Theater archives

Southern Exposure


A tiny ad in the dance section of the April 6 Voice invites choreographers to “present their work in Austria, France, Guatemala, Lithuania.” I call the number, which has a Kentucky area code.

The application materials that arrive look like a package deal from a travel agency. Promising an “exciting 8 day trip,” including airfare and hotel accommodations, Thought-Forms Productions, based in La Grange, Kentucky, guarantees “all the production, technical assistance, publicity, and pre show rehearsal arrangements” for two performances in Guatemala, for $1800 per person. Choreographers are instructed to submit a videotape and resumé in order to be considered, along with a $1000 deposit.

Is it that easy for a New York–based choreographer to establish an international profile? Does it really boil down to just a little seed money? Previous participants in Thought-Forms “tours” include emerging and established Downtown artists, talented people who weren’t willing to wait for a grant or commission: Kathy Wildberger, Valerie Green, Rosa Mei, and Yanira Castro among others (Castro spent $10,000 to take a troupe of five to the Off d’Avignon festival in 1997). More than money, these individuals also have careers of some longevity and the balls to go out on a limb.

Gus Solomons jr traveled to Guatemala with a previous Thought-Forms tour but has little encouraging to report. He believes publicity was handled inefficiently and certain promises of reimbursement were not met. Castro’s Avignon trip lacked publicity and press attention; in the busy festival scene, her group pulled barely 20 people per show. She calls it a “learning experience—what not to do in the future.”

Other American choreographers have formed creative relationships in Latin America on their own. Suki John made an initial connection to Cuban dancers at a festival in Finland. Her several trips to Cuba have been labors of love, subsidized by her own fundraising. Often the pay for her collaborations with Cuban dance companies, including Alicia Alonso’s National Ballet of Cuba, amounts to free bed and shared food rations, though she does receive free health care when working there. John speaks enthusiastically of working with “spectacular dancers in a place where art and dance are revered.”

Sharon Wyrrick, currently based in Virginia, was invited to Colombia to teach in 1986 by one of her students here in the U.S. The student’s family organized support for Wyrrick’s first visit. She has since returned to perform with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Arts Commission, though a trip planned for 1993 was canceled due to political unrest in the area.

What happens to artists or companies from Latin America who want to show their work in New York? South American choreographers, even if they work in a postmodern idiom, often market their work as “ethnic” or folkloric to capitalize on the current boom in multi- and intercultural projects.