viewing sunset

The Intersection of Place and Process

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

As the second choreographic center of its kind in the country, NCCAkron often asks what does it mean to be a ‘national’ center that is neither in the physical center of the country nor the perceived center of the dance universe.  Being based in Akron affords us (and by extension, the artists with whom we work) the emotional, mental, and physical space to create from a place of abundance inherent to our Northeast Ohio stomping grounds.  Being national in our scope allows us to stretch – to engage artists from all over, to hold even more capacity for ideas larger than ourselves, and to be the connective thread between communities.  We refer to this as operating in both the hyperlocal and the national spaces.

Possibly one of the most favorite creative invitations NCCAkron visiting artists have embraced is to design their own ice cream flavor with Chill Artisan Ice Cream.  With this valued local partner, NCCAkron has helped foster 14 flavors to date.  Berry, Tere, and Mary featured blueberry-rosemary ribbon through vanilla as part of NCCAkron’s inaugural Creative Residency with Tere O’Connor (Champaign-Urbana, IL/NYC).  Ube Chillin recalled a childhood favorite of Filipino choreographer Gerald Casel (Santa Cruz, CA) who chose to revive the purple yam and coconut concoction.  Los Angeles-based BODYTRAFFIC Bliss was a vegan variation with matcha green tea, candied ginger and dark chocolate.  This local partnership embraces the idea of play as well as creativity, and is unlike anything else artists are asked to do elsewhere.  Upon arriving in Akron and tasting his Short and Stout (brown butter shortbread and stout-infused cream) choreographer John Heginbotham (Brooklyn, NY) proclaimed, “You really can build anything here!”  That spirit of possibility is something I immediately felt upon arrival in Akron too, and try to underline it in everything we do.

The fourteen flavors of NCCAkron, with more to come.

Image description: A 3×5 grid of gray-and-black ice cream cones with names like “Lights, Camera, Akron!” and “Macadamia Dancemania”. The last cone is orange, and unnamed, implying a delicious future of flavors ahead.

Visiting artists are constantly being inspired by the sites and sounds around Akron too.  With support from the Akron Civic Commons consortium and SF Dance Films, Dancing Lab: Screendance teams made two films along Akron’s Towpath Trail in 2018.  One team also worked in Akron Coffee Roasters’ (ACR) downtown location to record sounds for their film score.  As part of a Dancing Lab to center and uplift female-identifying choreographers in 2017, Kimberly Bartosik (Brooklyn, NY) expressed an interest in observing the passage of light and time.  We were delighted to organize her Lab research to include a dinner break (picking up Swenson’s along the way) to watch sunset from the Ledges Overlook in Cuyahoga Valley National Park before returning to the studio that evening.  Elsewhere, artists may not have that kind of access to nature much less the flexibility to work in the studio any time they want throughout the day or night.

In 2019, NCCAkron hosted its largest Dancing Lab to date.  Bringing together 24 choreographers, dancers, and technologists, we put Akron on the map during the Cunningham Centennial Celebration while simultaneously asking where the future of dance and technology are moving forward.  And during the infamous year of 2020, NCCAkron tried to share Akron with others and to manifest solutions larger than ourselves.  We collaborated with visual artist Micah Kraus to develop creative tools such as a journal and bandana coupled with ACR beans and sent them out packaged as Residency-in-a-Box over the summer.  The proceeds from any boxes sold were donated to five different cultural organizations doing meaningful equity work in dance and performance – Alternate ROOTSCreating New FuturesExchange House AkronThe International Association of Blacks in Dance, and Native Arts & Cultures Foundation.

Dancing Lab: Immersive Media Through Cunningham 2019. Photo: DeMarcus Akeem Suggs. 
Image Description: a group of about two dozen people cluster together by a silver railing and smile up at the camera. Some of them have their arms around each other’s shoulders; a few, in front, kneel. The floor they’re on is half blue, half red.

I am so grateful for the intervention moving to Akron and accepting the challenge at NCCAkron has afforded me.  Looking to the future, I plan to continue embracing the spirit of experimentation, play, and possibility through all that we do to continue building a forward-thinking movement.

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.