Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A powerhouse merger of Philly dance companies

Two Philadelphia dance leaders -- Kate Watson-Wallace and Jaamil Kosoko -- and their companies have joined forces as a new "sustainable" collaborative. Jim Rutter talks with them.

A powerhouse merger of Philly dance companies

By Jim Rutter
FOR THE INQUIRER

 

Imagine that José Garces and Stephen Starr joined forces. Now imagine that instead of building a new facility lined with exotic decor and a model-pretty staff, these celebrity chefs used the partnership to develop their own culinary aesthetic, and put the pursuit of cuisine ahead of a restaurant's sustainability.

A merger of similar stature and quality took place in the Philadelphia dance community recently, when dancer-choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace and choreographer-poet-impresario Jaamil Kosoko rechristened anonymous bodies, Watson-Wallace's company, as a joint collaborative for the pair's work.

Watson-Wallace, 33, began dancing and producing her own pieces in Philadelphia in 1998 while studying dance at Temple University. Kosoko, now 30, arrived in Philadelphia in 2005 after graduating from Vermont's Bennington College. Each initially established independent companies: Watson-Wallace started anonymous bodies in 2007 and Kosoko founded the now-disbanded Kosoko Performance Group and his still active Philadiction Movement.

However, each spent too much time tending to the demands of running an organization. Watson-Wallace cited the stress of "running the company for years" and realized that "there were no companies where one person was doing everything." Kosoko indicates he's been in a similar situation, and says, "Now we can organize. Joining forces makes us stronger; I already feel a huge difference."

The pair had collaborated on projects dating back to Watson-Wallace's 2006 Live Arts Festival show, House, and brought complementary strengths to the new partnership. Kosoko finished executive-director training for arts management at the Kennedy Center and sees the merger as an integral point in his career, an opportunity to use his experience onstage and behind the scenes to "curate and build relationships."

But the pair will not open a studio, build a new dance space, or hire anything more than a skeleton staff. That kind of institution-driven ambition is precisely what they want to get away from. As Watson-Wallace puts it, "That model is dead" - at least for the type of company these two intend to establish.

Instead, they want, as Watson-Wallace explains, "to find a new model that is sustainable, low to the ground, responsive" and enables them to "keep making art and being part of the national and international conversation."

Part of that responsiveness includes tailoring the budget and staff to the artwork they want to produce, rather than vice versa.

"We're artists first," Watson-Wallace says (the company has one permanent employee, who handles bookkeeping and administration). Once a week, she and Kosoko meet in a coffee shop or at her Fishtown home to discuss strategy, marketing and artistic planning.

That freedom enables the pair to focus on a growing number of commissions and performance opportunities from other organizations in Philadelphia and across the country. After spending the early part of this year on work commissioned by Pittsburgh's Kelly Strayhorn Theatre, Watson-Wallace will choreograph for Philadelphia's BalletX in the fall. Kosoko recently presented The Invisibility Complex at New York's Dance New Amsterdam and has performances scheduled at Harlem Stage and in Washington, D.C., later this spring.

Each hopes that anonymous bodies will let them capitalize on their growing reputations while living and producing work mainly in Philadelphia. Their new company's first collaborative venture will take place Memorial Day weekend in Old City's Christ Church. Entitled US, this exploration of Americana will feature a pop-up gallery and DJs and lecturers invited to share the space with Kosoko and Watson-Wallace as each presents new solo pieces.

If it doesn't necessarily sound like dance, it shouldn't. Both questioned calling anonymous bodies a "dance company," asking instead to be seen as an arts collective that will support their independent and collaborative works while also serving as an umbrella organization for other artists.

As Kosoko points out, "We're at an interesting point creatively - to be called dance artists feels limiting," especially for a pair of artists whose combined output includes theater, poetry, performance art, curation, installation work, dance, and choreography.

Kosoko sees their goal as forming "a larger framework for this variety of activity." And to that end, they're trying to keep the model as small as possible, to just create their art.

 

 

 

 

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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