Sunday, December 21, 2008

the AOMC's Fundraising Mail Campaign, Winter 2008

First off, an explanation of the proliferation of posts: i'm on vacation, and finally have time to pick up some of the things i love doing, such as this, that i usually don't have time for. Don't be overwhelmed, take your time. I think they're worth reading though, so i'm hoping the quantity doesn't discourage you. More rehearsal videos to come after the break.

So i wanted to do a short post (before i run to catch my bus to DC) on the AOMC's fundraising status, as we've just sent out our first big mail campaign for the season.

In past mail campaigns (2006 and 2007 respectively) we've raised $3,125 (36 donors) and $2,400 (29 donors) The second season we were worried that there would be less donations due to a number of factors, the primary one being more donations in the first year from family/friends who wanted to help me start, but didn't plan on being regular donors. However, while this trend proved true, we were nonetheless pleasantly surprised by the campaign's return. I would LOVE for this season to return to the high 30's donor range. This season, there are a few big factors that make me very nervous about what we'll earn. However each has a counterpoint:

1. Horrible Economy. Point: Hard times for everyone, all different types of donors are feeling the pull, state support dwindling, etc. Counterpoint: with a bad economy, many private donors feel responsible for supporting the arts. Additionally, the arts have always been poor. We know how to function with very little money, so we're a good investment in a down economy.

2. Timing. The jury is still out on this one, but i keep going back and forth on whether the proximity to xmas/new years will help or hurt. Point: people have just spent a lot of money and are now trying to save. Counterpoint: xmas spirit breeds generosity and charity, plus people are trying to get in their tax-deductible donations before the new year.

3. Location. Point: What incentive does our donor base (mainly MD and DC residents) have to support a company that is now located in NY? Also, the NY dance world is completely different from DC's, and i feel very unsure about what to expect in terms of NY donors. Counterpoint: Hopefully, we'll get some of that "just starting out" support again, since it's our first NY season. Additionally, though it won't help for this season, we'll hopefully be developing a strong constituency of NY donors this season who will end up being our main supporters and repeat donors in the future.

4. Donor Profiles. Point: most of our "community" in terms of potential donors are artists and/or students. Young, less likely to donate. More likely to think that "it's not their place or prerogative" and to leave it up to "the people who have money" who in turn leave it up to "the people who really care about that sort of thing", who have no money to donate. Counterpoint: none really, other than increased effort to fundraise among students and artists.


In past years, we’ve only sent out one letter to all of our mailing list. This year, however, I felt that we had really reached a point where we needed to craft two different messages: one for those who had previously donated to the AOMC (and thus knew about the company’s history and mission) and one for people who hadn’t donated before, both long time viewers and new members of our community. I wanted to be able to thank those who had gotten us so far already, and at the same time be able to deliver a slightly more action oriented message to potential donors, most of whom are our age and artists. I therefore sent out two letters - same general idea with a few differences. Here they are (click on the pics for a more readable size):

Main Fundraiser Letter

Previous Donor Fundraiser Letter

And then here's the donation form that was included in each mailing (with a pre-addressed stamped return envelope)

In addition to the two letters, we've also upped the effort in our approach to online fundraising. I'll of course post some information here about how to donate, and we've also sent a message to our facebook group and are in the process of adding the "how to donate" message to our youtube and profiles. Additionally, a new AOMC newsletter will go out within the next week or so with the lead story being our fundraising campaign. While we're not quite done (and have yet to receive the DTW go ahead) with the newsletter text and the blog text, here's our language for the online sites. Each is a little different, but you get the idea. Here's facebook:
"All of us at the A.O. Movement Collective love that you're supporting our work by keeping in touch with us digitally! We want to keep bringing you innovative and exciting projects, and the number one thing you can do to make that a reality is to make a contribution - right here right now! We know that our supporters are students, artists, and revolutionaries - people who don't have wads of money to throw around - but think about this: if every member of this group donated just $10 (less than seeing a movie, proposing to your partner, or buying a new pair of jeans), we would have enough to self-produce an ENTIRE SHOW next year!

All you have to do is GO TO THIS SITE

and specify in the form that you want to donate to SARAH A.O. ROSNER on the drop down menu. To donate by mail, and for more information on how we use donations, check out our website. It's tax deductible* and can officially be considered your "good deed", "act of charity", or "protest against lack of arts funding" for the week! Also, we'll be eternally grateful.

