August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Pittsburgh, PA

Laura Faure

Director, Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, ME

Ella Baff

Executive Director, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA

Peter Taub

Director of Performance Programs, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL

Statement by Ella Baff

Anyone who has served on a panel for a grant-making organization knows how angst-ridden the selection process can be. At a certain point in our deliberations, we get plain bleary. We are hot inside with matters of the field and the individuals whose lives we are affecting, while it’s damn cold in the chasm between deserving talent and available resources. I look around the table. We have our laptops, PDAs, our high-speed everything, and good intentions. We feel primitive. We are apes around the watering hole trying to figure out how to use a bone. But here’s the bright side: we love art and artists, who are inherently brave and reveal the most interesting aspects of life, and we are honored to honor them with a significant dose of moral and material support.

Any given panel is a snapshot in a tiny frame that raises big questions. The convening itself is important for this reason. The health of any field relies on perspective, and one way to arrive at this kind of relativity is to interrelate. There is discourse that challenges us beyond orthodoxy. Light enters the room as we talk about the particulars of each artist being considered, then about the topography of the field, back and forth and around the contours, and try to arrive at a temporary “truth.”

Inevitably it comes up that dance is a tricky proposition for the public. Audience members—not to mention those who are not attending performances—report with some embarrassment that they feel that they lack the proper tools, vocabulary, or Secret Art Passport to discuss and understand the art form. Thus many presenters report that dance is difficult to “sell.” (There—it took only about 300 words to dredge up “the commodification of art.” Back to the watering hole.) Fear not, resist, strategize! Transience is an outstanding feature of dance, and dance has no language equivalent. These extraordinary attributes make the art form intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically compelling. Subtext, the unspoken, what is sensed but eludes easy articulation—this is the land of great adventure, and worthy of our interest.

So what is the big scary deal about the tacit world? I have a 500 word limit for this article. Let’s just say for now that the artists who are receiving grants from United States Artists are unique thinkers and creators who translate the mysteries of the subconscious to the stage. They possess a remarkable ability to use movement to signify, testify, evoke, provoke, and stimulate meaning and insight. By lifting our heads from the watering hole, they give us confidence that we can see farther, and what’s out there is gloriously interesting.