Meet our 2014-15 Context Notes Writers

Paul David Young Jess Barbegallo

Jess Barbegallo and Paul David Young are New York Live Arts’ 2014-2015 commissioned writers, contributing ‘Context Notes’ for each season artist and for the New York Live Arts Blog. Knowledgeable about the practice of art making, they both work as performance makers and writers. We’ve invited them to write, less because they know every artist’s work intimately – in some cases they don’t – but because they like to frame questions, spark discussion, and find meaning for themselves and others within the experience of seeing live work. Like our audience members, each writer is deeply curious about what contemporary artists are trying to say. Their writings–commissioned works in their own right–aim to spur a deeper dialogue with our artists, the content of their work, and each work’s relationship to a larger cultural environment.

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The 30th Annual Bessie Awards nominees were announced last week, and several New York Live Arts productions from the past season got a nod.

Outstanding Production

John Jasperse – Within Between

Outstanding Revival

Donna Uchizono – State of Heads

Outstanding performer

Julia Hausermann in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Stuart Singer in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

The 2014 Outstanding Emerging Choreographer Award was presented at the press conference to two female choreographers: Jen Rosenblit (2009 Fresh Tracks Artist, 2011 Studio Series Artist, 2012 mainstage artist) was recognized for a Natural dance, performed at The Kitchen, for “a confident voice investigating the fluidity of identity, the pulse of time, and the nature of what it is to dance;” Jessica Lang was recognized for the elegant works created for her newly formed company of dancers at the Joyce Theater in her transition from freelance choreographer to artistic director.

The 30th Annual Bessie Awards will be held Monday, October 20, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Read about all the nominees>

Call for Context Notes Writers

Each season New York Live Arts (Live Arts) commissions two (2) writers to produce written pieces known as “Context Notes” to accompany each show on the season. Context Notes are published in Live Arts programs and are intended to frame questions, spark discussion, and explore/expand the experience of seeing work on the Live Arts stage. This year, Live Arts seeks to include new voices and diverse perspectives by issuing an open call for writers.

Interested applicants must be engaged in an active writing practice and demonstrate a compelling history of publication (whether in print or online, self-published or by existing media outlets). Applicants must have an avid interest in live art, and be engaged with the form as writers, scholars, makers, curators, and/or educators. Applicants will be considered for the quality of their writing, ability to engage readers, and professionalism. Applicants interested in using new media and technology to supplement and/or interface with their writing are strongly encouraged to apply.

Each writer will cover approximately five (5) shows across the season, writing a short 600-word piece on the artist and work being presented. The notes are not required to provide any specific information about the artist or their work. Aside from editing for factual errors, the works are not edited for content by the artists whose work is being discussed

Additionally, each writer will produce two (2) blog posts for the Live Arts blog, on topics of their choice that relate to Live Arts, the performing arts community in New York and abroad, and current events. Context Notes writers will receive an honorarium of $700, as well as a complimentary ticket to each Live Arts presentation on the 2014/2015 season for which they are writing. Samples of past context notes can be found here on the New York Live Arts blog.

To Apply:

Please send your application to as a single PDF file. Please include, in order:
Statement of Intent (no more than one page).
Why is participation in this program of interest to you? What do you hope to bring to Live Arts’ Context Notes program? What approach(es) do you use to engage your audience?

Resume of relevant experience (no more than two pages).
Please include experience relevant to writing in a professional capacity, including past publication, education, and research, as well as other non-writing experience that informs your work.

2 samples of your writing on the topic of a specific performance or artist creating body-based work. Samples must be work that has been published in the public domain within the past 4 years.

Applications are due by 5pm on Monday July 7th, 2014. No late applications will be accepted.
Please direct all questions to Jaamil Kosoko, Producing Associate, Humanities and Engagement at No phone calls please.

Dance and Democracy: Overcoming Adversity in the Arts post-Arab Spring

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It is Monday May 26th, 2014 and at 9 o’clock this morning Egyptians began to cast ballots to decide their next president. The election is largely symbolic – there are only two candidates, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the presumed winner, and Hamdeen Sabahi, and the joke, delivered with a good humored cynicism, is that the only two options are the President and the other guy – and many Egyptians, most of them young, feel disgusted and disenchanted with what, to them, is a farce. Others hope that at least Sisi will bring stability, and hopefully tourism, back to a country whose recent history has seen a revolution, a military coup, and four different presidents in as many years. When you speak about Egypt with most people this is what they are familiar with: the Arab Spring, a revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak who had been in power for 40 years, the only leader an entire generation of Egyptians had known.

