Laura Stein, Executive Director of Dancing Grounds
The first annual eDGe Dance Festival represents our latest effort at Dancing Grounds to raise the bar for New Orleans contemporary dance performance. Dancing Grounds is a nonprofit community organization with the mission to provide high-quality dance education and performance programs to New Orleanians of all ages. We do this by supporting a diverse group of dance students, teachers, artists, and audiences. Dancing Grounds brings people of all backgrounds together with one common passion: the love of dance.
We created eDGe Dance Festival to support local dance artists and provide a much-needed platform for locals to present new work. Our inaugural festival features an exceptional group of artists: Maritza Mercado-Narcisse, Meryl Murman, Scott Heron, and Brendan Connelly. Dancing Grounds curated the festival, intentionally selecting works that push boundaries and represent diverse perspectives from the dance world.
Meryl Murman is also one of two choreographers selected to participate in our Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program. AIR gives local dance artists the time, space, and resources they need to create higher-quality work, raise the visibility of their art, and reach new audiences. Dance is the most under-recognized, under-funded, and under-cultivated art form in New Orleans. In particular, contemporary dance artists have limited opportunities to make new work, experiment with new ideas, receive critical feedback on their work, and dialogue with dance artists from other parts of the world. We created the AIR program to respond to these issues. Meryl and the FLOCK have made Dancing Grounds their artistic home for the past year, activating our space with a newfound creative spirit. We thank them for their commitment and contributions to our contemporary dance programming.
Meryl Murman, FLOCK Artistic Director
As I was finishing up my graduate degree in California one of the big questions everyone was asking me at the time was, “Will you go back to New Orleans?”
The answer seemed obvious in some ways, during the two-year program in Cali I returned to New Orleans every break for months at a time to work on dance film projects with my collaborators here, and yet I did carefully consider my options.
What were my options for making dance back in New Orleans?
When I started grad school in 2012 Dancing Grounds did not exist. There were very few – if any at times – high level contemporary dance classes that were open to the public, a handful of scattered dancers, and limited space for rehearsals. Fortunately, because I was coming and going so frequently, I met Laura, saw the dance community she was growing in the bywater, and recognized what an enormous hole she was filling through what seemed like a combination of a mammoth amount of passion and communal grassroots organizing. I did not know how I would fit into it, but I wanted to be a part of it, somehow. The week I left California the last time, and moved permanently back into New Orleans, I dropped by the studio, and one of the first things Laura said to me was, “How can I help you?”
In many ways I think that sums up Laura, Dancing Grounds and AIR’s mission. From a place of true passion for dance and providing space and visibility for dance in the city of New Orleans they want to help dancers and dance makers realize their own potential, and grow artistically. Laura is sharp at recognizing where there is a true need and then works to find ways to fill it. She took a big gamble in designing AIR, giving what limited space she has and could be renting out, to two select choreographers to use for rehearsal. I do not know how I could have stayed in New Orleans without it, because looking back on the past year it has been the game changer. Having not only the space, but the recognition, support, and network she has provided me with has led me down a path I could not have imagined when I left California.
Since the start of my residency in January, five dancers I worked with in Los Angeles/NYC have relocated here, with more on their way. FLOCK truly materialized as a result of the space and permission that this residency provided. I have been able to develop two new evening length works and re-work a piece I started in California into a feature dance film. The program has allowed me to have a process, explore ideas, experiment and challenge myself, to be wild and take risks, while simultaneously providing a structure for presenting work before an audience. Deadlines, and an audience, are as much of a privilege as free rehearsal space and networks. The luxury of being able to test a piece out in performance and then go back and work on it further has been possibly the biggest dream come true for me. That a piece does not have to end after its first rushed staging – that staging so often being the time when so many things get figured out – but can in turn be re-worked, developed further and crafted for a future performance is a very exciting place to be in and feels right for this stage in my career.
After the first workshop performance in late February of my work, The Lipstick, I was surprised when folks I had never met before approached me in bars or social settings to talk about the piece. The frequency, the excitement, the number of questions… It was clear that Laura was not only filling a hole for contemporary dancers in New Orleans, but for New Orleans itself by providing the community with a place where they could see professional contemporary dance that is pushing boundaries and exploring issues that feel culturally and socially immediate and sticky.
Thank you Laura, Randall, Brieze and everyone else at Dancing Grounds for all the extra time and energy that you put in to make AIR a reality. Its truly a passion project, and labor of love for not only the dance community, but the city of New Orleans at large to have a place within its belly that dance can call home, a home where artists can feel liberated from the capitalist structure to truly express themselves, be bold, transgressive and socially relevant.