The ‘Artist-Centric’ Motivation

Around here we often use the phrase “artist-centric.”

We are an artist-centric organization.

What exactly does that mean?

There are a couple of things happening this week and in the near future that I think help to shed light on just what that phrase means, with two polar-opposite artist-centric commitments from the Center serving as great examples of the phrase.

First, starting today, is the Fifth Choreographic Coding Lab from Motion Bank, a project that grew out of work with the William Forsythe Company four years ago. It is a gathering of disparate artists/creators, some dancers, some choreographers, some video and graphic designers, some coders, some who dabble in multiples of these things.

Every day this week they will come together in the Experimental Digital Arts Space on the first floor of the Eli and Edythe Broad Arts Center, UCLA.

This gathering represents one extreme end of the artist-centric continuum. These individuals are here simply to collaborate, to explore, to dream, to understand and to inspire each other. There is no projected outcome. There is no performance pressure. Something tangible might come of it,  or even multiple things—some new technology or piece of visual art or movement vocabulary. Or not.  The point is not the end result, the point is creating and harboring a space where artistically inclined individuals can, without restriction or pressure, endeavor to build and traverse rabbit holes of possibility.

We had a casual meet-and-greet with the participants last night. There are a few former UCLA students involved, a few students from other design schools in the city, two coders and video artists from Seattle. Everyone I talked to admitted they were excitedly entering the project with few preconceived notions or thoughts on what will transpire. All are curious and open to whatever comes.

Here’s a quick snapshot of them all sharing space together today:

Bringing Motion Bank to campus has been a work in progress over the course of a year. And as Kristy Edmunds, artistic and executive director of CAP UCLA said last night, the Labs actually do have the potential to have a lasting impact on an art form—dance.

I spoke with Scott DelaHunta, one of the Motion Bank founders who said this will likely be the last Coding Lab for a while as the Motion Bank researchers step back to assess all they have learned and derived from this and previous gatherings. So it is a special thing to be involved in. It also marks our first official collaboration with the incredible Design Media Arts program at UCLA. We have been eager for some time to work with students and faculty in this unique program and Design Media Arts professor Casey Reas is one of the leaders of the Coding Lab.

The Labs have an open door policy. Members of the public can drop in throughout the week from 10 am to 5 pm. Days are loosely structured for maximum creativity but begin with a sort of roundtable discussion with all participants sharing a thought, idea or possible working project. But who knows?

On Saturday all will gather at 4 p.m. to share some final thoughts,  showcase any presentations or new material, and in general just celebrate the art of making.

On the other end of the artist-centric spectrum is our ongoing commitment to a master artist and solo performer—Canadian puppeteer and theater maker Ronnie Burkett.

I vividly recall,  in some of our earliest meetings with Kristy after taking her post here as our leader in 2011, she expressed a desire to greatly increase the visibility of Ronnie in the U.S. He is a beloved and well known creator and performer in his home country and other parts of the world, especially Australia, where Kristy spent four years as curator/director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. But, he is (was) less known here in the states.

In the 2013-2014 season we gave Ronnie his L.A. debut, with his masterfully dark narrative work Penny Plain. His performances here were met with enthusiastic response from the local theater community, comprised of arts lovers many of whom had never experienced his work, and the local puppetry community, which, we discovered quickly was already rife with avid Ronnie Burkett fans.

The following season, we were all very excited to have Ronnie back on the program, this time for a longer run and with a wildly different work of theater–the raucous and tender variety show titled The Daisy Theatre, created and again performed by a solo Burkett, (with a little help from a few audience members). It is equal parts witty and wicked, naughty and nostalgic and it could only have sprung from Burkett’s mind. The Center is a co-commissioner of The Daisy Theatre and as such we have an ongoing commitment to its success.

The same week The Daisy Theater opened at the Actor’s Gang space in Culver City, artists Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov were in rehearsal for another theater work The Old Woman, which would take place here in Royce Hall over the weekend, concurrent with The Daisy Theatre’s nearby engagement. We took this as an opportunity to introduce Mikhail Baryshnikov to Burkett’s work and to the artist himself.

Kristy Edmunds snapped this Instagram shot of Ronnie showing the performing-arts legend how to move one of the show’s most important and poignant character’s–Schnitzel.

RonnieandBaryshnikov

We are very proud this season to collaborate with the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City as they become home to the New York debut of The Daisy Theatre. Performances open Sept. 30 and run through October 10. Kristy Edmunds will be on hand for opening night to cheer on one of our favorite artists. If you have friends or family in the city, tell them to head to BAC and catch this show. They won’t regret it.

BAC is the realization of a long-held vision by artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov, who sought to build an arts center in New York City that would serve as a gathering place for artists from all disciplines. BAC’s opening in 2005 heralded the launch of this mission, establishing a thriving creative space for artists from around the world.

This is an important moment in Ronnie’s life as a performer. We’re thrilled and more than a little envious of the New York audiences who will have so many chances to experience The Daisy Theatre.

So, from the experimental confines of a campus collective to the high-concept solo masterwork performed against the glittering lights of the city that never sleeps–we take a moment to revel in our artist-centric nature.