“Making Dance Now” is an occasional blog series profiling choreographers and small dance companies to explore the challenges and rewards of creating, producing, and presenting choreography in today’s culture and economy. It’s my hope that this series will spark a dialogue about the importance of dance-making today, and how we can better support choreographers!
The first installment of the “Making Dance Now” blog series features Bridgette Borzillo and CaZo Dance, based in Gilbert, Arizona. CaZo Dance is a dance theater company that strives to take their audiences on a cinematic experience by telling stories through movement and acting. CaZo Dance is an Education Partner with Mesa Arts Center, and has Non-Profit, Fiscal Sponsorship through Fractured Atlas. Principal collaborators include Bridgette Borzillo, Artistic Director/Choreographer, Stephanie Tippi Hart, Dramaturg, Photographer, and Acting Coach, and Rebecca Reeder, Director’s Assistant.
Bridgette started CaZo in November of 2014, a year after the sudden passing of her grandmother. To help her mourn, Bridgette created her first full-length concert. Remember When…An Old Fashioned Love Story was dedicated to her grandmother and the beautiful story of her relationship with her husband, who had passed away 40 years before. With this production, CaZo was born.
Photo by Michael Simon of Remember When…An Old Fashioned Love Story
Bridgette’s vision for CaZo was to create a family-like atmosphere for the dancers, while creating work that would touch audience’s hearts. By producing shows that are accessible to everyone, she strives to bring more audience members to dance, both for CaZo and to the wider Phoenix community. To further connect with the public, CaZo teaches classes for both novice and experienced dancers, and works with people with special needs. Since the company’s inception, Bridgette has worked to build their community outreach and impact, volunteering with kids with Down Syndrome and donating proceeds from each of their Spring shows to a charitable causes.
When first starting out, Bridgette found the biggest challenge to be securing rehearsal space. The company’s early rehearsals were held at different studios and even a local church. Bridgette, a Licensed Massage Therapist, traded massage time for time the studio. This changed when CaZo was chosen for residency through NueBox, a Phoenix-based organization which “supports artists in the creation of interdisciplinary, collaborative, and research-based art which involves and educates the artist and the community” through a “process-oriented residency program.” Julie Akerly, founder of NueBox, then connected Bridgette with the Mesa Arts Center’s Education Partner program. Through that program, CaZo now has a home-base for company rehearsals and also leads weekly classes open to the community. The partnership has lessened the financial strain on the company, but Bridgette remains the principal financial producer and is responsible for costs at the end of the day.
The company maintains a budget of about $25,000 per year, with the majority going to production costs. Dancers are contracted by season or by show, depending on casting needs. A season for CaZo starts at the beginning of the year, with rehearsals in January to start creating their spring performance. The company typically produces two full-length productions, one in April and one in October. The interim time is spent performing in local and regional festivals, and working on commissioned projects. Teaching and setting choreography in the high school setting provides a primary source of revenue for the company, with additional financial support from an annual fundraiser and ticket sales. Dancers are paid by the performance, and Bridgette offers them free massage work at her practice as an additional benefit.
Photo by Stephanie Tippi Hart of I Found” from the show Fate, Dancers Alexander Patrick and Martha Hernandez
Publicity and filling the house are the biggest challenges facing CaZo now. Bridgette is the main administrator for the company, although she does get some support. Stephanie Tippi Hart puts together promotionals videos for the company, and her brother Bryan Caron provide graphic design and videography. Like many dance companies, she relies on press releases, fliers, and social media to promote performances. They also perform at local events, like First Fridays, to bring the company more visibility with the general public. Bridgette also relies on the dancers to spread the word about upcoming performances and help fill the seats come show time. Mostly a one-woman operation, Bridgette finds that administrative work of marketing and public relationships does not impact her creative process, but she does have to sacrifice hours as a masseuse to get everything accomplished.
Delegating is something that doesn’t come easy for Bridgette, due to the nature of her creative work. Because she creates mostly full-length productions, everything must meld seamlessly to support the narrative. Bridgette often takes sole responsibility for choreography, music, costuming, and props, but she has begun to lean on her dancers for support, especially as co-choreographers. “I am learning to give more responsibility to some dancers to choreograph, so I don’t have to focus on those certain sections and I can focus on other pieces in the show,” she says, “but I always give them a framework and tell them what the piece needs to be about and how it flows in the show.” She gets help with costuming from Rebecca Reeder, and Stephanie Tippi Hart coaches the dancers in their acting and helps Bridgette with dramaturgy and the overall flow of the work from a theatrical perspective.