*Sarah A.O. Rosner is a member artist of Dance Theater Workshop, Inc., a non-profit tax-exempt organization. Contributions in support of Rosner's work are greatly appreciated and may be made payable to Dance Theater Workshop, Inc., earmarked for "the Dance Theater Workshop member project of Sarah A.O. Rosner." A description of the work and current project activities for which such contributions will be used are available from Rosner or Dance Theater Workshop, upon request. All contributions are fully deductible to the extent allowed by law. (Note: A copy of Dance Theater Workshop's latest annual financial report filed with the New York State Department of State may be obtained by writing to the N.Y.S. Dept. of State, Charities Registration, 162 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY, 12231, or to Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, New York, NY, 10011)"
As i mentioned in the last fundraising post, my reason for posting all this information (which, i've been reminded by some, is more valuable if i keep it my business secret) is that i understand how immensely helpful it was for me to have something to go off of when i started working on my first one. With each letter i feel that i've been able to make some vast improvements (both in terms of language and design), and i understand that there's always room to improve. I welcome any comments or insights about what works for you and what doesn't. Additionally, if you have a recent fundraising approach or letter you'd like to add to the conversation, please feel free to post it, or send to me.

I've just started receiving mail donations, so i'll keep you updated on how this campaign goes, and all the details of what we raise. Fingers crossed!

Happy Holidays!

Found this on the countercritic blog (my new exciting find of the week!) and thought you'd enjoy.
Though humor was primary, it also brought up some notions of engagement/conflict/elocution that we'd investigated in tony's class. Check it out!

Oh, and if you haven't seen Mark Morris's "Hard Nut" see it see it SEE IT!

You can find it at some libraries, or order it off of amazon or the MMDG website. It's one of my favorite holiday traditions. Happy Holidays to you and yours from the Urgent Artist!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: Alastair Macaulay's "Consequences of Going to Tape"

As i posted below, a few days ago this article by Alastair Macaulay appeared in the New York Times. As it's one of my goals for this year to become more well read in terms of the dance world, i've switched my homepage over to the Times's page of dance reviews, and so was greeted by this one as i pulled myself out of bed. I read it, and had to read it again to make sure i wasn't misreading or misinterpreting it - one of those situations where you go "he said WHAT?!?!?!.......No.....that can't be right......oh."

In the article, Macaulay discuses the decline of using live music at dance performances (he seems to be talking about ballets, Ailey, and other "uptown" performances, although he doesn't clarify those specifically, nor does he limit himself to a discussion of solely those companies). He points out that, specific to Ailey's last season (although, the reader wonders by the end of the article if he doesn't feel this way about all dance) that "there are moments when it’s almost as good to look at the singers as it is to watch the dancing" and later, "the musicians are the main event".

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Macaulay's heart is in the right place, and i understand and agree with the just of his arguments:
there's a certain power and seduction of seeing a performance with live music, it allows for a different relationship between the dancer and the music, one that allows spontaneous and often exciting musicality on the part of the dancer, that, if the company uses taped music, it's often most effective (which i understood as easiest to watch) when it's used to achieve a nostalgic, artefactual, or kitsch effect, and that companies even such as Ailey, amidst our breathing it's last lifeless breath economy, are canceling shows and "turning to tape" (a phrase which perhaps further indicates the extent with which Macaulay is out of touch with modern technology, among other things). He even spends a paragraph or two illuminating how financially unfeasible it is for companies to support live music, based on a previous article by Joan Acocella. He writes:
"In 2005 the Graham company was able to give a two-week season with a live orchestra of 28 players, but the cost - Joan Acocella, reviewing in The New Yorker, reported at the time — was $184,000. The same month a Mark Morris season with six instrumentalists and eight singers cost, for four performances, $35,000. Ms. Acocella (also reviewing the excellent Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, which had three instrumentalists and a vocalist) remarked: “In these days of near-zero public funding for dance, one assumes that the companies more or less killed themselves to raise that money, and the result made all the difference in the world. Dance audiences, I believe, have now got used to taped music, and you can get used to it, the same way you can learn to eat Spam instead of ham, or breathe smog instead of air. Your life is just diminished, and you don’t realize it until you see concerts such as we saw last month.”
He also looks at the Miami City Ballet's predicament:
“Live music for programs this season would cost the company $480,000, and as of Dec. 4, 2008, $188,281.83 had been raised,” the release says. The company’s board, it says, determined that “the goal would not be met.” Such stories have occurred elsewhere; more will follow."
Reading this, my first reaction was a positive one to the article - glad that a reviewer was doing his part to look at an important and negative trend that's happening as a result of the dance economy, and also glad for a dance article that wasn't just about what the reviewer had seen and what they personally thought about it. Macaulay had laid out all the information, and as i followed the link to the second page, i was ready for his pointed yet poignant conclusion, perhaps with a suggestion about how the dance world could utilize this power of live music to gain enough money to afford it.

Oh, but that second page.

