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The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance

Arianne MacBean MFA '99

Arianne McBean is the Artistic Director of The Big Show Co., a dance-theater group based in Los Angeles. The Big Show Co. has been presented in New York at the DIA Center for the Arts and WOW, and in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, UCLA's Armand Hammer Museum, Unknown Theater, Highways Performance Space, and REDCAT as part of Studio and The A.W.A.R.D. Show! MacBean has been a Guest Artist at Scripps College and LA Valley College and is a seven-time recipient from the city of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, most recently, as an Artist-In-Residence. She was also recently awarded a CHIME mentorship exchange grant from Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. She holds a BA in Dance from UCLA and a double MFA in Dance and Critical Writing from the California Institute of the Arts. MacBean is currently the Chair of the Dance Department at Oakwood School in North Hollywood, CA.

What brought you to CalArts?

After undergraduate school at UCLA, I lived in New York City doing the whole dance-scene there. I worked in arts administration at Dance Theater Workshop’s National Performance Network, as Meredith Monk’s personal assistant, and of course as a waitress, artist model, and dancer with everyone and everywhere possible. After three years of all this I felt the need to re-focus. I wanted to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and find my voice as a choreographer and writer. I quickly found out there was no other place I could get a Masters degree in my two passions:  dance and writing. CalArts was really the only option for me because of the particular interests I had. I was lucky it was there… and that I was accepted.

How has your CalArts education been relevant to your professional path?

Because I was simultaneously learning how to articulate myself as a dance-maker and writer while I was at CalArts, I walked out prepared and confident that language was on my side. There was (and still is) so much room in the LA dance scene for someone who has ideas to create a reality for themselves. When I left CalArts, I knew I needed a venue to present my work. There were not too many opportunities for emerging choreographers like myself to get their work produced at that time. So, I wrote a grant and began producing the Dance Moving Forward Festival.  For seven years, DMFF became a place for new choreographers in LA to meet each other, exchange ideas, and grow their audiences. Grant writing was easy after all the writing I had to do at CalArts!

Writing also proved to be incredibly important as I applied for teaching jobs around town. I had been teaching through the CalArts CAP program and then I got a job teaching a one-hour a week Hip Hop class at a private school in North Hollywood. I found out they were looking for a person to start a new dance program there and I quickly put together a portfolio, curriculum outline, and educational statement of philosophy. That portfolio, along with the obvious dance teaching techniques I had learned at CalArts landed me the job at Oakwood School, where I am still the Dance Department Chair after 13 years! Who knew? My education at CalArts gave me the tools and guts to go out into the world and make things happen – not to wait for the world to come to me.

What advice would you give to our current or perspective students?

I would advise new students to take advantage of any opportunity that connects them with working professional artists or with the greater Los Angeles community. There are so many guest artists that come through the school – in every department – and the faculty themselves are doing some important and interesting work outside of the school. Learn how they balance work and art and how they integrate them. Take as many guest artist workshops as you can, and get involved with programs that will help you discover yourself as a performer, collaborator, or even a teacher!

CalArts is unique in that it houses the Schools of Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theater as well as the Division of Library and Informational Resources under one roof. As a student, how did you engage with other members of the CalArts community and how did it influence your art making?

One of the most influential collaborations I have ever had was while I was at CalArts. Through a class in the Music Department I was paired with composer, Terry Dame (’98) to develop a project together. At that time I was very interested in examining stereotypical women’s roles in the work place. Terry had been experimenting with making her own instruments with household objects and we soon realized that we could build on these two interests together. For our final project we created Women’s Work, (Its poster still hangs in my office.) Terry built every instrument. There were songs played on type-writers, tuned wine glasses, strummed rubber bands, staplers, and pie plates to name a few. I created dances that utilized reams of paper, clothes lines, and laundry. We eventually brought the piece to New York and performed it at WOW. I still love collaborating with composers, and do so with another CalArts Alumnus, Ivan Johnson (’03). We have been working together now for seven years.  That first partnership with Terry opened my world up to the amazing gifts composers can bring to creating a complete vision for a dance.

