The Open Space Project

The casual, biannual choreography party grows up without losing its core values.
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Photograph: Sarah Ebling CLOSE QUARTERS Jacqueline Stewart and fellow dancers get intimate at the Open Space Project.
By Zachary Whittenburg |
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“Right now, we’re calling it a festival,” Anna Normann, 24, tells me over coffee at the Monadnock Building’s Intelligentsia café. “The better word doesn’t exist.”

Suzy Grant, 30, one of two other forces behind the Open Space Project’s DIVE, Friday 18 and Saturday 19, sips her tea and adds, “I think we say ‘showcase’ sometimes, too.”

I’d asked because, after attending TOSP’s previous whatchamacallit, SHIFT, last April, I was stumped on a name myself. An audience of more than 200, mostly twentysomethings, some toting cans of PBR, mingled with the performers after watching six short dances in a tiny room—it may have been the thinnest fourth wall ever—and five more in a larger space. The postshow party was still going strong when I left the now-shuttered underground venue the Inconvenience around midnight.

Erin Kilmurray, 26, curated the first Open Space Project in December 2009, with Normann’s logistical help. Solo performer and freelance PR whiz Grant came on board afterward to help the two produce SHIFT. Before—and unrelated to—the Inconvenience’s closure in October, the trio embarked on a lengthy search for a venue that was more legit yet wouldn’t impose the formalities they wanted to avoid. Wicker Park spot the Den fit the bill, and they booked it for two nights instead of one. Like TOSP’s previous endeavors, DIVE will be mostly SRO.

DIVE’s ten works were chosen from applications reviewed by the three women plus dancer-choreographers Charles Cutler (Same Planet Different World) and Philip Elson (the Seldoms). Kate Corby, an assistant dance professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, joined the panel via Skype.

“It was important to us that people felt we were being fair,” Normann says, “not [producing a festival for] Suzy, Anna and Erin’s friends.” Their reach went beyond dance circles as well: A visual-art and short-films exhibit will cover the Den’s walls.

After DIVE, TOSP’s priority will be wrapping up the nonprofit-status paperwork it started late last year. On a recent tour to NYC as dancers in Corby’s company, Kilmurray and Normann met with the former’s father, a financial adviser, on a budget and five-year plan. Two events annually is the pace they’ll keep, but facilitating connections, via its e-mail newsletter, for example, will remain at the top of TOSP’s agenda. “It’s not just about promoting Open Space,” Grant says.

In that same spirit, one of SHIFT’s smartest additions returns for DIVE: a stretch of wall papered with one-sheets about the artists. Like bulletin-board posts about missing cats and futons for sale, they’re cut at the bottom into tear-away tabs with contact information.

DIVE fills the Den Friday 18 and Saturday 19.

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