How she move

Dance Theater Workshop's Carla Peterson says no to open flames but yes to some equally hot programming.

Carla Peterson

Carla Peterson Photo: Michael Kirby

[Editor’s note: This story has been extended with online bonus content.]

As dance dwindles at downtown spaces such as the Kitchen and P.S. 122, the influence of Dance Theater Workshop has rarely been more critical. Artistic director Carla Peterson (first day on the job: September 30, 2006), certainly feels that weight: “Because we do so many dance presentations, it’s important for me to provide an overall seasonal palette of many different ways of thinking and approaches and ideas,” she says. “I might be personally absolutely passionate about some of them—and I certainly wouldn’t want to be engaged with presenting artists who I had no emotional, intellectual or visceral interest—but Dance Theater Workshop isn’t really my sandbox or playground.” What follows is some insight on how decisions are made. Or not.

Dec 7–11, 2006

Travels to Moscow for the annual TSEH Festival to see work, meet cultural partners and international presenters. TSEH is a partner in DTW’s Eastern European initiative.

Dec 8, 2006

Sees LIQUIDation, directed by Ksenia Petrenko and Aleksey Zherebtsov of Liquid Theatre. The performance, held in an abandoned warehouse, features an abundance of fire, which can’t be pulled off safely in any legal venue in the U.S., given legal and safety restrictions. “The spectacle was so exciting, and you actually feel like you could be in danger. There’s no way I could get away with doing that here unless it was some kind of guerrilla thing and we didn’t put it on our schedule.”

Dec 14, 2006

Third month as artistic director. Attends Beth Gill’s performance in DTW’s Studio Series and, subsequently, Alex Escalante’s Studio Series performance on Feb 15, 2007. Both spark a commitment to expand the program from six to eight artists for 2009. Artists in the program receive 100 hours of studio/rehearsal space, a $1,000 payment and two nights of informal presentation “if they want it,” Peterson notes.

Jan 2007

Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference. Peterson decides never to support artists presenting choreographic excerpts in favor of complete dances. “To me, there’s no point in perpetuating that excerpt stuff. I think it’s like auditioning for someone’s acceptance and approval when, in fact, you’re the one who is bringing the real cache to the table. The power dynamics are so unequal.”

Feb 27, 2007

Conference call meeting with Jennifer Calienes and Olga Garay to further define the parameters of a new creative residency partnership with the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) at Florida State University, and to consider a national framework that would create similar partnerships and broaden support mechanisms to choreographers in the research and development phase of work. Beginning in fiscal year 2008, DTW will send two artists a year (the first is Dean Moss) for two- to-three-week residencies. “There are lots of studios, lots of light, a really great black box with complete audiovisual technology and a regular theater,” Peterson says. “And the artists will decide at what point in their process that’s going to be most helpful for them. It’s good.”

Jun 1, 2007

Sees Shani Nwando Ikerioha Collins perform her work at BRICstudio and subsequently invites her to perform on a shared program with Juliana May, who had been on the Studio Series the previous year, for Mar 2008. “Pairings for shared evening performances are based on many factors; in this case, the decision to pair such disparate aesthetics was based on the desire to share differing approaches with each artist’s own audience.”

Aug 5–13, 2007

Attends the first week of August 2007 ImPulsTanz in Vienna. Impressed by the spontaneous level of discourse around dance, Peterson sets up a meeting with Chase Granoff. “We’re talking about a series for next year—a place to ask the deeper questions that isn’t so presentational or performance oriented.”

Oct 23, 2007

Attends David Neumann’s feedforward at DTW and decides to explore the possibility of teaming up with MASS MoCA, a multidisciplinary center for visual, performing and media arts in North Adams, MA, where Neumann took part a in a residency prior the production’s premiere. “I’ve seen David’s work over a long period of time and I felt that you could see the results of having a kind of support underneath him. I think he was able to push himself further.”

Nov 12, 2007

Meets with Simon Dove, the chair of the dance department at Arizona State University, about creating a relationship around a creative residency that could potentially be based on the DTW/MANCC model. “What I’m interested in doing is looking at what both sides can bring to the table. The getting something out of it is not going to be putting the artists that go there—if they do go there—into teaching situations. This isn’t what this is about. Artists go to colleges and teach, but this is about putting them in a situation that supports their creative activities.”

