Despite critical acclaim and full houses, it hasn't been an easy year for locally based choreographer Winifred R. Harris. Indeed, the financial stress of bringing her company through its fourth season made her seriously consider leaving Southern California for a place where struggling artists can live more cheaply and modern dance is more integrated into the creative community and its support system.
But she's bounced back with "One Race Woman," a full-evening dance-theater project that Harris says has helped renew her "sense of staying power" in the Southland. Danced by her six-woman Between Lines company, "One Race Woman" will be presented as a work in progress Thursday to next Sunday at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. The finished version is scheduled for the Keck Theatre at Occidental College in March.
Using music by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Nina Simone, as well as a text with a number of different sources, the work focuses on what Harris calls "woman as species. What I'm dealing with is what we as women go through around the globe--and it includes our different relationships with each other, the males in our lives, the children in our lives."
"The whole evening should be pretty much a celebration of all our challenges that got us to this place."
In detailing the problems of working in Los Angeles, Harris acknowledges that "I'm not from here and not really sure of the channels of support." She has applied for grants from the L.A. City Cultural Affairs Department--which community dance-watchers once hoped would keep talented artists from making their careers elsewhere (remember Alvin Ailey?). So far, however, Harris has come up empty.
"I've gotten rejection notices for the last couple of years," she says, "and I've applied again this year and am waiting to hear the response."
She speaks longingly of the situation in Denver and Dallas, where she worked for major established modern dance ensembles, but says she'll stick with L.A. as long as it's possible to work here without lowering her standards.
"If the dancers I have with me say it gets too hard and I can't continue to find dancers who can sweat it out one more year, then that would make the decision more than me saying, 'I have to leave this place,' " she says.