What most people don’t know is that Egypt also has a richly developed, consummate, and vibrant contemporary artistic community who are working, in spite of political instability and uncertainty, to create work that reflects an Egypt that is not limited or defined by political turmoil, but that is full of generosity and hope and kindness and humor and curiosity and thoughtfulness and aspiration and deep and abiding care; an Egypt that is steeped in its history, its four thousand year old pyramids and eight hundred year old mosques, but that is also fervently and definitively here now; an Egypt whose air smells like incense and exhaust and bread baking and meat roasting and garbage, where rooftop bars overlook the tranquil waters of the Nile and the majesty of the city’s skyline, where the secret hip bohemian intelligentsia of Cairo gather at the Greek Club or a hookah bar or a falafel restaurant to have conversations about privilege and art and history and shared struggle and hope for the future.

I was honored and privileged to be invited by Ezzat Ismail Ezzat, an Egyptian dancer, choreographer, producer, and administrator, to travel to Cairo earlier this month to work with a group of Egyptian dance artists on establishing parameters for basic artists’ rights. I went without expectations, having never been to Egypt before and knowing nothing about the contemporary dance community there.

I was overwhelmed.

There were some who feared for my safety, a fear that I never felt fully myself. Certainly there had been the revolution, which was largely peaceful with the exception of Mubarak’s hired thugs and some scattered run-ins with the police, and then there had been a brutal military crackdown on protesters after Mohammed Morsi was deposed, and there have since been isolated incidents of insurgency and minor acts of terrorism, but nothing that amounted to anything more dangerous than walking through Prospect Park after hours. And in any case it is especially during times of difficulty that people who are working under trying and even hostile circumstances to make a place for art and art makers need to be supported. I had been heartened, emboldened, and continually inspired by Ezzat’s energy, passion, and dedication to working on substantive issues pertaining to artists’ rights and services during conversations leading up to the trip and felt strongly that if he was willing to do this work in spite of the challenges he was facing then the least I could do was show up. But I arrived to an Egypt that was calm, if bustling; a city that welcomed me with generous arms opened wide, far from a violent hotbed of political turmoil.

The contemporary dance community in Cairo is small – I imagine I met most of them in the short time I was there – but fiercely committed to one another. There is a great deal of love there.

A note on my host: Ezzat Ismail Ezzat is one of a singular breed of human beings, an extraordinarily selfless, committed, and capable individual. He graduated from university with a degree in architecture and a desire to dance. Upon surveying the scene and realizing that there were no dedicated dance spaces he took it upon himself to design and build his own. When that was done he proceeded to begin producing Contemporary Dance Night, a festival of Egyptian contemporary dance, because there were few opportunities for Egyptian dance artists to present their work. Now that CDN is well into it’s fourth year he is taking on a third issue: that of addressing a deep need for trained dance teachers with a program called SEEDS that brings teachers from all over the world to train budding Egyptian dance teachers in anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, movement analysis, etc. Ezzat is a giant and I was humbled by his deep sensitivity, his compassion, and the humility that imbues everything he does.

We spent three days in conversation with Egyptian dancers and choreographers discussing, in detail, all the issues surrounding dancers’ rights in the rehearsal process, during performances, and on tour. We talked about the challenges of working in the Egyptian context, where there are only three foundations that fund contemporary dance, where there are only six festivals that commission and produce work, and where there are no meaningful or enforced labor rights in general. We got into the weeds about how many exceptions there would be to any guideline or stipulation that we set in stone. The whole conversation was incredibly thoughtful, nuanced, and respectful and it resulted in a narrative document outlining a simple proposal: that clarity, openness, and communication, in the context of a community of goodwill, could lead to a stronger, more vibrant arts community in Egypt, the important thing being that expectations and the details of an artistic commitment be outlined clearly before the beginning of a working relationship in order to avoid unintentional exploitation.

