The Dance Resource Center Responds to LA Dance Community’s Unique Challenges with Home Grown Program

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[dropcap]For[/dropcap] choreographer and professional journalist Maritza Navarro, pursuing dance has never been a question of “either/or,” only “and.”

“[Dance has] always been something I do at the same time. I know it’s kind of like a ‘side thing,’ in quotations, but it’s actually something that takes up almost as much time as my real job,” says Navarro.

By day, Navarro is a video producer for Fuse, a music-focused media platform. By night, she is a dancer and choreographer — taking classes, scheduling rehearsals and, most recently, working on a piece for Home Grown, an initiative led by the Dance Resource Center (DRC) to create performance opportunities for local dance-makers and cultivate new audiences for LA-based dance. Navarro will present her piece, “Crossing Over” — based on the stories of friends and loved ones she has encountered throughout her life — alongside works by contemporary jazz choreographer Ami Mattison and multimedia dance-maker Rebecca Bryant at the Bootleg Theater on March 10, 11 and 12.

Navarro jokingly “blames” her mother for her passionate pursuit of dance alongside other interests.

“I grew up in a really small town [in Texas], so my mom would drive an hour and a half so that I could make Nutcracker rehearsals, and I would be doing my homework in the car on the way over and on the way back. So I think that whole regimen of doing both things at the same time somehow stuck with me and I couldn’t shake it. I just couldn’t do one thing or the other when it was time to choose a career or go to college. It just never stopped,” says Navarro, who ended up majoring in communications, minoring in dance, and then pursuing a Masters degree in journalism (while also dancing for companies in Texas and Santa Monica, respectively). She’s also done commercial dance work for film, TV, and stage as a freelance dancer and choreographer, but has always dreamed of choreographing and producing her own solo show.

“Los Angeles doesn’t have a traditional sort of institutional hierarchy of performance opportunities for dance, the way you might be able navigate in some other cities, like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. And there are not a lot of traditional presenting opportunities for local work in the city or in the county.”

The question was how to do it. So Navarro applied for Home Grown when a dancer friend of hers sent her a link with information about the Dance Resource Center’s program. She was accepted.

Navarro sees Home Grown as a key moment in achieving this longtime goal.

“I’ve done a lot of other work where someone else is producing a much larger show and I just contribute one piece, so for me, rather than going from creating one piece as a part of an amalgam of different work… to everything mine… I thought a halfway point was perfect… and that’s what Home Grown really is,” she says. “For me, this was the ultimate kind of perfect next step as an artist who has my sights set on producing a solo show.”

If Home Grown, now in its second year, continues to develop as its facilitators at the DRC have envisioned it, Navarro’s “next step” will be the first of many transitions for LA dance artists like her, looking to expand their repertoire and build new audiences.

“It’s almost like a stepping-stone,” says DRC Director of Programming, Alex Mathews, who explains that the leap from presenting a five-minute piece at a dance festival to producing a full-evening length work in a theatre space can be a daunting task for any artist.

“There’s a pretty big gap between going from the festival experience to producing your own two-hour production,” she says. “There’s a lot of struggle that coincides with that, so it can often be a burden, like a financial burden or an administrative burden.”

The lack of dedicated dance performance venues and presenters willing to showcase LA-based companies and choreographers in LA also makes it difficult for local artists like Navarro to get their work seen, heard, and developed, explains DRC Executive Director Felicia Rosenfeld.

“Los Angeles doesn’t have a traditional sort of institutional hierarchy of performance opportunities for dance, the way you might be able navigate in some other cities, like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. And there are not a lot of traditional presenting opportunities for local work in the city or in the county,” says Rosenfeld.

Rebecca Bryant
Rebecca Bryant

But where one might see problems, Rosenfeld and her team saw the chance to generate solutions by trying something new. They looked to the LA dance community’s strengths — its do-it-yourself ethos — to harness energy for the development of Home Grown.

“Instead of sitting around and moaning, ‘We wish we had one theatre for dance, we wish we had this or that,’ [we asked] ‘What can we do as a service organization when part of our mission is to support the viability and visibility of local work?’” she says.

The answer for them was to create a program that not only gave an opportunity for local artists to perform, but also develop new work that could bridge the gap between festivals and full-on productions — allowing for interaction between artists in different dance fields and building new audiences for local dance.

“It’s a little bit like a three-legged stool,” says Rosenfeld. “There are the artists. There’s Bootleg, the theatre. And then there’s DRC, the service organization. Each group brings resources to the endeavor.”

In other words, the artists bring the artistic content and contribute a participation fee to cover production costs, Bootleg offers up the performance space, and the DRC helps with the administrative details in-between — such as marketing and coordinating the tech and production crews with the artists. Any revenue made at the box office throughout the three-night performance event is split among the artists.

A few changes have been made since the pilot year — the participation fee has been lowered and three artists are on the bill this year instead of just two — but Rosenfeld anticipates that the format of Home Grown will continue to evolve as it responds to the cultural landscape of the Los Angeles and the needs of the dance community within this ecosystem.

“We don’t have a formula, and I’m not sure we will completely ever have a formula because that’s not really our culture,” says Rosenfeld, who cites that Home Grown’s programming has already expanded to encompass a choreographic residency program led by choreographer Rosanna Gamson. The program is designed to help up to eight LA-based dance makers develop their work and present it at a studio performance and conversation at MiModa Studio on March 19. Rosenfeld counts the residency as part of Home Grown because it aims to nurture the development of local dance — something that Rosenfeld sees as the primary objective of the program.

Ami Mattison
Ami Mattison

“We are also hoping that through the brand of Home Grown there is identification being built in a wider community and audience that Home Grown means strong local dance,” says Rosenfeld. “Maybe people can start to think [when they] see Home Grown, no matter what theatre it’s at, ‘Oh, I trust that. Even though I don’t know the name of the company, per se, I’m going to buy a ticket because I love dance and I trust that.’”

Mathews believes that Home Grown will not only become a signpost for Los Angeles dance, but also a tool for dance artists as they continue on their creative journeys.

“I just hope that this, overall, alleviates some of the burden, but also ensures that the artists who pass through this program will also have different insights and tools going into whatever their next production choices and performance choices are,” she says.

For Navarro, participating in Home Grown has helped her realize that she can continue to produce videos and dance, as long as she gives time and space for both pursuits in her life.

“Being able to create this space and time with yourself and with some of the dancers workshop and try things… and learn about each other — and not just place movement on bodies — is one of the most important things that I’ve learned this time around,” she says.

“I’ve come to peace with the fact that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think I’ve let myself feel like an outsider for a really long time, because I’m not doing class during the day, or I’m not doing workshops or things like that, but that shouldn’t mean that I can’t create.”

GET TICKETS: HOME GROWN at the Bootleg, through March 12.

drc iconHOME GROWN activates true collaboration among dance makers, a theater, and a service organization. Choreographers share the stage; stretch artistic development beyond limited showcase/festival formats; bolster production skills; and attract dynamic audiences. Get a feel for some of LA’s eclectic dance scene through this rigorous and inclusive production!

Christina Campodonico

Christina Campodonico

Christina is an arts journalist based in Los Angeles. Her writings have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and The Argonaut, where she is a staff writer. She loves reading, writing and watching other people perform.