Emily Coates and Ishmael Houston-Jones: Residencies at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center and Danspace Project Premieres

Emily Coates’ INCARNATIONS, Danspace Project, March 2017.  Photo by Alexis Moh

Year: 2016-2017
DanceForce Member: Judy Hussie-Taylor
Artists: Emily Coates, Ishmael Houston-Jones
Community Partner: Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
Audience: 800
Counties: Dutchess, New York

Each year, Danspace Project (DSP) partners with local and regional organizations to grow our work outwards to new audiences, provide residencies and other resources to artists, and forge rich connections across disciplines. In our 2016-17 season, DSP continued to partner with fellow DanceForce member Gregory Cary and Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli, NY, a year-round facility dedicated to the growth, advancement and preservation of professional dance. In September 2016, two DSP commissioned artists benefited from week-long developmental residencies at Kaatsbaan: Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Coates.

A celebrated choreographer, teacher and mentor, Houston-Jones has been creating work over three decades, and toured internationally. In fall 2016 he co-curated a multi-week Platform series at DSP with artist Will Rawls, entitled “Lost and Found,” which delved into the impact of the AIDS crisis on generations of dance artists in New York City. The series was partly inspired by the work of John Bernd, a close friend of Houston-Jones’s whose life and choreographic career ended prematurely in 1988. As one cornerstone of the series, Houston-Jones mounted “Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd,” a collaboration with Miguel Gutierrez, Jennifer Monson, and Nick Hallett which collaged together works from Bernd’s archives.

Houston-Jones and his collaborators utilized time at Kaatsbaan to teach Bernd’s choreography to a younger generation of performers, re-interpret Bernd’s original songs and stitch together choreographic moments into a new evening-length piece. The New York Times’ Siobhan Burke wrote of the work’s premiere (Nov 3-5), “Mr. Bernd’s exuberant movement and harmonious songs…came surging back to life through seven audacious dancers, many of whom weren’t yet born when he died. Even while confronting themes of absence and loss, the evening felt like a celebration.” The work was deeply moving to audiences, introducing many to an influential lost artist of our dance community, and was cited in The New York Times “Best Dance of 2016.”

Choreographer Emily Coates also utilized residency time at Kaatsbaan to develop a collaborative work: her “Incarnations” (premiered March 16-18) stemmed from a long research period in dialogue with physicist Sarah Demers fusing choreography and science. A former New York City Ballet dancer and member of Yvonne Rainer’s informal company The Raindears, Coates’ work fused performative ‘lecture-demonstrations’ on Balanchine’s ballet “Apollo” alongside the subatomic Higgs Boson, and explorations of history nestled within postmodern performance strategies. “Greek god and ‘god particle’ danced together in this stew of movement and intellectual rigor,” wrote critic Martha Sherman. “On both sides of the science/art divide, the learning was rich, each side informing and deepening the other.”

Both artists benefited from in-process showings while at Kaatsbaan, sharing their work with local audiences in the Tivoli community, and garnering large audiences in 8 presentations total. These multi-faceted works touched a wide range of subject matter across history, scientific theory, and choreographic forms, extending DSP’s commitment to interdisciplinary and visionary projects by dance artists.