Bridgette describes CaZo as a “fusion dance company,” and her work incorporates myriad of styles including jazz, ballroom, partnering, contemporary, modern, and tap. With their focus on audience engagement, CaZo presents dance stories that are easy to follow, designed to evoke emotion, and focus on acting as well as movement. As Bridgette emphasizes, “I love telling stories that will allow my audience to escape for 2 hours, or stories that will touch people’s hearts and that are relatable.” Theatrical elements are used to create an atmosphere that gets audience members “in the mood” as they enter the theatre. For example, singers serenaded audience members with hits from the 1940’s to get people in the mood of the era before Remember When… An Old Fashioned Love Story.
Photo by Rick Meincke of Tough as Nails Dancers Samantha Brown and Brayan Perez
For all the company’s success, Bridgette still finds community support to be lacking at times. “It is hard in Phoenix to find a supportive arts community because there are so many things happening in the Valley. There are art shows, theatre shows, dance companies, athletics, movies, concerts and more to compete with. I feel dance sometimes gets pushed to the side.” She wishes that more of the public took a chance on local companies, and feels that the community favors touring productions or larger companies with bigger reputations. More coverage of dance in the local media might help with this issue, in Bridgette’s opinion, and she hopes that more writers will choose to cover dance. Moreover, it’s been a bit difficult finding her “niche” as a company focused on narrative, story-telling, and literal representation in their productions, as she finds more of the other local dance companies are rooted in abstract and more post-modern work.
Insight into …. Tough As Nails
Premiere: April 2018, Phoenix Center for the Arts
Description from Company Website
WE ALL VOW IN MARRIAGE THAT WE WILL BE WITH ONE ANOTHER THROUGH THE UPS AND DOWNS AND THROUGH SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH. PHIL AND STACY BACIGALUPI ARE THE DEFINITION OF WHAT THOSE WORDS MEAN. PLEASE JOIN US FOR THE TELLING OF A TRUE, INSPIRATIONAL STORY ABOUT ONE COUPLE’S STRUGGLE WITH A BRAIN TUMOR DIAGNOSIS AT THE SAME TIME THEY DECIDED TO START A FAMILY. JOIN US AS WE WALK THROUGH THE 6 YEAR JOURNEY OF CAZO DANCE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR’S, BRIDGETTE BORZILLO, COUSINS AS THEY GO THROUGH 3 BRAIN SURGERIES AND 5 YEARS OF FERTILITY TREATMENTS.
On the Creative Process for Tough as Nails
“My creative process varies from show to show. I do a lot of research. For Tough as Nails, which was about my cousin and her husband, I found inspiration in their blogs. Phil began blogging when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Stacy wrote a blog chronicling her experience with IVF while also nursing her husband back to health. Their blogs were extremely helpful in creating the storyline and getting a glimpse into their lives. As a former guitar player, Phil also listed a lot of music in his blog. I tried to choose as many of the songs from the blog or those that were significant to both of them. My brother, Bryan Caron, and I went to Stacy and Phil’s house to do an on-camera interview about how they met, what changed since the tumor, and lessons they learned throughout their experience. We took that footage and gave it to the lead dancers, Samantha Brown and Brayan Perez, for them to do their character work. They also read the blogs to get into the minds of Stacy and Phil. It really was a special moment to have Stacy and Phil at the live shows.”
Community Outreach through Tough as Nails
We donated $3 of every ticket sold to the National Brain Tumor Society, raising $1,100 so they can help other families like my cousin and find a cure from this illness.
2 Minutes with Bridgette Borzillo
Photo by Stephanie Tippi Hart
Do you consider yourself a full-time dancemaker?
“I am a full time dancemaker because my ideas and creativity do not shut off! I wish I could shut it off sometimes so my mind can rest but it doesn’t. I really do not take a break because I feel if I take a break, my creativity will stop.”
What advice would you have for a choreographer who is considering forming their own dance company?
“Don’t start a company unless you’ve already been a part of 1-3 companies to see how they run things. If you want the longevity, make sure you have a solid financial plan, savings, and be ready to lose money on your first 4 years of producing. But don’t give up! And also, continuously make connections with people. You never know who you are going to meet and what kind of projects you can get out of them. Also, support as much dance as possible!”
Connect with CaZo
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