Written by Charles Slender-White
PORT (Peer Organized Regional Touring) is an initiative by FACT/SF and the LA Contemporary Dance Company aimed at increasing exchange and touring opportunities for contemporary dance companies throughout the West Coast. We’ve been working on PORT for over two years, and we’re thrilled that its launch is finally here!
PORT is a significant program and a major part of FACT/SF’s 10th season. I've been reflecting on why touring and exchange became important to me, how FACT/SF has pursued different opportunities over the years, and what I hope PORT will change about how the contemporary dance field operates.
I started FACT/SF back in 2008, after working in Russia for two years with a touring contemporary dance company, Provincial Dances Theatre. Through my work with Provincial Dances, I got to travel all over Russia, and perform in cities throughout France, Poland, and Latvia. During that same period, my best friend and dear colleague, Emily Woo Zeller, was working in Hong Kong – so I got to perform there with her, too. And, prior to my 2006 move to Russia, I had wonderful opportunities outside of my native California to study, perform, and audition in Durham, Seattle, New York City, Pittsburgh, London, and Brussels.
These varied experiences instilled in me a deep desire to travel and exchange with others – essentially, to be in a community that values continued, comprehensive learning and sharing. FACT/SF was born out of this desire for exchange and community. Over the past nine years, FACT/SF has benefitted from a variety of touring engagements. Some were funded, some were supported in-kind, and all were worth the effort.
For FACT/SF’s first tour, in 2009, we performed at every WalMart in California. In 21 days we drove nearly 10,000 miles in a Board Member’s donated car, visited 173 stores in 150 cities, and found sleeping accommodations in the homes of generous friends and family throughout the state. It was our most boot-strapped tour, a grueling effort, and an experience that challenged many of my preconceived ideas about my home state.
In 2011, Danielle Ross (a fellow Berkeley grad) invited FACT/SF to share an evening with her in Portland, Oregon at Performance Works NW. We received a small performance stipend, got a discounted rental car through a cousin who worked at Enterprise, and slept in three different homes that Danielle’s community opened up to us.
In 2012, with massive support from the US State Department and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, we spent 7 weeks touring 8 cities across Russia. We made two new works on local companies, taught 32 master classes, and gave 9 performances.
And, just last year, Liane Burns and I spent 5 weeks in Bulgaria and Serbia (with support from Movement Research), creating a new work on dancers at Derida Dance in Sofia, teaching at Station in Belgrade, and sharing excerpts from our duet, Platform.
In 2015, while attending APAP in New York (a massive and unwieldy annual dance conference), Christy Bolingbroke connected me to the artistic and administrative leaders of the LA Contemporary Dance Company. We shared our frustrations at the heavy-lift that tours require, and our surprise that the major cities on the West Coast aren’t better connected.
While Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego all maintain robust contemporary dance communities, there’s relatively little interaction between them. Each region (and each region’s artists) are too-often re-inventing the wheel over and over again, unnecessarily expending capital in the pursuit of ‘figuring it out’ on their own. So, in an optimistic spirit of collaboration, we decided to work together and see if we could design a better way for companies to share resources and provide more opportunities for each other. At the very least, we wanted to find a way forward that worked for our two companies, with the hope that it might work for others, too.
What emerged is a relatively straight-forward program, where each company takes on the responsibilities of hosting the other in their own hometown, in exchange for the opportunity to be a fully-produced, visiting guest in the other.
Marketing and PR efforts are shared to reduce costs and increase impact, and the works on the program are curated together to provide audiences with a diverse and well-balanced experience. From September 14-16, FACT/SF and ODC Theater will host LACDC in San Francisco, and two weeks later LACDC will return the favor by hosting us in Los Angeles.
From an economic side, this makes a lot of sense. Many of FACT/SF’s expenses for producing a show are fixed, and it costs us little extra to add more works from a visiting artist to our evening. And it makes sense from an audience engagement perspective, too. If we self-produced in Los Angeles, it is unlikely that many people would attend the show because few people in LA are familiar with our work. By working with a local company as host, their own communities will turn out for the event, with the added bonus that those audiences will get to see something new and different, too.
2017 is the inaugural year of PORT. We have full confidence that we’re set up for success, but obviously do not truly know how it will actually go. Once the September shows have finished, we’ll evaluate the program’s strengths and identify areas that need improvement. After that, we’ll develop a platform for other contemporary dance companies to work together, so that the knowledge we’ve gained from this experience can be of benefit to artists, companies, and artists up and down the West Coast.
Charles Slender-White is the Artistic Director of FACT/SF. He has created dozens of original dance works, is a Certified Countertechnique Teacher, and has performed and taught across North America, Europe, Russia, and in Hong Kong and Australia. Slender-White started his career with Provincial Dances Theatre (Yekaterinburg, Russia), and received his BA in English Literature and Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley.