A modern dance contest? Voted on by audience members? In San Francisco? The whole concept is anathema to our cultural milieu.
Yet ODC Director Rob Bailis was able to convince nearly 60 local choreographers to sign on. From Wednesday through Jan. 15, the top 12, previously selected by a jury of dance professionals, appear on the ODC stage vying for audience votes and a $10,000 prize in the national Audiences With Artists Responding to Dance competition.
Funded by the Boeing Corporation and locally produced by ODC, the contest is one of six simultaneous events held across the country.
Among the participating cities, San Francisco was the hardest sell. “In New York everybody was like, ‘Yeah! Let’s go do it! I want to win!’” says Bailis, who is producing the local event. “But can you imagine having a competition in San Francisco where ‘everyone always wins — no one is a loser?’ [Artists] live here for the explicit reason that they do not want to live in an evaluative world with judgments … they don’t believe in them. We really had a coax people into it.”
One of the things that sold the participants was Bailis’ enthusiasm for the dialogue portion of the competition.
“Each night four different artists perform for 12-15 minutes each,” he says. “The second half of the show is a facilitated conversation between the audience and the artists about what was seen and what was intended.”
Bailis sees this as an opportunity for dance fans to become more familiar with the choreographic process and to learn the common language of dance. “I also hope people will start to build a vocabulary that is their own — that is their honest response.”
The competition has offered many artists an opportunity to be seen by directors of major national dance venues. Now, it also provides a chance to reach a greater local audience.
“Audiences here tend to have intense allegiance mainly to specific artists,” Bailis says. It’s his hope that exposure to these innovative new companies will broaden that allegiance beyond popular favorites to the art form itself.
Audience voters may want to keep in mind the parameters that elevated these artists to the semifinals: potential, originality, technical execution, and merit. You may be asking, “How will they avoid the controversial ‘Bristol Palin’ effect?” Thankfully, the finale will be judged by a panel of experts. Now if this could only turn into a reality television show …
IF YOU GO
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Jan. 15
Contact: (415) 863-9834; www.odctheater.org