How did the School of Dance fulfill your need to forge a career in dance?

The Dance Program at CalArts confirmed that I was doing what I was supposed to do in life. There were difficult times when my work and ideas were questioned. It was hard to hear sometimes. I remember there was one moment when I walked out of my mentor’s office and I thought, “I don’t want to be defensive anymore. I have to turn these critical words into positive changes.” It was a big step in my maturation as an artist. Sometimes people say things to you and all you hear is negativity. But if you pick through the words, you can usually find some nugget that resonates truth to you. Ultimately, you have to make your own truth. Receiving feedback from teachers and mentors is crucial to developing your own set of principles. The Dance Program solidified my thinking about dance and set me off on my own road, ready to articulate it.

How did the technique classes prepare you for the physical demands of a career in dance?

I was probably in the best dancing shape in my life when I left CalArts. Being at Cal arts for two and a half years was a precious time for me physically. I was lucky to be able to dedicate so much time to honing my dancing skills – to delve deeply into my own body’s capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities day after day after day after day! When you are able to make dancing a daily practice like that, you discover things about yourself that you never knew were possible. Now, as a dance teacher, choreographer and mom of two young girls I am able to stay healthy and strong because I know my body’s capabilities so intimately. Doing the daily dance of juggling career, art, family and my own physical training is actually harder than anything I have EVER done. But because I had that time at CalArts to focus on myself – both physically and intellectually, I have the sense of self that I need to manage all of my roles in life.

How did the other curricular courses (composition, dance history, anatomy, etc) inform you about the world of dance and how did it prepare you to move forward with your ideas and personal voice?

I remember there was one particular composition class where I was being strong-willed and maybe even a tad argumentative. After one particularly sassy remark, my teacher looked at me and said, “Arianne, what planet are you on?” I thought for a minute and said, “Planet Arianne.” He laughed and shook his head and said, “Yes. Definitely. Planet Arianne.” That moment was significant because even in his frustration the teacher acknowledged my voice and reality. But his question was also a warning for me. I needed to be able to back up my attitude with concrete ideas and also, I risked isolating myself if I moved too far away from the status quo. This balance is still important. I still create experimental dance where pushing and questioning expectations is still a big part of my work. However, I always try to make it accessible through the portrayal real human experiences.

How has the technical production requirements of the program informed the way you communicate about your work?

Everything I know about technical theater came from DK – including that I don’t know how to take out a light bulb. Literally. There was one class when DK asked me to unscrew a light bulb from a unit and the tiny lamp cracked into a million pieces in my hand. Despite that minor catastrophe, I can talk with confidence about Lekos, Fresnels, follow spots and all the rest of it because of my work at CalArts. This knowledge really helped when I was producing the Dance Moving Forward Festivals. I was presenting productions in big theaters like the El Portal in North Hollywood where all their techies are union members and every minute of over time means going over budget. I was not about to let that happen. As a woman producer, knowing the lingo and technical aspects of production was empowering. I felt comfortable moving in and out of the technical world and because of this people had confidence in me as a producer of large-scale productions.

CalArts has a strong mentoring system for each student. How did you find the guidance and support of your mentor as a student? Have you had the opportunity to mentor young artist in your career?

As a middle school and high school dance teacher so much of what I do is mentorship-based. I like the fact that I do not teach in a conservatory where all students are expected to turn into professionals – though some do. At my school, I am guiding students towards a life-long love and hopefully deep understanding of dance – both as a technical discipline and as a means for expression. I appreciate the time I got to spend with working artists in their field at CalArts and the personal attention I received in guiding me in my work. I use that as a model for my own teaching.

On the other hand, I feel like I have never stopped being a “mentee.” I have always sought out feedback from peers and professors whose work resonates with me – even after graduating. I was recently awarded a CHIME mentorship grant for professional choreographers. A project of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, the grants and cost-free studio time are given to support an exploration between artists interested in learning from one another. For the next year, local choreographer, Lionel Popkin will mentor me in bringing moment-to-moment integrity to the dance elements in my dance-theater work. It’s such a gift to be supported as a learner – even at age 37!

