The Fifth Anniversary of The National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron

Guest Blogger: Christy Bolingbroke, Executive & Artistic Director of NCCAkron

A woman in a dark blue leotard dances in a museum gallery.
A choreographed celebration of Merce Cunningham presented by the Akron Art Museum, DANCECleveland and NCCAkron. Photo by Mike Crupi.
Image Description: a woman in a dark blue leotard dances in a museum gallery. She is lunging forward on her left leg and tilting her torsoto the right; her left arm is extended at an upwards diagonal, and she gazes out over her fingertips. Behind her hangs an abstract painting in shades of yellow, peach, and turquoise. A handful of audience members stand to watch.

On the eve of NCCAkron’s fifth anniversary year, I cannot help but reflect because it feels like we are still just getting started.  Part of our origin story includes the auspicious partnership between The University of Akron, DANCECleveland, and the Knight Foundation that seeded a feasibility study and the eventual incorporation of the Northeast Ohio Center for Choreography.  Doing business as the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (NCCAkron for short), we are a discrete nonprofit organization operating out of donated space on UA’s campus.  This is different from a Knight Arts Challenge project.  The Knight Foundation set up a $5 million endowment through the Miami Foundation to support a choreographic center based in Akron, OH.  Rather than be time-limited to a couple years or a single creative idea, NCCAkron is the second choreographic center of its kind in the country.  As a research and development space for the national dance landscape, NCCAkron seeks to build a bridge between 20th century working knowledge and a 21st century future of dance ecosystem.

A blank white map of Ohio appears on a pale gray background. Orange, gray, and green text reads: "Local Hospitality — $103,789. Local Contractors — $182,042."
In its first 5 years, NCCAkron has invested in the local economy through hospitality and labor employment.  
Image description: A blank white map of Ohio appears on a pale gray background. Orange, gray, and green text reads: “Local Hospitality — $103,789. Local Contractors — $182,042.”

But among rich memories of and the metaphysical footprint left behind by Ohio Ballet in today’s Akron, many fellow residents assumed that NCCAkron is a dance company or a school.  It is neither.  Being the second organization of its kind means we do not have an easily recognizable business structure.  We have the unique opportunity to focus on process over product; to reframe that a choreographer going into a studio is the same as a scientist going into a lab. This realization particularly dropped into place for me when reading David Giffels’ Hard Way on Purpose, where he referred to Akron as a place of “functional ingenuity.”  

Functional ingenuity is at the heart of dancemaking.  Questioning everything, choreographers may be exploring identity politics and racial justice, embracing nature as a collaborator, or manifesting an abstract idea for performance.  (Those are just a few examples of many possibilities!)  I believe in the power of dance because it is an embodied means to process so much in the world that needs more than words.

Beyond having an idea, NCCAkron encourages artists to experiment as well as create.  Embracing rigorous play and positive failure, we have launched Dancing Labs where artists come together to exchange their working knowledge around a shared subject or question.  Seeding a network of relationships, this has also enabled us to disrupt the lottery system of support for artists.  Instead of selecting 5 residency ‘winners’ each year, we can support 30+ artists at various points in their creative process through shared exploration and resources.  

A map of the US with no state borders appears on an orange background.
NCCAkron has partnered with artists from 48 cities across the U.S.
Image description: A map of the US with no state borders appears on an orange background. The country is outlined in gray, gridded with dots, and scattered with orange, green, and blue thumbtacks. A gray “C” sits over the
approximate location of Akron, Ohio. Text above the map reads: “48
cities reached — 45 here in the US and 3 more from around the world
(France, Canada, and Israel).”

To date, NCCAkron has hosted 160+ artists and engaged with 45 U.S. cities as well as France, Israel, and Canada through Dancing Labs, Creative, Technical, Research, and Satellite Residencies.  This work continues to lay the path for our vision where “All roads dance through Akron.” 

Following a national search, Christy Bolingbroke was named the first Executive & Artistic Director of the National Center for Choreography located at The University of Akron.  In this role, she provides both artistic and administrative leadership for NCCAkron, building upon her extensive experience in curatorial programs and external relations. Bolingbroke has a B.A. in Dance from the University of California, Los Angeles, is a graduate of the DeVos Institute for Arts Management Fellowships Program (previously at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC), Arts & Business Council of New York’s Arts Leadership Institute, and holds a Master’s Degree from the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University.