Sam Miller talks about his dynamic (and completely free) River to River Festival

Sam Miller talks about his exciting River to River Festival, which takes place this summer in lower Manhattan

Time Out New York: No Change or “freedom is a psycho-kinetic skill.”
Sam Miller:
You don’t really think about that kind of work in a site-based environment, but on the other hand she claims the space. My feeling was she could do that anywhere. And she also needs and deserves support. A number of these projects are with Danspace. Often, the way we’re working—these are not co-presentations. Our piece and that piece will have their own lives. In the case of DD, she is developing a new work for Danspace for a year from now; we might do them kind of almost at the same time. One of the things that’s always interesting from a curatorial perspective is when an artist has a retrospective in a museum, and there is also a show of their work in a gallery. I’m thinking there is that opportunity here.

Time Out New York: Who else is left?
Sam Miller:
When I started working with Tere O’Connor last year, before I had the resources for this two-year project, I still wanted to work with Tere for multiple years. We’re just going to support him and see where it lands. But Tere is another example of if you bring 12 artists to the table, some of those artists should be leaders—thought leaders. It’s really great to have Tere in the mix.

Time Out New York: There’s one more.
Sam Miller:
Okwui Okpokwasili. I just saw her showing at the Armory last week. She’s great. And one of the things about this project is that it’s not just time in the studio and an opportunity in the festival. I asked Joanna Haigood and Jennifer Monson to be advisors to this site-based work, because I think that they really have long histories of working that way. I’m just really looking forward to Okwui and Joanna talking about, “How do you do this?”

Time Out New York: Do the artists get a specific number of hours for rehearsing?
Sam Miller:
Basically what they get is 250 hours. Give or take. If they want more, they’re going to get more. But these residencies aren’t, “You get four weeks, period.” We look at their schedules a year at a time and fit them in. They get X amount of hours scheduled over two years. We’re paying them, and we’re having these workshops and these conversations—it’s also about creating a cohort. Having people they can talk to. I like the publication The Threepenny Review. You know how they bring artists together to talk about a place or Faulkner? I like the idea of conversations. There will be some documentation—we’ll try to share this with people. 

Time Out New York: You told me that you would never repeat yourself. So many people do, and I think it’s put the dance world in a real rut. How do you continue to challenge yourself?
Sam Miller:
For a long time, I’ve been after the same thing. Jacob’s Pillow, the Eiko & Koma Retrospective Project—how do you support artists? And the reason you don’t repeat yourself is that they don’t repeat themselves. So the whole point of how do you add value as a person doing this work is how can you understand and, in a sense, anticipate where they’re going. You need support systems that are responsive to where they’re going, not where they’ve been. Part of that comes from having the privilege of talking to artists and not making decisions based on what you see all the time, but also on what you hear. When you get the different platforms I’ve had—the Pillow, the National Dance Project, LMCC—I’m trying to be an advocate for a certain kind of practice. I am not a curator. It’s not that this is my eye. These are support practices that I’m trying to promote. How can you support artists over time as they grow? If artists told me, “Look, I just want to do what I did last year next year,” then that’s what I would be doing, but that’s not what I hear. When I was talking to Beth Gill last year, she said it was more interesting for her to solve the problem of translating the work to Pier 15 than solving the problem of how can it tour and be boxed up and replicated. I listened to that.

Time Out New York: The tour-package model is so huge in Europe.
Sam Miller:
Yeah, but it’s really about replication. And it’s part of the economy—I appreciate that. That’s not what I have to do now in my life. 

Time Out New York: Before, I didn’t mean to imply that the dance world is in a rut creatively.
Sam Miller:
Not at all. It couldn’t be more exciting. And when you put together a group of 12, it’s never meant to be, This is it, I chose the 12 artists. It’s meant to be representative of a larger community. This is not like a club. This is just a sample. There’s such great work going on right now. I’m happy to be here. One thing that attracts me about the festival is that it allowed us to take our commitment to artists in the studio and create a public forum for it that was distinctive. When we’ve sat around the table and talked to the artists about what they’re headed toward in ’13 and ’14, it is a different thing for an artist to present their work to an audience that is not familiar with it. A site-based, free thing is such a nice way to do that because it allows your followers to find you in a new way, it allows a dance audience to find new artists, and it allows a nonarts audience to find dance. When it’s all about touring, it becomes about the only thing I control is that 30-by-30 Marley, and it’s generic because it has to look the same rather than look different. But the thing about choreographers today—the ones we like—is that they want you to notice where you are. What space are you in? In lower Manhattan, we have a lot of good opportunities for that. It not like we have these dance plazas. These are geographically specific. These are real places.

The 2013 River to River Festival continues through July 14 at various locations in lower Manhattan.

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