Nine days is hardly enough time to address the root of the issues we had convened to talk about, but often it can be useful just to get stakeholders in a room talking to one another. It was the beginning of a much larger and more complex conversation that will hopefully continue in the coming days, months, and years. Many of the challenges faced by Egyptian dance artists are not unique to them; the concerns addressed in our workshops have been echoed by many dancemakers in New York: limited access to affordable dance spaces, the scarcity of resources and funding, a lack of affordable training for professional dancers, and the widespread instances of dancers working for very little or for free. These are issues that have prompted similar convenings in New York, resulting in things like the Dancers’ Forum Compact and The Brooklyn Commune Project’s report The View From Here, both of which were discussed during the workshops in Cairo.

We have a ways to go; the road is not short, nor is it easy, but this work is important and we have to believe that it can lead to change. It is the existence of people like Ezzat who believe enough to fly someone halfway across the world for one week to have these conversations, and of the people who showed up for a week’s worth of four hour workshops to participate in these conversations who give me hope.

It is their existence that makes me believe that things can get better, that they must get better, that they will get better.


A draft of the document that resulted from the week’s conversations can be read here.

The workshops were sponsored by the American Embassy in Cairo in partnership with Ezzat Ezzat Contemporary Dance Studio.

Alexander Leslie Thompson is a freelance dancer, choreographer, musician, administrator, and transplant to New York City by way of his hometown in Kansas City, Missouri. He currently serves on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee and Doug Varone’s Junior Board and works as the Associate Artist Program Manager at New York Live Arts striving to find ways to provide much needed services to dance artists in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter at @lexanderthomp.

Stay Late Discussion: Means of Transmission, Tere O’Connor in conversation with John Jasperse

Come Early Conversation: John Jasperse and and Ariel Osterweis, PhD discuss Within between

Context Notes: John Jasperse

As far as I can tell, John Jasperse doesn’t do small talk. Yet, he isn’t afraid to make himself small, vulnerable, always one to cite failure in his own work and to let out an anxiously knowing laugh in response to the absurdity of millennial life. In contrast to his aversion to discursive drivel, Jasperse immerses himself (and his dancers) in small movements. But such kinetic minutiae couldn’t be further from empty gossip; instead, it is the choreographic equivalent of the refinement and experimentation of the American postmodern poets. Jasperse possesses an uncompromising commitment to detailed investigation of micro-movements, down to the directional gaze of a single eyeball.

What had stood out to me from his previous work was a consistent engagement with objects that moved—things with agency. Recalling players such as jeans, leaf blowers, sculptures, penises, mattresses, emptied water bottles, and inflated pool rafts, I was continually struck by the way Jasperse was able to create choreographically political ecologies. Without disregarding the formal precision of a nuanced tilt of the head or the spiraling energetics of a connected trio moving across stage at 20mph, he maintained an undertone of socio-cultural critique. In Misuse liable to prosecution (2007), Jasperse brought to our attention the desperate financial mechanics of putting together a dance performance, commenting on the scarcity of resources for artists working within a commodity culture of waste, investigating capitalist materiality through corporeal materiality (money through the body).

Working with Jasperse in a dramaturgical capacity, I have had the opportunity to talk with him, watch videos, and attend rehearsals and showings over the course of this year. Where did the objects go? No rafts, hangers, orange cones, or boxes! I noted a shift from the ecological to the cultural. What do I mean by this? Whereas Jasperse’s stages were once littered with animated things, they had been stripped down to bodies—people! Just people. He told me he wanted to try on culturally foreign movement styles. (This worried me; did he mean appropriation?) As opposed to mimicking a new dance style, he wanted to translate dialogue about such styles into movement, which is a type of abstracted praxis, a “doing” of theory. Such abstraction skirts around embodiment. Rather, it means to embody an idea about a dance form instead of embodying a dance form itself, privileging the affect of translation over the integrity of precise replication.

