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Helping dance presenters make a global leap

A consortium allows small venues to land cutting-edge Latin American artists.

November 03, 2002|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Money in the arts is tight right now, no doubt about it. Orchestras are grappling with deficits, the highflying Guggenheim has traded global ambitions for layoffs and exhibition cancellations, and everywhere there is the specter of belts tightening, horizons narrowing.

Except when they're not. Creative financing -- and making common cause -- combined with reasonable ambitions can still open previously closed doors. Los Angeles has been designated a site for one such program, whose stated aim is to erase borders up and down the Western Hemisphere.

Performing Americas links three nonprofit presenting organizations -- New Orleans-based National Performance Network, LA Red in Venezuela and New York's Arts International -- in introducing cutting-edge Latin American performing arts to the U.S. and vice versa.

The consortium has included Highways Performance Space, in Santa Monica, as its West Coast venue. Known for presenting off-the-beaten-path performances, Highways will help introduce the Argentine dance- theater company Grupo Krapp to the U.S. in a residency that includes performances Thursday through Saturday.

Danielle Brazell, Highways artistic director, says that without Performing Americas, she wouldn't have had the means to present a Latin American company as part of its North American debut tour.

"We're a small organization, and because we work with contemporary, alternative, socially relevant work, there isn't much funding available for what we do. The benefit for Highways is that it enables us to participate on an international level that can directly contribute to our local artistic community. When you do this kind of exchange, these artists inspire dialogue."

According to MK Wegmann, chief executive of the National Performance Network, the program grew out of the consortium's dedication to presenting new and emerging performing artists. Her organization helps fund such performances at 55 member-venues in 26 states; LA Red does much the same thing in Latin America; and Arts International does it worldwide.

"LA Red is modeled on National Performance Network," she explains, "and we'd wanted to work together. Arts International approached both of us and said they were interested in helping facilitate a formal exchange of artists. We began to design one based on a mutual partnership -- artists from the U.S. and artists from Latin America would be included in the exchange." This is the program's inaugural season.

Criteria for choosing the performers, Wegmann says, are based on the content of the artistic work and the artists' willingness to tour in a residency context. In addition, company size was taken into consideration, with eight or nine members the maximum.

To select the two Latin American companies for this season's tour, Wegmann was part of a curatorial panel that looked at about 25 different ensembles at festivals in South America. Besides Grupo Krapp, a Chilean musical ensemble was chosen to tour the U.S., and the dance troupe Jane Comfort and Company, from New York, and the movement theater ensemble Shawn McConneloug and her Orquestra, from Minneapolis, will be spending three weeks in Brazil and Central America, respectively.

The venues in the U.S. are all members of National Performance Network. Of the dozen that applied to be part of Performing Americas, six were chosen -- three to present music and three dance. Besides Highways, the other dance presenters are in Texas.

"We chose Highways because of the range and quality of the work they present, as well as their connection to community," says Wegmann. "They are a new presenter of international work and part of the motivation for this project is to encourage people to take on presenting international work."

Brazell says her involvement began in 2001 when she went to an NPN conference. "Highways is honored to be chosen," she says. There isn't an easy way to make international contacts, she points out, and the network sponsorship not only helps defray costs of production, it helps with the increasingly difficult and costly process of securing visas. Bottom line? "NPN gives artists we might not otherwise be able to present the opportunity to tour."

Wegmann says that the overall budget for the program is $120,000, with National Performance Network subsidizing the contracts at the national level and individual presenters coming up with matching funds in order to cover their costs for the residencies and performances. Highways received about $10,000 from the consortium, with money designated for travel, per diem and a set fee per dancer for a week. Brazell raised her matching funds from the City of Santa Monica Community Arts Program, California Presenters Initiative and TourWest.

Explains Brazell: "It's been a challenge, but funders get excited when you're doing this kind of exchange, as this affects our local community. Grupo Krapp is young, out of Buenos Aires, and their work is very strong, very exciting.

"One of the workshops they're doing," Brazell adds, "is in a predominantly Latino working-class neighborhood." They'll be interacting with young adults in a program through the Pico Family Youth Service Center. The other workshop is for dancers and members of the performance art community.

Wegmann says Performing Americas is intended to continue for five years. Brazell has been selected to participate in next year's curatorial panel, and one of her missions is to get a Los Angeles-based company on the next tour. "The challenges [of bringing in new acts] are sometimes insurmountable," Brazell points out, "but the benefits -- when the project actually happens, when you see artists working in the community -- make it worthwhile. It's inspiring."


Grupo Krapp

When: Thursday to Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica

Price: $14 to $16

Contact: (310) 315-1459

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