Durham independent dance artists, a new organization devoted to connecting and supporting Triangle dance-makers, is striving to create a better ending for a familiar story.
Here’s how it usually goes: Independent choreographers troll for dancers, lighting designers and photographers. They scrounge for a performance space with an adequate floor and fumble through the mysterious process of promotion. And if they pull it all together, the response is still as likely to be silence as acclaim.
DIDA consolidates the resources of local choreographers and companies to tilt outcomes in the latter direction. Last year, its founders offered a scattering of one-off shows, with varying levels of professionalism, in venues ranging from untraditional pop-ups to an American Dance Festival main stage. But this fall launches a season of nine works by locals under the DIDA banner. Though still D.I.Y., the organization creates a larger, more coherent surface area to capture the attention of media and fans alike.
“This really started as an idea about how to support the dance community here,” DIDA co-founder Nicola Bullock says. “Leah Wilks and I had both produced and choreographed evening-length works. She brought a certain level of professionalism and took the work pretty seriously. It was an inspiring moment.”
DIDA is the quartet of Bullock, Wilks, Justin Tornow and Lightsey Darst, each of whom carries at least two modifiers from this set: dancer, choreographer, writer, actor, organizer. Last summer, Darst and Tornow relocated to Durham from the dance strongholds of Minneapolis and New York, respectively, bringing the experience and expectations of an active, coherent scene. (Darst occasionally writes about dance for the INDY.)
“There were always people who were here primarily as dancers but I think there are people now who are moving here to dance and choreograph,” Wilks says. “The number of dancers is starting to reach a critical mass that necessitates conversations about how we want to develop as a scene and as a community because, at a certain capacity, competition becomes inevitable, especially with limited resources like we have here.”
Traditionally, dancers have had trouble finding space to rehearse and present in Durham, and they struggle to bring out an audience or get media coverage. DIDA won’t book spaces or do a company’s promotional work, but the group will maintain an exhaustive list of local resources, including performance spaces and technical contacts such as lighting designers and freelance writers. Additionally, DIDA will promote its season as a whole, building a comprehensive mailing list over time.
DIDA isn’t trying to turn Durham into a something-every-night scene like New York. The smallish size of the community presents a distinct advantage.
“We’re somewhere that has really clear opportunity and possibility,” Tornow says. “I feel like, in New York, that’s really hard. Everybody’s kind of got it figured out and have already got their scene going.”
Although it may move toward a juried model, DIDA curated its first season, inviting familiar choreographers to present work. Anna Barker opens the fall season in a duet with Wilks, probably in an unconventional venue such as a bar.
Tornow’s COMPANY and Tommy Noonan show pieces at the Carrack Gallery on consecutive December weekends. And in 2015, Marie Garlock, Kristin Taylor, Black Irish, Wilks’ VECTOR, ShaLeigh Dance Works and Renay Aumiller Dances all perform before ADF takes over the dance calendar in June.
“This is a for-artists, by-artists organization,” Wilks says. “We’re not people with a ton of money coming in to produce your stuff. We’re saying ‘This is what we struggle with, this is what we’ve done, this is what we’ve tried, this is what has and hasn’t worked, maybe we can connect all that.’”
This article appeared in print with the headline “Friends with benefits.”