In the conclusion of the article, Macaulay makes a few statements that i find to be completely flatly inexcusable for someone who acts as the leading dance critic for the New York Times to be making.
Macaulay goes on to lament the "turn to tape" (meaning use of non-live music) in the dance world (here meaning Ailey and other uptown, well funded, lyrical modern and ballet companies) or as he also deems it, "indifference to musicians", and expresses distress over choreographers choosing specific recordings of arias or symphonies that are not (he seems to think) the 'best' or 'most interesting' versions. He also expresses a fair amount of distress over companies not listing the music in their programs (which, for the record, irks me as well) admitting "I was much more interested in trying to identify that recording than I was in watching the choreography." But that's not the worst. Macaulay then closes the article with this which, because there's really no way for me to sum it up or make it worse than what he actually wrote, i'll just give to you here:
"I’d rather see smaller companies in smaller theaters, where dance still feels like music making...

A flamenco dancer at a Dance Critics Association conference once stated this rule: If you see flamenco to taped music, it’s not real flamenco. The rule should apply outside flamenco, too. When you’re hearing taped music, don’t be too sure you’re seeing real dance. As we enter dark financial days, this battle must be fought and fought again."

Really? This strikes me, as a choreographer, as...well...wrong. And i'm pretty sure that i'm one of the people in the position to point that out. Let's analyze this for a moment so we can pick out what's wrong with this statement:

1.) "I’d rather see smaller companies in smaller theaters, where dance still feels like music making" - While that may be true, and Mr. Macaulay is certainly entitled to his opinion, let me remind him that those dance companies may not have an interest in smaller theaters, or for that matter (hold on Alastair, this may come as an unwelcome shock to you) making dances that feel like music making. They may in fact be interested in making dances that feel like visual artwork, storytelling, abstraction or (are you ready for it?) dancemaking. Movement. Aesthetics of the moving body in time and space. That's why dance is a different art form from music. Because it's not music, and doesn't have the goal of being music. Now, tell me if i'm overreacting. Is it wrong that it alarms me that the lead NYT dance critic is upset when dance fails to "feel like music making"?

Don't get me wrong. I do understand that Macualay's argument is mainly for companies, such as the New York City Ballet and Alivn Ailey where the spectacle and presentation of the baroque aesthetics of the company seem to be in the forefront. I do understand that, for a company interested in such musically-driven work, that after the decision is made to give the music that large a role in the piece, one must then at least consider the implications of not delivering a quality of sound as important and immediate as the role of the music is professed to be.
However. Dance. Is. Not. Music. Making. Dance. Is. Dance. Making. It doesn't matter the genre, the aria, or how much the dance longs for the power of live accompaniment. It is it's own art form. Let me say it again: Dance has no obligation to be or support music. Dance is dance.

2.) "The rule should apply outside flamenco, too." Maybe i'm wrong to imply this, but dance styles are different precisely because they each hold a set of different values, aesthetics, and rules, all of which can then be followed, evolved, or broken by each piece/choreographer/company. The role of line and upright carriage is what makes ballet not modern dance. Agreeing to the seduction of gravity rather than remaining upright against it is what makes contact improv a form. It follows then that the dance's relation to music might be different per genre. Yes, live music is vital to flamenco (although would it surprise me to find a company that argued otherwise? No. Would I agree with them? Maybe.), but it is not for a number of other dance forms. Even understanding that Macaulay is (although he doesn't clarify) speaking of Ailey and ballet, forms to which music is clearly vastly important, the implication that one genre's rule is again, coming from the NYT lead critic, is deeply troubling.

3.) "When you’re hearing taped music, don’t be too sure you’re seeing real dance." Really, Mr. Macaulay? Really? Because i'm pretty sure that i've seen some damn good dance that been to recorded music. Or no music, even. He's not talking about postmodern dance, clearly, but the fact that he doesn't find an analysis of why it matters to which forms necessary to his argument is troubling at best, and willfully ignorant at worst. Dance, believe it or not, is, as we've stated, it's own art form.

4.) His conclusion is perhaps the most troubling to me.
"As we enter dark financial days, this battle must be fought and fought again." Rather than suggesting alternatives for fundraising, rather than thinking about how we could turn the deficit of music funds into a suportive relationship between these arts (for, while the music world is clearly in the same econmy we are, musicians are getting by famously compared to the dance world), Macualay suggests that we just keep on trucking. Don't pay the dancers what they're worth, or even at all. Don't pay for healthcare or insurance, don't work towards sustainability. Don't invest in new media or technologies that will take us into the future. Don't work on dancers not having to have "real jobs", but by all means, have live music. That's what's really important.

It is disappointing and frustrating that Alastair Macualay is the head dance critic for the New York Times. Moreover, it is unfair and unhelpful to the dance world, both the artists within it and the potential audiences without.

Mr. Macaulay, I declare war.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Mobile" vs. "Stabile"

Returning from the Calder exhibit at the Whitney (where i was so graciously taken by Darla's art-loving parents) I find myself very excited about a new term I learned at the exhibit - a "stabile".

