Interview with Randy Swartz, Artistic Director of Dance Affiliates and Dance Celebration

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An exclusive interview for the Dance Journal, compiled with assistance of Anne-Marie Mulgrew

Dance Journal: Please tell us a bit about your background and what I believe has been a 35-year career in the dance world.

Randy Swartz: I started my presenting career while an undergraduate English Journalism major at the University of Pennsylvania, worked for Columbia Pictures, worked for Walnut Street Theater from 69-74 whereby I oversaw the theater renovation and programming. This is where the dance series began. Companies presented at Walnut Street include Alvin Ailey, Limon, Dance Theater of Harlem, Bella Lewitsky, Merce Cunningham among others. Dance Celebration was then brought to Annenberg Center during its 1982-83 season and has been there ever since. Dance Celebration has presented more than 200 companies.

Dance Journal: When did you become involved with Dance Affiliates?

Randy Swartz: Dance Affiliates began in 1982. In 1975 I formed the non-profit organization American Ballet Competition (ABC). This organization helped to select American ballet dancers for international ballet competitions. In 1979, I was the executive director of the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. (I wouldn’t recommend Jackson in the summer- ha-ha). Recent dancers involved with ABC include Kip Martin and Adrienne Canterna.

Dance Journal: Dance Affiliates offers as its core program the Dance Celebration series. Are there other components to that Dance Affiliates is involved in?

Randy Swartz: Dance Affiliates has worked with Mann Music Center in summer productions such as London’s Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi and Dance Theater of Harlem. We have produced independently and with other organizations. These productions include Forbidden Christmas at the Prince Music Theater staring Baryshnikov and White Oak at the Merriam in association with University of the Arts. We also have a new statewide initiative, Dance Matters. This touring program is built on the Dance Celebration model and includes a concert performances, outreach and community and economic involvement for venues who do not usually present dance. One such venue was Casino Theatre in Vandergrift, PA.

Dance Journal: What do you see as the core mission of Dance Affiliates and how successful have you been at meeting these goals?

Randy Swartz: The core mission of Dance Affiliates is “to advance the art form.” We do so by presenting, commissioning, producing and educating. Our sustainability speaks for itself. We may have one of the longest running contemporary dance programs nationally.

Dance Journal: Does Dance Affiliates commission new works as well as present them? How are presenters selected for inclusion in your programs?

Randy Swartz: We do commission work. Dance Celebration’s recent commissions that premiered on the Dance Celebration Series include: Klezmerbluegrass (2005) Paul Taylor Dance Company; Dipthong (2004) by Brian Enos for Hubbard Street; The Sweetest Sounds (2003) by Frank Chaves & Sherry Zunker for River North; Too Many Cooks (2002) by David Parsons for Parsons Dance and Xmas Philes (2000) by Danny Ezralow for Philadanco.

In terms of the commissioning, some involve the companies some do not. Selection is based upon relationships with individuals and organizations and prior history. Dance Affiliates continues to nurture and value long relationships over time with artists and organizations.

Dance Journal: Can you tell us a bit about your community outreach and educational components? How is Dance Affiliates reaching out to youth and students in the community? How successful has this been in cultivating new dance audiences?

Randy Swartz: Outreach activities include two major programs – The Student Discovery Series for Schools and The Artist to Artist Series. The Student Discovery Series is a special hour-long program for schools on Friday mornings during the company’s run. The purpose is to expose, excite and educate youth to the magic and beauty of dance. For many pre-k through college students (and teachers and chaperones) who attend from public, parochial, charter and home school groups, the Student Discovery program is their first introduction to concert (mostly contemporary) dance. Often companies perform works from the touring repertory and all shows include a special Talkback session with the artists where students have the opportunity to interact and ask questions. Tickets are $7 with special discounts for students/groups attending more than one show. We think of it as a student subscriber series. Teachers receive a free study guide to share with their students. The Artist to Artist series is a free program of masterclasses and workshops., often to live music and are hosting in collaboration with schools/studios such as University of the Arts. Masterclasses are taught by the artistic directors, ballet master/mistresses and or company members and are geared for the aspiring adult professionals. These sessions are attended by dance students, teachers, company members and individual artists.

Most people remember their first dance concert, movie, book, etc. This first time exposure builds long-lasting memories and has the potential to inspire a student to continue on the journey.

Master classes promote the company’s engagement and expose dancers to the artist vision. Companies may also be seeking new dancers and these classes serve as a portal for dancers to be seen by company members, learn about the company, the work and touring. As a result of this series, several participants have auditioned for the companies and have been invited to attend summer sessions and workshops.

Outreach aspires to reach into the community to build, deepen and expand younger audiences.

Dance Journal: Dance Affiliates remains one of the nations few dance-only presenters; what challenges does this pose in the foreseeable future?

Randy Swartz: The main challenge is money and that’s a big challenge. We are fortunate in having a core group of loyal dedicated subscribers but we need to expand our audience.

Dance Journal: What do you personally find most rewarding in your work with Dance Affiliates?

Randy Swartz: Satisfaction is seeing how audiences respond to a dance presentation and the partnerships created with the artists.

Dance Journal: Anything you would like to add or tell us about what is coming up in 2009?

Randy Swartz: We are incredibly excited about the upcoming performances of Batsheva (Feb. 3) who makes its Philly debut with Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance; Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal Feb.19-21 with two outstanding works — Bigonzetti’s Rossini Cards (a North American premiere ) and Pederneiras’ Mapa, (A Philly premiere); the Ballet Boyz (presenting an all-Philly premiere program of works by Maliphant, Lorent and Horwood ), March 17-18; and National Dance Company of Spain 2 in an all-Duato program.

We are in the midst of planning 2009-2010 Season.  Information is not available for the public at this time.

More on Dance Affiliates and Dance Celebration at:
http://www.danceaffiliates.org

Upcoming 2009 SEASON

Batsheva Dance Company
Tuesday, February 3, 2009 @ 7:30 PM

Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal
Thursday, February 19, 2009 @ 7:30 PM
Friday, February 20, 2009 @ 8:00 PM
Saturday, February 21, 2009 @ 2:00 PM
Saturday, February 21, 2009 @ 8:00 PM

Ballet Boyz
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 @ 7:30 PM
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 @ 7:30 PM

National Dance Company of Spain 2
Thursday, May 14, 2009 @ 7:30 PM
Friday, May 15, 2009 @ 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 16, 2009 @ 2:00 PM
Saturday, May 16, 2009 @ 8:00 PM

Performances are held at the Zellerbach Theatre
Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

3 Comments

  1. Randy has always been behind the scenes making Philadelphia a world class venue for dance. I am glad to see this article and that he is being given a bit more recognition for all that he does for us. Kudos to the Dance Journal! You have me hooked as a reader.

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