Oct 27, 2007

Attends the first meeting of that year’s Bessies (New York Dance and Performance Awards). DTW is a coproducer; Peterson is on the judging committee. The agenda: reevaluation. “We have been having a conversation about what the Bessies mean and, then, what is the actual event supposed to even look like? In the mid-’90s, it was the go-to event. It is not that now. So in our first meeting, we discussed why we are doing this. Where we landed was that people agreed to be on the committee for this year as we figure it out. But we haven’t come a decision.”

Oct, 30, 2007

Meets with DTW’s Artist Committee, a group who serve as DTW board members. In tune with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Peterson wants to address issues including conflict of interest, which is being raised in tandem with an overall board review of DTW’s bylaws. “I’m feeling optimistic that we’re going to end up with some kind of policy that has real transparency to it. That’s what we’re wrestling with.”

Dec 3–19, 2007

Travels to Israel, France and Netherlands.

Dec 12, 15, 2007

Attends two performances of Alain Buffard’s (Not) A Love Song, as part of the Festival d’Automne. “The audience definitely did not respond well to opening night; no one booed or anything, but it was cool and tepid. Alain encouraged me to come back on Sunday night. I did and it felt like the piece had gotten its legs.” As a result, Peterson is in negotiation to present (Not) A Love Song and another Buffard work, the more introspective Les Inconsolés, at DTW. “This is just the thinking process, but what if there were a way to show one one week and the other the next? I think when you start to really pull them apart, there are some similar threads running through them. I’m thinking about how to show different kinds of work by different artists, but at the same time try to develop some kind of an ongoing relationship with them. So that may be for 2009.”

Dec 14, 2007

Meets with Cathy Bouvard and Guy Walter, co–artistic directors of Les Subsistances in Lyon, France, for a tour of their laboratory and performance facilities. “Because we share interest in experimental performance, we discuss the possibility of a collaboration between DTW and Les Subsistances around artist residencies. We’ll talk again in a subsequent meeting in April 2008 when Guy travels again to the U.S.”

Jan 17, 2008

Meets with Marie Collin, codirector of the Festival d’Automne, and Nicole Birmann Bloom of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, to talk about DTW’s potential participation in the New York version of the fall ’09 Festival d’Automne. Discussions focus on programs like the Alain Buffard project and the reenactment of Anna Halprin’s 1965 Parades and Changes, which is being developed in France. Peterson notes: “It will be a bit more of an expensive project, so I’ll have to work to see how I can cobble together finances for it. For me, the thing that I’m most interested in is paying attention to artists over the arc of their life, as long as they are pushing ideas.”

Jan 13, 2008

APAP Conference. Attends a meeting of the African Consortium, a group of presenters who have an ongoing commitment to present artists from Africa. Peterson talks with Laura Faure, who runs the Bates Dance Festival, to discuss ways to collaborate on residencies with Africa-based artists. “I don’t like this one-off stuff. It’s hard to introduce an artist from another country if they’re not known in New York. So to bring an artist and to begin to provide an opportunity for them to introduce themselves and make connections is what this partnership is about. And then, maybe the next year they come back and be on the stage.”

Mar 4, 2008

Attends a performance of Pam Tanowitz Dance at City Center Studios, confirming Peterson’s interest to present her during DTW’s season. She also begins to think about the ways in which choreographers need time to develop their ideas. “How can I shuffle the deck in the studio to create time for someone like Pam? This is a little more aspirational than realistic right now, but I would love to be able to get the organization to that point, so by the time I leave I’m passing on that kind of an operating framework for an artistic director.”

Mar 8, 2008

Attends a performance by Kayvon Pourazar at the Center for Performance Research in Williamsburg. In his short piece, he works up a sweat in dozens of layers of jackets, removes each laboriously and then, finally, peels off a white T-shirt, squeezes the excess moisture into a glass and toasts the crowd (with some vodka). “There are artists I’ve been following around on a consistent basis, and then every once in awhile I’ll see someone in a completely different light. When I saw Kayvon perform, I found some of his ideas interesting, so I’ve since contacted him and set up a meeting. We’re going to have a conversation, but from my end, I see him as someone I’d like to figure out a way to support. He’d be good for the Studio Series.”