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Helping to make the scene happen

Choreographer, curator, editor, activist and more, Meg Wolfe is a best friend to all things relating to contemporary dance in L.A.

June 29, 2008|Susan Josephs | Special to The Times
  • ENDEAVORS: Wolfe this week will present her ?Eleven Missing Days,? a film-noir-inspired dance and multimedia work.
ENDEAVORS: Wolfe this week will present her ?Eleven Missing Days,? a film-noir-inspired… (Alex Gallardo, Los Angeles…)

MEG WOLFE had good reason to be professionally depressed when she moved to Los Angeles for love in 2003. Fresh from 12 years as a well-known performer and choreographer on New York's downtown experimental dance scene, she arrived here knowing "no one, and at a complete loss. I went to this performance where the dancers were dressed up as poodles or maybe babies, it wasn't clear, and there was zero sense of irony," she says. "This scared me."

Homesick for the dance community she had left behind, Wolfe decided to take matters into her own hands and, in the interim, has assumed a variety of other roles, including curator, editor, grass-roots activist, mother hen and best friend of all things related to contemporary dance in Los Angeles. She has established a flourishing performance series devoted to works in progress, co-founded a dance journal and spearheaded a weekly dance class program. She also maintains two MySpace pages with comprehensive local dance-related information; serves as the Southern California coordinator of a pilot mentorship program for choreographers, administered by the San Francisco-based Margaret Jenkins Dance Company; and, most recently, started an organization called Show Box to both better support her own projects and provide more presenting opportunities for local and visiting artists.

The recipient in April of a Lester Horton community service award from the local Dance Resource Center, Wolfe "is a one-woman institution," says George Lugg, associate director of REDCAT, the secondary theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall, which has become one of the city's major dance venues. "You might think she just knows how to maximize resources and make a bunch of different things happen, but really, these are multiple programming initiatives that all support the development of dance in Los Angeles and reflect a real understanding of the field."

Lugg, in fact, encouraged Wolfe to consolidate her various endeavors under one organizational entity. Hence Show Box, which will premiere its first official project Thursday at the Unknown Theater. Over the course of two weekends, Wolfe will present her own "Eleven Missing Days," a film-noir-inspired dance and multimedia work, in addition to short pieces by two guest choreographers from New York and three from Los Angeles. The mixed bill has the same spirit as Anatomy Riot, Wolfe's works-in-progress series, in which multiple artists share a single evening, and it reflects the 40-year-old choreographer's wish to, as she puts it, "open things up further in L.A. There still aren't a lot of presenting opportunities here."

Over coffee at a Santa Monica cafe, Wolfe grapples with the question of why she spends untold, mostly unpaid hours in service to her fellow dance artists when she could be focused on her own choreography and earning more money as a massage therapist. Slender, short-haired and sharp-featured, she's also shy and soft-spoken and observes that her role as community organizer has forced her to be far more extroverted than feels natural to her.

"I guess there's something about connecting with the community you're working in that keeps me going," she says. "Plus, I'm good at encouraging others. If they have an idea, I like to help."

Local dancer and choreographer Taisha Paggett, for example, was frustrated by the lack of "editorial avenues for dance" in Southern California and had the idea of starting a publication for and by dance artists. Together with Wolfe, she co-founded Itch, a now 2-year-old dance journal that has started to generate subscriptions and has so far featured the writings of more than 50 contributors from L.A. and other cities. Recent issues have examined the role of balance in an artist's life and the loss of full-time dance critics at U.S. newspapers.

"While I could have very possibly done this by myself, Meg is very much a mobilizer," says Paggett. "She's very good at responding to what's missing, channeling those ideas and facilitating them into action."

Wolfe did exactly that with the series Dance Bank, which she started last year at the Open Space, a new downtown venue operated by choreographer Hassan Christopher, and which now offers classes every Thursday night by a rotating group of more than 30 teachers. The teachers pay $50 membership dues to cover rental costs in exchange for six free classes. Non-teachers pay $10 a class.

"A lot of people were talking about how nice it would be if there were more dance classes in L.A., and Meg just went ahead and pulled it together," says Paggett.

Wolfe concedes that sometimes, "I'm just exhausted and want to toss everything out the window. But I guess I see a bigger picture. I believe in dance as an art form, and I want to see it flourish. And personally, I can't exist in a vacuum."

A learning process

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