“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.
Errant Movement, founded by Rachel Turner, is a bi-coastal dance company that explores the world we live in through dance, using unexpected movement patterns and ideas and incorporating technical dance with pedestrian gestures to create dance that is thought-provoking, visually pleasing, and accessible. Since the company’s inception in August 2015 in the Washington, D.C. metro area, the company has performed at festivals and shows in D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit, as well as producing full length shows in D.C. and Chicago. In August 2017, Artistic Director Rachel Turner moved to Los Angeles and has continued to present and develop work under the Errant Movement organization on the west coast, while founding dancers Mariana C. Barros-Titus and Emilia Kawashima have run the group in DC.
Turner never really thought of herself as a choreographer. When she moved to D.C. after graduating from Columbia University, she actually thought her dance life was over. A friend recommended that she audition for a local company, and with that she put her foot in the door of the D.C. dance scene. But it wasn’t until National Choreography Month (NACHMO) in 2015 that she decided to try her hand at choreographing a solo. Based on the welcome she received on the D.C. scene from this performance, she decided to create a work on other professionals in the area. She had a small network of dance friends in the area, and asked a few of them if they’d be willing to rehearse for another showcase. Her first two professional works were actually pieces that she had originally set on students, and then developed further with her peers. After trying out her work in a few showcases, she decided she wanted to establish a semi-permanent group and work towards creating her own shows. Thus, Errant Movement was born.
Just a few years later, however, Turner moved to Los Angeles, and the future of the company came into question. She didn’t want the company to fold, but also didn’t want to burden her dancers with the administrative responsibilities that would come with her absence. They had just finished their second evening show, oneness, which had toured to Chicago, and there was a sense of forward momentum with the established group of dancers. It was decided that the D.C. group would continue under the Errant name, with Turner’s oversight and local co-direction from founding dancers Mariana C. Barros-Titus and Emilia Kawashima. Turner, in turn, began working under the Errant name in California, where after participating in showcases in Los Angeles, she is preparing the group’s first west coast show with a new family of local dancers.
Photo by Stephanie Vadalia
Collaboration has always been important to Turner, who used the company as a vehicle to feature work by seven guest choreographers in its first two years. In her absence, the D.C.-based dancers have stepped up as choreographers. The company’s emphasis on collaboration stems from Turner’s belief that there should be more opportunities for choreographers who want to create group dance, but do not want to form their own company. Working with guest artists has been a big part of the company’s success: it brings more voices to the table, offers opportunity, and gives a chance for the dancers to work with someone new. She highly encourages other companies to try to offer these opportunities as a way to build up the local dance scene.
Over the years, Errant Movement has become known for using dance to highlight issues of social justice, as they like to leave audience members thinking about important topics in new ways. Early in her career, Turner was given the advice “not to feel pressure to give the audience an answer with the ending;” this has shaped much of the company’s work. As she puts it, “We like to use our work to ask a question or bring up an issue rather than tell the audience what we think.” In her choreography, Turner encourages the dancers to bring real, not “performed,” emotion to the stage. “We are at our best when the audience is close enough to experience the emotions and journey with us rather than observing us perform from a distance.” Having this goal in the forefront – to use raw, authentic performance to ask a question of the audience – allows the company to present cohesive evenings of dance, even with multiple choreographers involved. As Turner explains, “The movement of each choreographer may be different, but there is a shared essence among the pieces.”
While every choreographer in the company’s collective has their own approach to dance-making, for Turner, the creative process often begins with music. She describes herself as “super driven and inspired by music.” Sometimes the musical choice will even come before the dance’s theme, with the song making Turner feel “something,” even if she’s not sure what it is. She does not often set choreography to the actual piece of music, however. Turner chooses to “just follow (her) instincts” as she generates the movement. The movement will be taught to the dancers without counts or musicality. This allows her to make changes based on the dancers’ interpretations of the movement or even create sections on the spot inspired by their take on the movement themes. Musicality and specificity is added later in the process, after she has the chance to see movement on the dancers.
