I recently spoke with Artistic Director Cassie Meador and Partnerships and Production Manager Ouida Maedel about the history and legacy of Dance Exchange and the inspiration for FROM THE DESK OF RACHEL CARSON, an excerpt of which is being presented tomorrow as part of Dance Place's Modern Moves Festival at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Here’s our conversation.
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about Dance Exchange.
DANCE EXCHANGE: As a cornerstone of the DC dance community, Dance Exchange is entering our 38th year in 2014. We are known for work that brings together communities. We invite our audiences to ask questions, explore big ideas, and tell stories. We are also interested in finding ways to use movement and dance as a medium for creative exploration beyond the stage.
JL: What excited you about taking part in Dance Place’s Modern Moves Festival?
DE: Dance Exchange is not only a producing company in the DC area, but it also a home for local artists. Many of the performers in the festival, even those dancing with other companies, come to our classes, workshops, and events. This opportunity allows us to perform alongside one another and share our creative practices. In an extraordinary way, the DC dance community represents a diverse range of work. Festivals like these offer a rare and wonderful opportunity to support and celebrate each other. They also allow us to engage audiences in a depth of rich cultural experiences in our region.
JL: Tell us more about FROM THE DESK OF RACHEL CARSON? What inspired this work?
DE: FROM THE DESK OF RACHEL CARSON is a new devised work that explores the life, legacy and career of pioneering writer/ecologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964). Carson’s work greatly influenced the ever-growing public awareness of how humans impact the natural world.
Cassie began exploring some of the Rachel Carson themes in our 2013 Summer Institute, which culminated in a performance at ADI in June 2013. Our institutes are a chance for us to meet new-to-Dance Exchange movers. We met several of the performers in this work - Matthew Cumbie, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, and Carli Mareneck – at past institutes.
For this stage presentation, Cassie Meador has assembled a dynamic creative team, including new collaborators playwright/dramaturg Jacqueline E. Lawton and performers Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Carli Maraneck, alongside Dance Exchange veterans sound designer Stowe Nelson, costumer Cheryl Patton Wu and resident artists Matthew Cumbie and Shula Strassfeld.
JL: The performance on Sunday is an excerpt from a larger piece still in development. Can you tell me more about the next steps?
DE: In addition to this performance, this multi-year project will include the co-creation of site-specific work with communities in outdoor residency sites. At the heart of the project is a handcrafted desk, designed by Zeke Leonard that will function as an installation focus and site intervention. At times the desk will appear in locations that inspired Carson's writing and at other times at sites of civic encounter. Gathering writers, artists, and environmental leaders, the creative outcomes to each residency site will offer an opportunity to explore the writing of Rachel Carson as the impetus for current day action, reflection, and artistic responses on a changing environment.
JL: FROM THE DESK OF RACHEL CARSON feature more text that previous work. How does it continue to align with Dance Exchange’s mission?
DE: As for how it is representative of Dance Exchange’s choreography and pedagogy-- it's a multiyear, muti-disciplinary, multi-layered project. As our founder, Liz Lerman, has said "“Ask a big enough question and you will need more than one discipline to answer it.” As such, this project has brought together environmentalists, writers, actors, visual artists, theatre designers, and dancers. As the work continues to grow and take shape, we expect the breadth and depth to expand from here.
JL: What's next for Dance Exchange? What are you excited about in the coming year?
DE: We have a number of upcoming projects at Dance Exchange for 2014. Here are a few highlights: The Rachel Carson project is at the beginning stages of development. We received an NEA Our Town grant to bring artistic practices to the New Hampshire Avenue corridor in Takoma Park, which is undergoing a city-wide multi-year development. We will continue to have our HOME series, classes, and institutes at Dance Exchange (including a Winter Institute Jan 9-12 that will give participants tools for working in communities). And we're working with the Embrey Family Foundation on a commission that will be presented in conjunction with Race Forward's Facing Race Conference in Dallas, Texas, November 13-15, 2014.
The Modern Moves Festival showcases twelve world-class contemporary dance companies that call DC home, each with different points of view. Experience the rich field of modern dance in the Greater DC Metropolitan area!
Modern Moves Festival
Sunday, January 5 at 4:00pm
At the Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Saturday, January 4 at 8pm: alight dance theater, Bowen McCauley Dance , Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company , Daniel Burkholder/The PlayGround , Human Landscape Dance
Sunday, January 5 at 4pm: Company E, Dance Exchange, Jane Franklin Dance, Naoko Maeshiba/Kibism , Rebollar Dance, VTDance/Vincent E. Thomas
For venue transportation and parking details, click here.
For information about the entire festival, click here.
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Dance Exchange is an intergenerational company of artists that creates dance and engages people in making art. We serve as an incubator for creative research, bringing ideas to action through collaborations that range from experts in the field of dance to unexpected movers and makers. Through these exchanges we stretch the boundaries between the studio, stage, and other environments to make dances that are rooted in the particularity of people and place. We recognize the body and movement as an essential resource to understand and investigate across disciplines. Through local, national, international, and online projects we gather and create community to contribute to a healthy and more sustainable environment.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!