In dance reputation terms, Manhattan has made its mark with stalwart institutions like American Ballet Theatre and Lincoln Center, as well as 1960s-bred, avant-garde downtown companies. Brooklyn's dancescape is known for Mark Morris, BAM, and even more experimental flavors. But do audiences ever think of---or even recognize---what could be called "Queens-style" dance?
Karesia Batan thought not, and she decided this was a problem she needed to address. That's why she's developed the Queensboro Dance Festival
, where from October 20 to 26, audiences from all boroughs can enjoy 18 diverse, Queens-based dance troupes in a rotating bill at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.
"My inspiration for creating [Queensboro Dance Festival] was the absence of a physical dance community in our borough," says the Flushing-born and current Long Island City resident. "I knew from programs I've seen around Queens, and also from a ton of dancers I've worked with, that a lot of us live in Queens. But oddly, we don't have a cohesive identity like Manhattan or Brooklyn."
She continues, "In Queens, we don't have anything that really connects us all. Queens is so, so diverse, from the culture to the food, and because it's so large it tends to be disjointed and people stay in their own pockets. But a lot of artists live here, and it's really an artistic hive. So this is my attempt to bring the Queens dance community together and discover: Who else is out there? What does dance from Queens look like? How can we create a platform for Queens dance?"
With these questions guiding her, Batan set out on the lofty mission to build this platform. Her experience as a freelance dancer made the task seem less daunting. "I started self-producing in 2010, in order to make happen what I wanted," she says. After securing a venue in The Secret Theater, now a co-producer, Batan focused on getting the word out to the far reaches of the borough. "I was relentless," she says with a laugh. "I knew I was new, and I'm a small fish in a big dance pond. I went all out and introduced myself to everyone and asked for help to promote. Luckily I got a lot of support."
As for participants, Batan decided companies should be presenting fully choreographed, polished pieces, not works in progress, to show the best of what Queens has to offer. She limited time to 12 minutes per piece, though companies are welcome to bring as many dancers as they please, provided they understand the constraints of a 99-seat black box theatre.
When applications began rolling in, Batan encountered many institutions for the first time, like The Solettes Academy, a group based in Astoria, and the Lucia Rodriguez Collective. The final slate of performances includes everything from modern dance to pieces rooted in Latin culture. "I wanted to represent what's being cultivated in Queens on all levels," Batan says.
Though it's only in its first year, Batan is hopeful the Queensboro Dance Festival will gain momentum, encouraging even more groups to participate in the future. An opening party on the 20th; talkbacks on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday; five-dollar tickets for high schoolers; and a Festival pass good for three shows are among her strategies to make everyone feel welcome. "I have such pride in our borough," she says. "I want everyone to see what I see in the Queens dance world: potential."
Lauren Kay is a writer and performer based in Manhattan
Neville Dance Theatre photo by Rachel Neville. Physical Plant photo by Mickey Hoelscher