Do you continue to work or correspond with any CalArtians?

I work with so many Calartians – it’s crazy to even try to name them but here are a few that I love and cherish in no particular order: Ilaan Egeland, Ivan Johnson, Liz Hoefner, Rande Dorn, Pablo Santiago, Maggie Lee, Kuo Long Kai, Heidi Landgraf, Brad Culver, Yorgos Adamis, Erin Barnes, Brandon LaBelle, Ken Erhlich, Ben McIntosh, Sarah Wass, Iris Anderson, Hassan Christopher, Kathy Foley, Alyson Boell, Alexander Marchand, and so many more!!!!!

 

About this Artist:

Current position in occupation.

Chair, Dance Department, Oakwood School

Artistic Director, The Big Show Co.

Any other degrees or certifications that you have earned?

Certified Personal Trainer

Links:

www.dancemovingforward.com

Upcoming Performances, Workshops or Exhibitions:

We Can't Get There From Here
Choreography by Arianne MacBean

The A.W.A.R.D. Show!
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)
January 13–16, 2011 at 8:30 pm
631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA
Tickets: $18
REDCAT Box Office: 213-237-2800 or visit redcat.org
We Can't Get There From Here is a dance-theater duet for a man and a woman. It is about the longing for, and the failure of, action and language to bring mutual understanding. With robust performances by Brad Culver (Poor Dog Group) and Genevieve Carson (Los Angeles Contemporary Dance), the piece explores the relationship between text and movement. It is also a love story.
History about The A.W.A.R.D. Show!: The title of the program comes from an acronym (Artists With Audiences Responding to Dance), and was created in 2005 by choreographer Neta Pulvermacher, producer Marisa König Beatty and Scott Kasen in response to the need for a lab-like space in which dance artists could engage in open dialogue with audiences about their work. The A.W.A.R.D. Show! is now administered by The Joyce Theater (NYC), and it has expanded into a national program with a series in Chicago, Los Angeles, NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

Audiences new to dance often express that they lack an understanding of the art form, and that they do not have the tools to help them through this initial barrier. Often audience members leave a performance without a particular sense of connection. The A.W.A.R.D. Show! aims to overcome this reaction, or lack of reaction, to experimental dance in particular.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show! began with Neta Pulvermacher, who engaged audiences in a preshow conversation about ways to watch dance, and then followed the performance with a moderated discussion between the artists and the audience. This effort to engage deeply and openly with audiences and to foster discussion and critical response remains at the heart of our program.

It was only later, as Neta spoke with a New York funder, Scott Kasen, that the idea of the $10,000 award and audience assisted selection emerged. Would this pot of money empower the audience to invest their attention by turning them into a grant-making panel? If an individual audience member had $10,000 to give to a choreographer, which choreographer would they fund and why?
The Joyce Theater Foundation, in partnership with The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, REDCAT (Los Angeles), Dance Affiliates (Philadelphia), ODC Theater (San Francisco) and On the Boards (Seattle), is pleased to announce the 12 choreographers in each of the six cities who will participate in The A.W.A.R.D Show! 2010–2011. One choreographer from each of these cities will take home a $10,000 award to use toward the creation of a new dance work. The winner will be chosen through a process of performance, moderated discussion and audience voting. Major funding for this program has been provided by The Boeing Company.

Reviews: 

For reviews of Arianne MacBean’s recent work click below:

http://www.dancemovingforward.com/html/said.html

 

Photo Credit:

Headshot photo by Will Taylor

We Can't Get There From Here
To be performed at REDCAT January 13, 2011 as part of The A.W.A.R.D Show!
Performers: Brad Culver & Genevieve Carson
Photo by Leo Garcia at Highways Performance Space

Upside Down photo by Will Taylor

We Can't Get There From Here
To be performed at REDCAT January 13, 2011 as part of The A.W.A.R.D Show!
Performers: Brad Culver & Genevieve Carson
Photo by Dyanne Cano

 

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