De-mystifying contemporary dance

Grant enables Vermont Performance Lab to expand its outreach with new Performance Club

GUILFORD — Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) has just landed a $27,000 grant as one of 20 national recipients in Round Two of Dance/USA's Engaging Dance Audiences, the first national funding program for audience engagement practices focused specifically on the art form of dance.

The award supports the new VPL Performance Club, which starting in fall will help members attend and study live dance performances.

In the past five years, VPL has brought artists of regional, national, and international stature to the grange halls, studios, theaters and classrooms of southern Vermont through its innovative artist residency program.

Modeled on a book club, the performance club will host special guests such as dance curators, artists and scholars who will add to the pre- and post-performance discussions as participants mingle over food and drink.

Several artists participating in VPL's 2013-14 season, such as Luciana Achugar, Pavel Zustiak, and Beth Gill, also will be a focus of the Performance Club.

EDA, or Engaging Dance Audiences, is a $1.75 million program conceived of in 2008 by Dance/USA in collaboration with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to “significantly increase the dance field's capacity to engage audiences by researching, implementing and documenting effective new practices, and sharing them with others.”

VPL Director Sara Coffey said she shed tears of joy on learning EDA was honoring VPL, and supporting its mission, with the award.

“I am thrilled about the grant, not only because of the money, but also for the recognition by such illustrious foundations, and for being included among the other celebrated organizations EDA selected for grants,” she said.

Coffey said VPL principally has beginners in mind with this initiative, “particularly those who are intrigued but a little intimidated about the world of contemporary dance. The idea is a bit like those popular book clubs in which a group of people get together to discuss the latest thing they all have read, except here our discussions will be focused on contemporary dance performances,” she said.

Members will share expectations, fears, and viewing experiences.

“The hope is not only to demystify dance, but to make it fun,” Coffey says. “We sometimes might supply background on the history of post-modern dance, but I believe contemporary dance is well-suited for the novice. You don't really have to know the canon to 'get it,' as you might with, say, opera. You can arrive fresh and get a great experience if you can trust yourself.”

Each monthly meeting will be centered around a performance to which members will travel by bus. Destinations in Boston and Connecticut leap to mind, Coffey says.

“We'll meet beforehand to talk about what we are going to see,” Coffey says, “at which time participants may be given reading material to help them understand the upcoming event; and afterwards we will discuss the performance itself.”

Coffey's idea for the club originated in a course she co-taught at Marlboro College last fall: “Looking at Contemporary Performance.”

“I found the experience to be great,” she says, “and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to extend what happened there to the general public. Our goal is to help people develop a love of modern performance, creating new audiences for these exciting works.”

Vermont Performance Lab bills itself asa new type of performance incubator in the foothills of Vermont. VPL takes creation of new work beyond the walls of the studio and into the community by fostering experimental approaches to research and performance. VPL's Lab Program provides performing artists with research and development residencies where artists have the resources needed to create new work and to engage in VPL's rural community around the creative process.