But when Jasperse’s dancers play with an abstracted version of, for example, stepping, what are the stakes, culturally, racially, and economically? How do we as audience members perceive movement passages that allude to such cultural experiments (if we perceive them at all)? Jasperse could be commenting on Eurocentric classicism, race, modernist abstraction, “high” and “low” culture, or the idea of “America.” At the level of choreography, what qualifies as “American?” We encounter stepping in black colleges; both entertainment and competition, it is a performance of aspiration. Jasperse contrasts and integrates culturally disparate dance techniques and evacuates them of their aspirational qualities. For example, in one section, the four dancers (the exquisite Maggie Cloud, Simon Courchel, Burr Johnson, and Stuart Singer) execute methodical tendus and port de bras you might find at the beginning of the “center” section of ballet class—fifth position, croisé, etc. There is a creepy nonchalance to this sequence of movements, a restraint you wouldn’t find in a ballet class in a classical ballet academy, but the kind you might find in a “ballet-for-modern-dancers” class, like a rejection of épaulement’s reach, its aspiration. Then we come into a collegiate section with allusions to cheerleading, and the dancers barely crack a smile, a far cry from the plastered, patriotic glee of televised cheerleaders or effervescent frat boys. Is this Jasperse’s way of rejecting America or of refiguring its commoditized affects and rendering them banal? Who owns these images? How are they felt in our bodies?

Recently, a thing has reentered the studio. Within between now features a pole dance. Instead of the transparent, light-catching attributes of clear plastic bottles and blow-up pillows, this piece begins with a nudge. A pole threatens to penetrate the audience. Contact? A probe? A rifle taking aim? Initially weaponized by a dancer, the pole becomes a structure of support, and two dancers lean on it while somehow keeping it suspended atop their toes and shoulders. Ultimately, Jasperse has reintroduced his penchant for the ecological to the otherwise cultural landscape of Within between, creating a meeting point between political things and social people. We might ask, then, where does identity reside in this work—in the dancers, in Jasperse, in the pole, in the idea of “America,” or in the choreography itself? It has been said that movement is fleeting, but what, then, of the way we attach ourselves to a dance? It’s mine, isn’t it?

—Ariel Osterweis

Buy tickets to see John Jasperse.

Come Early Conversation: “Baron Samedi” – Symbolism & Practice in Haitian Voodoo

Context Notes: Maud Le Pladec


Maud Le Pladec’s DEMOCRACY

For the occasion of her New York debut as part of DANSE, a French-American festival for performance and ideas, New York Live Arts is hosting Maud Le Pladec, one of the most prominent representatives of the new generation of French dance artists, featuring the second part of her trilogy centered around the exploration of contemporary music produced by the U.S. collective Bang On A Can.

Le Pladec has been working extensively as a dancer with some of the most established choreographers in France and elsewhere in Europe. Alongside her work as a performer, she begun choreographing four years ago, and continues to actively maintain both practices. As a dance maker, Le Pladec considers Boris Charmatz – in whose company she still performs – her strongest influence: though her own work is quite different thematically and aesthetically, she finds his conceptual approach deeply inspiring. 

Throughout her career as a choreographer, Le Pladec has been investigating the relationship between dance and music: more specifically, contemporary music composers who don’t usually work in the dance context. Though this engagement marks her choreographic debut stateside, she spent time in New York last year through the support of the French Institute’s Hors les Murs research grant, discovering the works of composers David Lang, Michael Gordon, as well as Julia Wolfe, whose work is at the center of this evening’s production.

In creating DEMOCRACY, Le Pladec was not only concerned with the relationship between movement and music, she was also interested in creating a dialogue between diverging musical styles. The first part of the work is set to Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride, written for, and performed live by four drums; for the second part, Le Pladec commissioned Italian composer Francesco Filidei to write a piece responding both to Wolfe’s music and her choreography. As to the political element of DEMOCRACY, Le Pladec was inspired by Miguel Abensour’s book Democracy Against The State, pitting the utopic, philosophical notion of democracy against its restrictive, governmental form, and calling for a deep questioning of the current system.

In spite of the complexity of ideas that constitute the impetus for Le Pladec’s creation, DEMOCRACY remains a remarkably open work, and one that is not overtly political: rather, the philosophical dimension explored therein is subtly threaded through the formal aspects of the piece. In such a way, Le Pladec proposes one additional layer of investigating democracy – one that enables spectators to read this performance on many different levels.

— Ivan Talijancic


New York Live Arts 2014 Gala

Last Tuesday, April 22 we held our 2014 Gala at the Madrin Oriental in New York City. The evening featured performances by Clare Danes and Bill T. Jones, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and more.


Read more about the Gala, the guests, their outfits and Claire Danes Red Carpet Fashion Award Nomination at the links below

New York Magazine
Getty Images
Just Jared
Red Carpet Fashion Awards
Gossip Center