Ben Pryor talks about Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter

Ben Pryor talks about his new festival at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement July 24 through 28

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Rebecca Patek performs at Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter

Rebecca Patek performs at Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter Photograph: Vincent Lafrance


Ben Pryor graces New York with the new Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter. Pryor's American Realness line-up continues to push the boundaries of curation along the lines of Danspace's Platform series and Aunts. His new festival is no different; this year's  "Emergency Glitter," held at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement features an assortment of young artists, including Lauren Grace Bakst, Burr Johnson, Niall Jones, Rebecca Patek, Gillian Walsh, Rebecca Warner and Emily Wexler.

Ben Pryor has a new festival up his sleeve, and it couldn’t come at a better time. In New York, summer dance isn’t exactly abundant with options; Lincoln Center Festival, in fact, scheduled nothing for this season. (Way to go, LCF!) But Pryor, whose American Realness Festival has turned January into a thriving dance season, has done it again for July, with Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter. Held at Abrons Arts Center from July 24 through 28, the festival will explore the work of a younger generation, including Lauren Grace Bakst, Burr Johnson, Niall Jones, Rebecca Patek, Gillian Walsh, Rebecca Warner and Emily Wexler. Pryor spoke about his latest curatorial adventure. 

Time Out New York: How did this festival come about?
Ben Pryor:
It totally goes back to Realness. When I started that, American Realness was about Miguel [Gutierrez’s] Last Meadow and [Trajal Harrell’s] “Twenty Looks” series. It was made around those artists and the work of 2010, and I was like, I’ll change it next year. It’ll be something different to reflect what the work is, the way a curator makes an exhibition. And then it was really successful, and people ate it up and were like, “You have to keep going, you have to do this again.” Then it became this thing. There’s a lot of pressure and attention because of APAP [Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference], and so there are a lot of people coming and a lot of eyes on the work. In some ways, this became a dangerous place to show stuff that isn’t necessarily work that we know is going to succeed. I felt limited in terms of being able to support artists that I was interested in. I’ve had to be more careful about risk-taking in that way. I was like, If I can’t do that within this context, then I want an opportunity to do that. I want to work with another group of artists in a different moment in their trajectory when it’s not about selling for the market and presenting for the entire field. It’s more about their research and their process and what they’re interested in and being able to pursue it in a way that was not so…

Time Out New York: Visible?
Ben Pryor:
Yeah—still visible, but it doesn’t need that kind of attention and pressure. With Realness in 2011, it was still a part of my thinking to try and find a mix, from Ishmael Houston-Jones to Jen Rosenblit and everything in between. I feel like I backed away from that over the past two years. Next year, I’m hoping to introduce a new crop of people.

Time Out New York: At Realness?
Ben Pryor:
Yes. I have plans for that. But I felt this desire to do something for this other moment of artists. And there was my own desire to do this mega-international thing. Out of Realness came this idea that I would have three projects: one with the young, one that was the American marketplace thing and one that was a performing-arts festival that reclaims the cultural identity of New York as a global center—highfalutin whatever. [Laughs] That’s still on the back burner. But I wanted to do this other thing. I started a program at Wesleyan, which I didn’t end up finishing. I had trouble keeping up with the workload.

Time Out New York: Don’t you also manage artists?
Ben Pryor:
Yeah—in the past year, it’s been Miguel, Trajal, Ishmael and Yvonne Meier. I did a Deborah Hay engagement last year. I produced Wally [Cardona] and Jenny’s [Lacey] Tool Is Loot, but I haven’t been involved in the new project thus far. I’m also in a place where I’m trying to move away from that, because I want to develop my own programs and build them into economically sustainable and more legitimate programs. Money is a whole other situation. [Laughs] I made the decision to use Wesleyan as an opportunity to develop a series of ideas. We had to complete an assignment to develop a program. The easy road would have been to make all my projects and assignments about American Realness. In some ways, I had already been doing the homework. I wanted to be thinking in another way and to be challenged and stimulated by what it was that was going to be proposed in the context of the program. I started what was then called Groundswell for one of my classes, which was this idea of creating a multiday program at Abrons that would be about… this is a struggle that I haven’t totally addressed. I wanted to steer away from saying emerging because people are so touchy about it. Personally, I don’t mind the word; it deals with classifying, so of course this is problematic.

Time Out New York: I guess part of the problem is what is the cutoff? When do you stop being emerging?
Ben Pryor:
Right. And also it applies to recognition, which people don’t necessarily think about [when they say], “But I’ve been making work for ten years.” Has that work ever been supported institutionally or seen? Has it all been self-produced? In some ways then perhaps you haven’t really emerged into the field. Anyway, I wanted to stay away from that because initially I wanted the program to be, not necessarily about a more generational thing, but about young work—maybe you’re an older dancer, but you haven’t necessarily had an ongoing practice of making your own stuff and maybe this is a moment for that too. In the end, it’s ended up being a younger thing, and part of that was my own failure to figure out how I would deal with those two things in concert with each other without saying emerging or young. I didn’t give myself a lot of time to name this whole thing in the first place. So I started this plan as my homework for the program, and it came to the point where I just wanted to do it. I can’t play hypothetical. I work with these people on a regular basis; it’s real. So it was just nagging me, and I had a slow summer coming up—Trajal has had this guy take over the European stuff. Miguel is doing a lot of teaching, and I haven’t taken on new stuff. I had this moment, so I’m like, Let me give myself some more stuff to do! It’s a little ridiculous. I guess I can’t help it. It felt important to me to do something else. I wanted a moment to work with other people.

Time Out New York: What is the origin of the name?
Ben Pryor:
I was traveling with Miguel in Beirut. It was my first time in the Middle East. We’re going to the hotel the first night, and there’s a sign on a plastic box that says "Emergency Glitter." I thought, That’s fabulous—break in case of an emergency, and you need some glitter. It’s just so ridiculous. And there was something so compelling about it.

Time Out New York: It’s also such an amazing name because there’s no dance at Lincoln Center Festival this year. The dance world needs some glitter.
Ben Pryor:
I did hear that. Once upon a time, it was really loaded with dance. Also, because of the way Realness became an ongoing annual thing, I wanted this festival to be a little looser—that it didn’t scream its whole aesthetic alignment, so I would have more room to shift within it. With Realness, I have to be interested in work that fits that aesthetic framework, which is great, because I am, but there’s a lot of other work that’s happening in New York that doesn’t quite fit into that. Trends in what people are making shift, and I feel like I branded the festival around a specific moment in time. As things shift, how do I deal with that inside of this? So I wanted something that was a little looser and freer. Emergency Glitter, then, felt way too specific. I don’t know that that can be an annual program. It’s a burst of excitement, but I don’t know that we replicate that. Maybe I want to give myself the freedom to respond to something different. That’s where the Festival TBD concept came from. I wanted something that I could work with and play with and maybe create a relationship among the different programs over time.

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