048: How do we do the impossible? Choreographer ShaLeigh Comerford explores collaboration and sustainability

Creating a sustainable revenue stream for artists often seems impossible – how do we do the impossible? ShaLeigh Comerford, dancer, choreographer, and the Artistic  Director of ShaLeigh Dance Works based in Durham, NC discusses how she and her dancers create original work through collaborative questioning, her quest to attain financial sustainability, and arts activism. We also learn about two movement languages – Gaga, and ShaLeigh’s own Shaga.

AND, Tamara answers an ASK THE SOAPBOX question submitted by a listener.

ShaLeigh Comerford is an Irish & Native American dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of ShaLeigh Dance Works based in Durham, NC. She is a graduate of Hollins University with a Master’s degree in Visual and Performing Arts. Her choreography and commissions have been presented throughout the United States and abroad. The company’s success has taken them from performances and residencies in NYC to Germany, England, Israel and Japan. Since establishing Durham, NC as their home base in 2014, the company has celebrated touring with the North Carolina Dance Festival, performing at the prestigious American Dance Festival and presenting two evening length works as showcased artists of Durham Independent Dance Artists. Their recent premiere of I Promise was listed by Byron Woods as one of “Five exceptional dances from 2017.”

Upcoming events and performances by ShaLeigh Dance Works:

Friday, December 7, 2018

Annual Shaleigh Dance Works Fundraiser Reality Ministries Ballroom, Durham, NC.

January  17-20, 2019  

The  World  Premiere  of Bamboo  Wind at The  Fruit, Durham,  NC.

Check out shaleighdanceworks.com for more info on these and other events!

This episode is brought to you by the Soapboxers, the official patrons of the Artist Soapbox. If you like these episodes and want more, get on the Soapbox! This episode was recorded at the ASBX home studio. Artist Soapbox theme music by Bart Matthews.

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Time break-down:

[0:00] Episode Intro, Later in the Episode: Answering an anonymous question from “Community Seeker”, ShaLeigh’s bio

[2:45] ShaLeigh’s initial impulse and inspiration to form her own company, create her own work and a common language, and pursuing that “full time”.

[4:53] What does this process look like on a weekly basis? What does the season look like?

[6:31] What it means to be a leader: An investment in the dances, sharing a vision, and making sure we’re all a part of something bigger, a real sense of collaboration, and the desire to fund the company members.

[9:14] What is worthy about the work? Not becoming agreeable with the idea that artists are project based.

[10:04] Often artists are paid for performance, but not rehearsals. ShaLeigh and other choreographers and dancers are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap and create sustainability.

[13:54] Talk to the people with the money and create collaborations. In the spirit of collaboration, ShaLeigh talks about The Bamboo Wind Project- bringing in artists from different genres, cross pollinating different ideas and audiences in hopes of creating a new infrastructure. It takes a village.

[14:33] Find the uniqueness that generates revenue. The uniqueness of ShaLeigh Dance Works: The people, passion for humanity, and working with the movement language, Shaga.

[17:30] What is Shaga and Gaga? And no, its not Lady Gaga. What do these movement languages look like and what are their origins?

[20:55] How might Shaga be used to develop a piece?

[24:51] Shaga is a movement language and a philosophy. The more we can move the more we can say. ShaLeigh shares a story of working with an injured dancer using Shaga.

[28:08] How does this affect what the audience sees? The opportunity to share a sense of humanity, trust, and compassion with the dancers

[29:05] The activism and community work of ShaLeigh Dance Works

[33:28] Looking ahead for ShaLeigh Dance Works

[34:55] The annual ShaLeigh Dance Works Fundraiser and the Bamboo Wind Project which will bring artists of all kinds together to create a unique and visually stunning piece.

[39:38] ShaLeigh tells us about rehearsal and overcoming “the freak out moment” which allows the forms to reveal themselves.

[43:01] DEAR SOAPBOX: Tamara answers a question from “Community Seeker”, a listener looking to cultivate a community for street theatre performance project. How do you cultivate communities of interest, especially for artistic work that may be unfamiliar to people?

[50:00] Thanks and sign-off

Takeaways

  • Artists are not merely “performance-based”
  • Talk to the people with the money and create collaborations
  • It takes a village
  • Find the uniqueness that generates revenue
  • If you can say it, why is it a dance?
  • Building a community is about narrowing down, specificity, and persistence
  • Look outside the “established” community
  • Don’t take it personally

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ShaLeigh quotes:

There’s a real sense of collaboration that’s central to the ethos of what we do and the way we think. We love bringing in questions, they love questioning me and the questions that they bring in usually changes the choreography, deepens the choreography.”

“If we can bring our creativity to the stage we can possibly bring more creativity to our finances.”

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