Undercover Playground


Year: 2012-2013
DanceForce Member: Kim Engel
Artist: Ellen Sinopoli
Community Partners: City of Albany; City of Potsdam; Columbia County Department of Youth; Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company; Schoharie County Department of Youth; Stewarts Shops; Troy Development Fund
Audience: 2,543
Counties: Greene; Saratoga; Schenectady

In 2011-12, DanceForce (DF) member Kim Engel worked with the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company (ESDC) to develop Undercover Playground, a spontaneous performance that happens at public playgrounds, and the work was performed over seven weeks in the summer and fall in six NYS counties (Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, Washington). With NEA funding obtained through the DF, the project continued in June with two days of performances in Clinton County.

For 2012-13, a portion of Kim’s DF allocation was used to support a second “tour” of Undercover Playground which happened once again in the summer and fall. ESDC raised funds through individual contributions which along with DF funding allowed performances to take place in the four Capital Region counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady) as well as four adjacent counties (Columbia, Greene, Montgomery and Schoharie). Community partners who provided planning and financial support to the project included the Columbia and Schoharie County Youth Departments, cities of Albany and Amsterdam, Troy Redevelopment Fund and Stewart’s Shops. An added component to the project this year was a performance for special needs children on the adaptive playground at the Center for Disability Services in Albany.

From mid-June to mid-September, ESDC performed Undercover Playground in playgrounds for a total of 40 performances with two to five performances happening in each location. The dancers and one of three musicians (Brian Melick, Zorkie Nelson or Ben Chadabe) performed spontaneously to unsuspecting audiences. Upon the conclusion of each performance, information on who and what it was, funding credits and upcoming performances were distributed to those who were treated to the performances. The performers informally talked with the audience and signed posters for the children. The schedule was as follows:

June 17 – Montgomery County
June 18 – Greene County
June 20 – Schenectady & Saratoga Counties
June 22 – Schoharie County
June 25 – Schoharie County
August 5 – Columbia County
August 6 – Columbia County
August 8 – Rensselaer County
August 12 – Montgomery County
August 16 – Albany County
September 13 – Albany County

The main goals of this project were audience engagement and interaction. The project was devised so as to provide an experience in dance to families in a setting in which they are familiar and comfortable. The barriers of getting them to come to a theatre and pay an admission fee are avoided and the “surprise” element is intended to build excitement. Live musicians are used to draw the audience in and the choreographic approach is to present lively, fun and physical movement which further engages those watching. Essentially, the performers become “ambassadors for dance” in the Capital Region since 1) the project brings dance to many who normally wouldn’t experience it and 2) the printed materials provide information on performance opportunities for the entire season with the anticipation that some may take advantage of them.