By Tara Sheena
Loni Landon and Gregory Dolbashian are two undeniably emergent forces in the NYC dance scene. Between the two of them, they have a strong roster of credits, ranging from Juilliard to the Ailey School, to professional companies and to Met Opera productions. Most importantly, they run their own respective companies: Loni Landon Projects and the DASH Ensemble. Last fall, like so many professional dancers in New York City, they were fed up with expensive classes and lack of opportunities to explore more creative outlets in an open environment. With a little determination and a lot of creative desire, The Playground was born.
What was the original motivation for starting the Playground?
Loni Landon: When I returned from dancing in Europe I felt like I had nowhere to go in terms of a dance class. I did not have the money to go to a $ 25 workshop, where the class would be filled with more than 50 people. I knew many other dancers felt the same way as I did and had similar complaints. In the dance scene in NY, sometimes it can feel very closed, and impossible to make a connection with a choreographer. When I met Greg Dolbashian I started talking with him about the idea of a collective. I spoke about my experience and wanted to have an environment that was like a company setting with no company attached. He was speaking about how pricey it can get to rehearse and we thought that it [would] work out if the dancer and choreographer could benefit from each other.
Money and budget are always a big issue for dancers and choreographers. Since the recession hit, trends of donation-based and discounted classes have been popping up all over the city. What is unique about the Playground?
Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: The people we bring in as choreographers are encouraged to play, whether that be sharing their methods of choreography, working on ideas for upcoming commissions, or trying out new techniques for movement invention. It gives dancers a chance to genuinely work with a choreographer for a day without spending $30 to do it. Dancers need a place not only to build their technique, but to apply it to something beyond. They need a place to be pushed to elevate their dancing in a creative, energized environment. We also make it a point to reach out to choreographers that are in-demand and generating a following both in NYC and abroad. For instance, in our last session we were able to have Alex Ekman from Nederlands Dance Theater and also Danielle Agami, former rehearsal director of the Batsheva Company.
If I’ve never experienced a class with the Playground, what can I expect?
Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: You can experience an atmosphere of drive and enthusiasm. You will feel pushed and challenged, yet completely supported. You will be around high-levels of talent both from the dancers and from the choreographers. The best thing is that every day at The Playground is different. We are always so excited to see what the choreographer will bring in for that day. There is also a great feeling of appreciation. We get so many reactions from people saying, “Thank you for doing this. Dance really needs this. Keep it going”. For us, that is the best because we believed that we had something really big on our hands when we started, and we are so glad that people feel that same energy.
What do you hope the teachers of the Playground get out of the experience?
Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: So much. What we are mostly giving the choreographers is space for experimentation. Since The Playground is not a technique class, the teachers are given a 2-hour time frame to venture new ideas and test their creativity on trained professionals. How the choreographer uses the space and time is up to his or her individual discretion. It’s literally as though we are giving a painter a huge blank canvas with excellent paint! We hope they get the chance to discover more about the ideas and languages that they have. We hope they get stimulated and inspired from the work they are playing with. We hope that they give a dancer in a session a job. We hope that they feel productive and excited. We hope the Playground generates more exposure and insight into their work and their respective companies/projects. We are trying to build the ultimate exchange where both dancer and choreographer grow and benefit from their time with us.
Your Vision Statement speaks to the importance of an open forum for not only students and teachers, but also presenters who may observe these classes. Why is it important that presenters see this development occur?
Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: Many times the audiences’ experience of a work is a lot different than the choreographers and the dancers experience of the work. Both are extremely important. We want to expose the process of making choreography and the dancers effort in learning it. In the process and rehearsal of creating dance, there is a beautiful roughness—there is laughter, frustration, community, camaraderie, exploration, and play. The truth is, in dance we spend most of our time in the ‘process’ stage rather than the ‘product’ stage. If presenters understand our process, they’ll only then be able to better understand our product.
Where do you hope to see the Playground in the future?
Loni Landon & Gregory Dolbashian: We want The Playground to have a permanent home where we would love to have residencies, performances, and have a consistent presence in NY [and, eventually] nationally and internationally. The Playground (New York), The Playground (Seattle), The Playground (Detroit), The Playground (Rome), The Playground (Barcelona). We want The Playground to be a community where artists feel like they can go whenever they want.
This November, playtime starts up again at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, 248 West 60th Street, NYC. Come out and play 10:30am-12:00pm every weekday, November 28- December 16.
Also, check out “The Playground NYC” on Facebook and Kickstarter.
Photo by Jennifer Jones