THE LOOKOUT: Interview with Kay Cummings

Photo by TK

Gibney Dance Company performing at the 2011 Tisch Summer Residency Festival


Interview by Elena Light

Gibney Dance is always interested in synergistic relationships that allow artists to support one another in a way that benefits everyone involved. THE LOOKOUT is a new series of blog posts that profiles this type of engagement. This first post looks at the Tisch Summer Residency Festival, a dance program for choreographers and students directed by NYU Associate Arts Professor Kay Cummings.

EL: What is the Tisch residency and how did it begin?

KC: The residency program began in 1991 as a program for mid-career artists based in New York. At the time, many choreographers did not have a home—Gina did—but many did not have a permanent rehearsal space. We welcomed them, gave them space for six weeks to rehearse and a venue to perform in, and, in exchange, asked them to teach contemporary technique and repertory to our students for one week during their residency. It’s the same today—and many of the companies still don’t have a permanent home. It’s a win/win situation for everyone. During the teaching week, some choreographers teach rep—that is, movement that has already been created and is then set on the students. More often now, though, choreographers use the time to workshop choreography on the students. They can try things out, make new work, maybe in advance of a season or maybe they create something for that week and than scrap it at the end.

During their teaching week, each company also gives an introductory lecture on the first day and then a brown bag discussion midweek, which tends to be more personal. For the companies, aside from their teaching, it’s a really free space—they can use the time and space in whatever way they want. Most have performances during their time here, and some also have informal showings.

EL: Have lasting relationships been created between students and choreographers through the program?

KC: Yes! In fact, I’m nearly positive that all the companies in this year’s residency have or have had a dancer in their company that came from our program. They get to spend a week watching the students dance, so they can see who might be an interesting person to collaborate with. Connections are definitely made. Unlike some other dance festivals where students might want to work with a choreographer, but the class or rehearsal doesn’t fit into their schedule, we make sure that all the students get a chance to learn from the company dancers and choreographers. The whole program has only about 75–80 students, so classes are about twenty people. We try to limit the size, otherwise there’s a breaking point. When choreographers create new movement with the students, it’s a really amazing experience for our dancers. Many of the students have never worked directly with a professional choreographer to make work, so it’s an especially valuable experience for them. It’s probably what they’ll spend most of their lives doing because most dancers now aren’t going to be learning rep; they’re going to be collaboratively making and learning new choreography.

EL: What about between the choreographers? Is there ever a time when the company dancers and choreographers are all in the same place?

KC: No, but yes. Or I guess, yes and no! We don’t facilitate any big meeting, but informally, they definitely interact. Many of the dancers and choreographers have told us that they like being so close to other companies. It’s really rare in New York for dancers to be able to take class from other choreographers, and in our program, the company dancers can take class from any of the other choreographers. They also run into each other in the halls and get to talking about their work. Some cross-pollination certainly seems to happen.

EL: How does Gibney Dance Company fit into this year’s lineup?

KC: This year, there are a lot of smaller companies—there just aren’t that many big dance companies out there, period. David [Dorfman] has four or five people, Ellis [Wood] has been working on a small project with her mom, Brian [Brooks] has about ten, Kate [Weare] has five, Gina [Gibney]—she has six—and the biggest company is Ron Brown; he has I think over ten people. In the past, Gina has given an extra lecture and provided an introduction to her domestic violence survivor work.

Thanks Kay! You can learn more about the Tisch Summer Residency Festival here.


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