Sunday, August 4, 2013

Q & A With Central Park SummerStage's Curator of Dance, Danni Gee.

Heather K. and Tami Shaloum hold a virtual (email) interview with Danni Gee, Curator of Dance for the City Park's Foundation SummerStage program since 2006. Ms. Gee comes to SummerStage with a wealth of professional dance experience, having been a principal dancer and soloist for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and a principal dancer with the Philadelphia Dance Company, as well as a dance teacher and coach. Adding to her list of talents, Ms. Gee is also the lead singer of NYC rock and soul band, Suga Bush, and has toured as a backing vocalist with Gloria Gaynor, Cher and other renowned musical artists. Ms. Gee graduated from the Performing Arts School of Philadelphia, where she focused on dance, music and production, and also studied journalism at Temple University, where she attended on full scholarship.*

Danni ( as Danielle) Gee and Leonard Meek, Alvin Ailey., c.1995
photo by Roy Volkmann, used with permission
The Q & A:
  • Q: How has your background as a principal dancer with both the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Philadelphia Dance Company influenced you in curating the dance programming at SummerStage?
    • A: Well, both of these dance companies are well established, professional top-tier organizations. Being exposed and involved in that level of atmosphere, you are shown a standard. I seek to meet that standard of professionalism and artistic creativity season after season.
  • Q: What goes into curating a SummerStage dance program from year to year? How has the program evolved since you began as Curator of Dance for the City Parks Foundation in 2006?
    • A: For me, it has been important to engage not just the world renowned companies, but to also give support to emerging companies and choreographers. The evolution has been evident in numbers and diversity of the audience but I have also begun engaging more dance companies who work in different mediums including film and spoken word as well as collaborating more and more with live musicians on established and new works. I'm looking to offer traditional dance performances but also more edgy multi-faceted programs too!
  • Q: How is this season different from last season, dance-wise? What new things have you added or taken away?
    • A: Since 2006 with our citywide series, we have engaged two companies per event. I made the decision this season to shift to featuring just one company. Logistically that makes it somewhat easier in the production side, but when you have a company who knows they have the whole bill, they expand their program. They tend to add more elements and it brings the show into sharper focus and certainly gives the companies more time to make a bold statement on who they are. 
  • Q: We understand that you have worked together with dance companies and musicians to create unique, collaborative performances for SummerStage. How much does music influence your dance programming decisions?
    • A: Most groups come with their works already in repertoire, but since I am also a singer, I straddle a nice line in New York of being in the independent music scene and the concert dance scene. There is a vocalist I've known for over ten years now, Imani Uzuri, and I knew I wanted to engage her somehow but I had to fit her with the right company to match her earthy yet ethereal qualities. That company was Camille A. Brown and Dancers last year. It was a match made in heaven and something I am always looking to pair up for the series. 
  • Q: Where do you look for talent/acts? Do you focus on emerging groups and artists? Well-known performers? Or a special blend? Do you take into account different cultures and styles?
    • A: Yes, a special blend for sure. I get invited to a lot of performances which is a treasure. If I can't make a performance I may attend a rehearsal. People who I respect suggest artists. I know a lot of dancers who have gone on to become superb choreographers and now have companies. People send DVDs for my consideration or they'll send links of their works. Overall, I look for companies that spark my imagination or move me in some way. I'm open to every style of dance and being in a city as diverse as New York, I am blessed to have an ocean of established and emerging talent to chose from.
  • Q: What do you think of dance's role in making political or social statements?
    • A: The first obligation of the artist is to make the best art they can possibly make. Political art can be powerful but an artist shouldn't feel forced to create this type of work. There are many stories to be told. Artists should feel empowered to tell what ever story animates their imagination. I do, however, feel that every artist and every citizen for that matter should have a general awareness of what is happening in their community and globally.
  • Q: What has been your favorite dance moment or experience so far in the process of curating for SummerStage 2013?
    • A: Well truly every year has been special and every show is a highlight, but I must say for this year getting the opportunity to work with the legendary Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest modern dance company in America, is a thrill. I studied the company's unique technique my entire dance career so presenting them was a huge honor! Also, having premieres with the multi-media project "SPEAK" and the legendary Hip-Hop dance crew. The Rock Steady Crew premiering a new work for SummerStage called "Ghetto Made." It's a blast to present something fresh out of the oven!
  • Q: Are you curating any other dance programs besides SummerStage this summer or in the near future?
    • A: Right now, just SummerStage, but I have worked with National Dance Week in the past. I would love to do a sister festival in my hometown, Philadelphia. So yes, there are other ideas in the pot which are simmering!
July 23 Martha Graham Dance Company show at SummerStage
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner**
There's still nearly a month to go of innovative, exciting programming for SummerStage this summer, and at least eight upcoming August shows will focus on dance. See the City Parks Foundation's full calendar for more information.

*Background info on Danni Gee paraphrased from City Parks Foundation's Biography for Ms. Gee.
**View Ms. Schaeffner's full photo reel from the Martha Graham show here.

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