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Dumbo Dance Festival returns for its 18th edition
When Young Soon Kim founded White Wave Dance back in 1988, she set up shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn, then a haven for scrappy artists looking for large spaces at low rents. That's where she crafted her delicately etched choreography style, like lines of movement calligraphy mixed with cutting-edge elements such as hip hop hits, video projections and unexpected props.
Thirty years later, the Korean-American dance-maker is still entrenched in Dumbo, though the neighborhood is now more chic than shabby. Even so, Kim insists a creative pulse continues to beat beneath the gentrification, and she helps keep it pounding with the annual Dumbo Dance Festival.
While lots of performance fests come and go in the city, DDF is celebrating its 18th edition with an eclectic lineup of 70 troupes, from local modern-dance favorites (Jennifer Muller/The Works, Buglisi Dance Theatre) to international ensembles (Ballet Clásico Alina Abreu from the Dominican Republic, Spain's Carmelo Segura Dance Company and Oniin Dance Company with performers from Italy and Japan). White Wave serves as organizer and host of the event, which takes place October 11 to 14 at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center.
Presented like a dance sampler, DDF offers 11 different programs, each featuring seven to 10 companies in about an hour. According to Kim, offering such a wide range of performances helps attract diverse crowds, which she sees as essential to keeping dance in Dumbo. "Of course we're worried about the rising prices," she admits, noting that White Wave lost its original home a while back. But now that Dumbo is a popular destination, DDF has the chance to attract new audiences. "Years ago, there wasn't much foot traffic, but today there is," Kim says. "Dumbo is changing a lot, but I'm still optimistic."
Kim's original DDF mission -- to present and promote young choreographers -- remains, though she now includes a smattering of midcareer companies and also prioritizes diversity. "We're looking for fresh voices in contemporary dance," she says. "While we sometimes have ballet companies, in general we aren't looking for traditional dance forms. But that still leaves us open to groups that approach the content in a more contemporary way, even if it's technically a ballet company. For me, it's all about experimentation, broadening the boundaries of dance versus doing the same thing again and again. She points to Augusto Soledade Brazzdance, a veteran DDF participant, as a company that's trying something new with intricate, dramatic and gender-blind partnering sequences, citing them as a subtle but essential contribution to the dance field.
Kim is also presenting at DDF, including excerpts from "iyouuswe" (I-You-Us-We), which premiered last year at La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival. "In everything I do, I want to find movement vocabulary outside of the box," she says. "I tell my nine dancers, 'I don't want to see any similar example of a dance move we've seen many times.' I want them to think and express new vocabulary; I want to see them, their spirit and their personality."
Initially, Kim considered calling the piece "I, You" but decided to widen its scope by adding "Us and We." "It's about how we relate to ourselves, and also to each other," she explains. "Right now especially, we need the 'us' and 'we.' How do we figure out what the sense of 'I' is in the 'we?' We live in the world as individuals, but we actually need the community."
That communal perspective is part of what encouraged Kim to extend her vision by having DDF partner with two other fests: the Detroit Dance City Festival and the New Dance Festival in Korea. "We'll select one or two highly acclaimed companies during DDF and then send them to the other festivals in 2019," she says. The other events will do the same, thus expanding opportunities for participating troupes. "Wherever you are, art brings people, and people bring business," Kim says. "That's good. I think it improves the energy of the area -- like it has in Dumbo."
Lauren Phoenix Kay regularly contributes to TDF Stages.
Top image: "iyouuswe" by White Wave Dance. Photo by Chris Randle.
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