Alexander Calder, now famous for his ceiling-attached slightly-moving abstract modern art, had a great deal of works that were both stationary (as in not moving at all, ever) and semi-stationary (for example, a wire sculpture that doesn't re-arrange in relation to itself, but does move via the vibrations and indirect movements of those walking by and looking at it). I was reading on one of the walls that Jean Arp coined a term for this type of Calder's work - "Stabiles".

Defined as "an abstract construction that is completely stationary" the text at the exhibit noted that the point of deeming these works "stabiles" was to relate them to their moving counterparts, mobiles. In doing so, Calder was showing that these stationary works were mobiles too - only with these, the movement, shifting perspective, and kinetic nature of the art came from the viewer's movement, not the sculpture's.

Neat, right? I think it's a lovely concept, and one that's immediately relatable (at least for me...) to dance and dance film. While i think the most logical connection is to look at pieces where the audience is asked to move and change perspectives, there's not really my cup of tea and, having never made one, it would be a brief and unthurough analysis. However, i think that looking at dancefilm through the structure of "mobile" vs. "stabile" can be quite illuminating.

Here's how it makes sense to me:
If we're looking at it analytically from a kinesthetic point of view, it seems we have four options.
1.) camera stationary, dancers stationary
2.) camera moving, dancers stationary
3.) camera stationary, dancers moving and
4.) camera moving, dancers moving.
While there are certainly a million shades of gray (what happens when you have multiple dancers, some moving some not? are we defining movement spatially? viscerally? etc) almost all situations are at least comprised, at a base level, of these four options. In that case, since the camera takes the role of the viewers perspective, we could also look at it with this parallel:
1.) camera stationary, dancers stationary - "Super-stabile" (or whatever.)
2.) camera moving, dancers stationary - "Stabile"
3.) camera stationary, dancers moving - "Mobile"
4.) camera moving, dancers moving. - "Ultra-mobile"
While, at first glance, this might look like a spectrum from least to most movement, I don't think it is. As i've often argued, the way to kill a dance is to film it from a stationary tripod. Which is not to say that you can't create a stationary shot that really conveys a sense of movement, it's just to point out that sometimes a moving shot can convey movement in a more visceral way (take, if you will, the camera movement for kiss in the elevator in Bazz Luhrman's "Romeo + Juliet" - tiny clip w/i the preview - versus the (okay, semi-)stationary footage of Beyonce's "Single Ladies").

Though you could spend time arguing that one conveys movement better than the other, i'd be satiated just agreeing that they convey it differently - one wants you to see the dancing for all it's aesthetic and visceral glory, and one wants you to experience that glory viscerally as the camera moves for you.

This has been on my mind of late, because we're getting closer and closer to being able to film Julia's solo for the new piece ("Glass Tree in Harlem"). The basic question has been (as it is whenever i make a dance film): what is the best way to film this as to make an art of it in it's own right? I don't want to make an artifact of the performative version - i want to make a dancefilm - and so an intersecting and re-working of the performative version's aesthetic into an aesthetic that combines the technique of both dance and film is necessary. So how to do it? Is it better to show the movement from full front? Better to have the camera move around Julia since much of the piece is still or small movement? Better to have both Julia and the camera moving? Or is that too much, to shaky to be viewed seated?

I've begun to assemble a sort of mish mosh of shots, some still others moving. I think my vision for it (at this point, we're still pretty young) is to have most of the phrases (the piece is composed of 30+ four-second phrases and two longer phrases) shot still from the front, at various different perspectives (for example, one mid range full body shot, one close in resting on the floor, etc). THEN, for the two longer phrases, i'm working out the mechanics of a shot that combines choreographed camera and dancer movement. If we can pull it off like it is in my mind (maybe 76% chance?) it will be GORGEOUS, and i'm pretty excited for it.

Since we'll also be utilizing slow and fast motion as well as reversing in the editing of it, I'm hoping to do a test of this shot sometime soon so i can start playing with it on final cut and seeing if it's possible. I'll post whatever I make!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Totally Inappropriate - "Consequences of Going to Tape" by Alastair Macaulay

Check out this recent NY Times article by Alastair Macaulay.
I find it completely inappropriate, in terms of it's blindsidedness to the diversity of the dance world, what it says about dance's value as an art form, and what it suggests for the economy of the dance world.

Open letter to Mr. Macaulay to follow tonight.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Check it out - "Choreographic Captures"

Just got word of a new site via - it's called "Choreographic Captures" and it's awesome. They have a bunch of high-qual dancefilms from their first competition (shorts no longer than 60 seconds) and an interesting format for their dissemination into the world ("via various pathways under the motto 'art for those who didn't ask for it'") such as in movie theaters in between previews. Exciting! You can also download a bunch for free!
Ch ch ch ch check it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

i heart gondry

Declare Independence