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NYC's Dance Scene Is Changing. Here's Why

By: Susan Reiter
Date: Nov 07, 2019


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Four new dance programmers talk about their respective visions for the Joyce, BAM and other cultural institutions


New York's dance scene has some fresh movers and shakers. At a striking number of venues, new leaders are expanding the roster of artists who get showcased on their stages.

Two notable regime changes occurred at the Joyce Theater, which hosts 48 weeks of dance performances every year, and BAM, which presents dance throughout its diverse season. Aaron Mattocks, the Joyce's new director of programming, took over from Martin Wechsler, who stepped down after 22 years in the position. At BAM, David Binder replaced Joseph V. Melillo, who served in various positions for more than 35 years. 

Both Mattocks and Binder were appointed last year, but the 2019-2020 season is the first they've programmed to their tastes. That's also the case at New York City Ballet, where artistic director Jonathan Stafford and his associate Wendy Whelan were officially appointed in February after serving as interim leaders for a year following Peter Martins' tumultuous departure.

Other smaller but significant venues such as the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), the dance division at the Flea Theater, Harkness Dance Center at the 92nd Street Y and the Baryshnikov Arts Center also have new leaders in place. In honor of this exciting time of transition, TDF Stages spoke with four of these new dance curators about what to expect from their tenures.


Aaron Mattocks, the Director of Programming for the Joyce Theater

Prior to joining the Joyce, Mattocks, 39, performed with Big Dance Theater, and worked in administrative and production capacities with Mark Morris Dance Group, Pam Tanowitz and others. His familiarity with the downtown dance scene suggests an embrace of edgier artists, and he's a strong proponent of live music.

What were your main priorities as you planned this first season?
I wanted it to feel new and exciting, but there was actually quite a bit that did not need to change. I was able to build on Martin's legacy of commissioning artists and developing longstanding relationships with choreographers, and putting them in a new context. We do have quite a few debut artists as well.

Will veteran companies who've performed at the Joyce regularly still have a home there?
Linda [Shelton, the Joyce's executive director] has really given me free rein to ask any question and research any legacy company and didn't say that we needed to maintain any relationship. That said, I wanted to sit back, figure out who our audience is, and who the artists are that matter to them. We do have a very loyal audience base, but what's interesting is how much it changes from one presentation to another. The different artists bring in radically different crowds.

I've also had to learn a lot about different forms of dance that I didn't know so much about, and become more well-versed in the breadth of what the Joyce can do. That's been a real thrill for me, to start to expand my own vision of what dance matters, and what we want to bring to New Yorkers.

I've been thinking about how the Joyce was founded as a home for New York City-based companies that didn't have a place to perform their annual seasons. I think part of what's exciting about this fall -- in addition to the live music -- is just how many New Yorkers we have. We're showcasing homegrown talent.

For several years, the Joyce also presented larger companies uptown at Lincoln Center, giving The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet and others a valuable chance to be seen in New York. That hasn't happened for a while.
We do have plans to resume presenting there, starting next June. It was contingent on funding. It's a huge endeavor to go beyond the 48 weeks that we do here!

At press time, discount tickets were available for Kate Wallich + The YC X Perfume Genius at the Joyce Theater.


David Binder, the Artistic Director of BAM

Binder, 52, is a veteran Broadway producer who won a Tony Award for his revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Don't go looking for longtime regulars in his Next Wave Festival lineup this fall: Every single artist programmed is new to BAM.

What was it like taking over from Joe Melillo, who'd helped shape BAM's identity for decades?
Joe and I were both here for most of 2018. We were in the same suite of offices. It was a really fantastic transition because he was right here to help me. I continue to consult him on a regular basis. He's incredibly supportive and helpful in all the best ways.

What were your priorities in programming this fall's Next Wave Festival?
I wanted to go back to the original intention and honor the vision of [Next Wave's founder] Harvey [Lichtenstein]. So every artist is making a BAM debut. I think they're representative of what Next Wave has always been: an international group. Some of these artists I've known for a long time. Some I found in the past year.

The schedule hasn't been released yet, but can you give us a preview of what you have planned for the spring?
Having an international/global reach is a big part of BAM's mission all season long. In the spring we will continue our commitment to finding and presenting new voices, but we will also have some BAM favorites back as well. We're going to do a lot more contemporary music, and we're going to present some off-site work, too. For me, it's about artists and audiences -- making sure that we are continually offering a diversity of backgrounds both on stage and in the house that reflects the diversity of the city.


David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin, Co-Directors of Dance Programming at the Flea Theater

As the founders of the rhythm-driven theatrical dance troupe The Bang Group, this duo has been collaborating and presenting together for almost a quarter century. They're hoping to raise the profile of dance at the Flea Theater, which has multiple stages.

Up until now, the Flea Theater has been primarily known for plays, not dance. You've just started in your positions. How are you turning the venue into a dance destination?
Parker: The new Flea complex opened in 2017, and there are three different spaces that we can use for dance. There are dance companies like The Bang Group, Elisa Monte Dance and others that are Anchor Partners, which means they're committed to several seasons of performances. We are able to do various kinds of programming with younger and emerging choreographers. I'd also like to venture into some thematic programming situations -- different kinds of percussive dance, or music that was written for dancers to play. Perhaps also, pending availability, a festival that would use all three spaces over a week or so with different dance performances.


Taryn Kaschock Russell, Director of the 92Y Harkness Dance Center

A former dancer, Russell was the acting artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division when she was tapped to take over Harkness. Founded in 1935, the institution hosts educational and training programs as well as several performance series.

You just arrived at Harkness in August, so you're still settling in. What's your vision for the future?
I've been trying to really look at what we have to offer. One thing that is unique to the organization is our artist-in-residence program. I think that incubating new talents, giving them a place to grow and expand, is important. So I will be looking to give them more prominence in their performing opportunities in the building, especially since they're housed here and have an intimate knowledge of the space. I really care about giving emerging choreographers opportunities.


Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages.

Top image: Nut/Cracked by The Bang Group.

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Susan Reiter covers dance for TDF Stages.