Turner aims to create concert dance that is accessible – not just in terms of cost and location of performances, but also in the themes and stories each piece explores. She creates work for mainstream audiences in the hopes of raising interest in concert dance. She notes that people readily engage with music, movies, and sports, even without experience as a musician, filmmaker, or coach. When it comes to dance, however, they let a lack of knowledge serve as a rationale for not attending concerts. As Turner elaborates, “Often if I invite a non-dance friend to a show that is not mine, they’ll respond with some version of “I don’t know anything about dance.” Or, if they do come out to the show, they often don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about what they see. For some reason, it still feels like dance lives on a pedestal, where you need to “know” about it in order to participate in the process, whether that is by seeing shows casually or sharing opinions about it.” She hopes that someday, concert dance will enjoy the same popularity and attention that commercial forms are experiencing in pop culture. In an effort to make that happen, she finds ways to engage the audience in her work – with real topics and real emotions, and by addressing issues directly. She thinks it is important to think about the audience when creating; choreographers can’t just create to fulfill their own desires and expect audiences to pay attention.
Photo by Gregory Kasunich
Beyond the creative aspects of dance-making, Turner also takes responsibility for much of the administrative work involved with maintaining a dance company. One of the biggest challenges she faces is finding performance opportunities, such as showcases or festivals. To help build a robust season each year, the company has developed fruitful collaborations with organizations outside the dance field. For example, they were one of just a few dance groups to perform at an ongoing monthly event in D.C. called Little Salon. Through this event, they connected with a venue that later hosted their works-in-progress showing, gained followers who started attending their self-produced shows, and were invited to perform at other events around the city. Through their involvement with a group called D.C. Listening Lounge, they’ve had the chance to perform at the Hirshhorn Museum. Turner keeps an eye out for multi-disciplinary events where dance might be a good fit, even if most of the performers come from other disciplines
Turner considers herself a “full-time” dance-maker, with multiple choreographic projects on her plate at any given time. When she’s not working with Errant, she teaches dance at a school in Los Angeles. In her choreography for these students, she still takes care to create something important to herself and the dancers. In Los Angeles, she is also the founder of the L.A. hub of NACHMO and involved with other local dance groups. She acknowledges that she is fortunate to have a salaried job with benefits; teaching and choreographing for her students choreographing allows her to be in a creative headspace all the time. As for the Errant company members, they are a mix of “full-time” dancers and “slash artists” who enjoy a full-time, non-dance related job outside of their performance work. Particularly in D.C., the dance culture is rich with dancers who are dedicated to their day jobs, but also enjoy the chance to perform on the side. In Los Angeles, more of the dancers work multiple gigs to accommodate their dancing and would drop these jobs if a dance opportunity came across that could support them financially.
Rachel, what advice would give to a choreographer just starting out?
“Just do it. You have to build and work hard and can’t expect dancers to fall at your feet and showcases to knock on your door, but nothing at all will happen if you don’t just do it and try. If you can’t find shows that fit what you want to do, create them. And, when possible, bring others along for the ride. If you are struggling to find showcases, create a showcase yourself because others are almost certainly looking for more opportunities too.
At the same time, be realistic and bite off what you can chew. If you want to put on a show for the first time, choose a smaller venue. Succeed small and then build on that to bigger successes. Perform in art galleries, at monthly BYOB salon style gatherings in someone’s house, at community centers, and gain momentum from each success. Don’t compromise your vision but figure out what you need to share your art and start with that so you can show people what you are about.
Bring dance to places that could use more of it and build loyal fan bases. Venues built for dance and with a reputation for dance are great, but the connections I’ve built with theater venues who had never hosted a dance company before have yielded more excitement and return customers”
Connect with Errant Movement:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/errantmovement/
- Instagram: @errantmovement
- Website: http://errantmovement.wixsite.com/errant-movement
If you are a choreographer or director of a small dance company and you’d like to be featured in the Making Dance Now series, pile contact me using the form below: