The art and dance scene can be highly competitive, with team-ups being relegated superheroes in action movies. But in a post-pandemic world the stakes are higher and the cost of producing work is more precarious than ever. Some dancers have started to band together, choosing to work together to overcome the obstacles of an ever-shifting arts landscape.
One such collaboration is “Grasp Grip,” co-presented by The Space Movement Project and The Rooted Space Company from May 19-21 at the Experimental Station in Hyde Park. TSMP is a collectively run dance company with a production history that spans over sixteen years, and previously managed Outer Space studios in Wicker Park.
The Rooted Space Company, co-owned by Stefany Cotton and Chelsea Branch, is preparing for their inaugural year as a dance company, branching out from the Rooted Space dance studio in the North Center neighborhood which they also co-own. With stories this similar, it seems like a no brainer for the two groups to work together.
Of course, there is an economic incentive for companies to work together, as explained by TSMP Managing Director Anne Kasdorf in an interview. “TSMP decided last season that we were not going to produce a whole concert,” said Kasdorf. “People may or may not know, but one weekend of concerts is an annual budget. There’s a lot of risk—what if one of our small group was exposed to Covid before the show… That would be it! So, we did not produce any work last year.” When they felt that they were ready to produce again, they sought a performance partner. “We asked the Rooted Space about coproducing a shared show, and they agreed and were really excited, just having launched this artistic arm of their organization.”
The two companies formed a mentor-mentee relationship, with TSMP helping upstart Rooted Space with things like community outreach, and more mundane but necessary things like grant-writing and logistics. “Since we’ve opened the studio, we’ve been unintentionally building this relationship with TSMP and Anne Kasdorf,” said Rooted Space’s Stefany Cotton. “We see TSMP as one of our mentors and one of the groups that we hold in high esteem. We learn so much from them on the daily.” When they started the studio, Cotton and Branch partnered with Kasdorf and TSMP on exploring the communal movement and dancemaking, offering classes and workshops to the community that explored the collaborative process. Cotton reminisces about those early meetings. “Over cups of coffee we had conversations about what it is to truly work as a collective in a collaborative way.”
But similar stories and ambitions do not mean that they dance the same way; in fact, the two company’s styles couldn’t be more different.
“TSMP works collaboratively to create dances,” said Kasdorf. “In 2016, we wanted to take a step back. We realized that we wanted to stay in a state of not knowing what it was we were creating. This led us to an improvisational process.” What they didn’t know at the time was that it would become a score and a structure for how they build dance on stage. “We experience it as solo artists, we experience it in the community,” said Kasdorf. “We continue to cultivate something that lives and breathes on stage and changes every time.”
In “Grasp Grip,” TSMP presents “Refraction,” a thirty-minute work with an original sound score by local musician Patrick Stonehouse, using several versions of the music to create a different performance every time. “We’ve built a lot on the idea of the environment, a movement landscape,” said Kasdorf. “We think about the depth of the space and overlap between dancers moving upstage to downstage, right to left. We think about the overall form.”
Although the entire work is improvised, Kasdorf mentions recurring motifs that continually pop up, like the company melting into static poses, like being stuck in a family photograph, creating short vignettes that occur throughout the work. “As a performer you have to trust,” said Kasdorf. “Even if we’re a little uncomfortable, stay a bit longer than you think and push the audience to stay a little longer in the stillness, or element of repetition. Let it go on a little further than you think it should, just to test those boundaries.”
Alternatively, Rooted Space Company presents “Let The Record Show” by Stefany Cotton, which is entirely composed ahead of time, featuring music from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, like Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye. Cotton is coy about details, not wanting to spoil any surprises, but does offer some info on the style she is working with. “There are intricate walking patterns—We call them ‘hot feet’—and sweeping movements based on releasing momentum and seeing where the body takes you versus where I think the body should take you.”
The admiration both Cotton and Kasdorf have for each other is heartfelt. “Stefany Cotton is the most organized human!” said Kasdorf. “She keeps me in line and is an excellent production partner.” Cotton is equally optimistic about their working relationship, with TSMP holding a special place in her heart. “For us it was like meeting our heroes, that a sixteen-plus year-old company wanted to work with us.”
“Grasp Grip” proves that to go it alone is not an artist’s only option. There is another route, one of collective responsibility and shared economics. The toxically competitive reputation of the dance world certainly applies to the commercial side of the industry, but in the communities where the dance lives, artists can be above such pettiness, and collaborations such as that between The Space Movement Project and The Rooted Space Company prove just that.
“Grasp Grip” is presented by The Space Movement Project and The Rooted Space Company at Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Tickets are $25 (suggested donation) and are available by clicking the event link below.