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Now Showing: Nancy Smith and Patrick Mueller

Now Showing: Nancy Smith and Patrick Mueller
Photo by David Andrews.

For this year's Now Showing, Westword's fall arts guide (you'll find it tucked into our September 26 issue), we asked artistic movers and shakers to answer a few questions about the state of the arts, both locally and around the world. We'll be rolling out their answers over the next few weeks in pairs that combine both veterans and newcomers in similar disciplines. Today, we hear from aerial dance maven Nancy Smith and avant garde dancer/choreographer Patrick Mueller.

See also: Now Showing: Adam Lerner and Adam Gildar

Now Showing: Nancy Smith and Patrick Mueller

Nancy Smith, Frequent Flyers Productions Aerial Dance Company.

Nancy Smith does some of her work -- and play -- hanging upside down; as the founder of Boulder's Frequent Flyers and the region's most long-lived aerial-dance visionary, she runs a school, a dance company, and an annual aerial dance festival with national instructors and performers as easily as she can climb a swath of silk to the ceiling.

What do you think of recent developments in your field, and the current scene?

There are a lot more people involved in aerial dance then when we began pioneering the art form over 25 years ago. People are continuing to push the boundaries of what is physically possible. My dancers are truly super-human. I'm particularly interested in making portable work where our incredible dancers can be seen by more people using our portable aerial rig and collaborating with others in unusual venues.

What could be done to improve the scene?

With more people getting into this field, the need for rigorous attention to safety is paramount. This includes training, rigging, equipment and so forth. Also, local producers/venues could do more collaborative partnering with us...à la the Boulder Philharmonic.

Who/what has inspired you most in your career?

Two teachers in the aerial dance field: Terry Sendgraff, the mother of aerial dance, and Robert Davidson, my first aerial teacher, who recently taught and performed at our Aerial Dance Festival this summer and is in his mid-sixties! Marda Kirn, founder of the Colorado Dance Festival, was seminal in helping me start my company. There are many modern-dance pioneers as well: Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Lar Lubovitch...

Who/what will you be watching for this arts season?

Other than Frequent Flyers®... I'm excited to see Mark Morris and Carol Armitage's company coming through soon. At the Boulder Fringe Festival, Joanna Rotkin's work, as well as Mary Wohl Haan's solo show.

Visit Frequent Flyers Productions online for more information.

Continue reading for our interview with Patrick Mueller.  

Now Showing: Nancy Smith and Patrick Mueller

Patrick Mueller, Control Group Productions.

Patrick Mueller founded his Control Group Productions with the hope of bringing world-class experimentation and a European ethos to the local world of dance performance and has quickly turned it into the region's premier avant-garde troupe while also hosting appearances by international choreographers. Control Group tends to blur the lines between performer and audience (the most recent production involved a rolling performance that ferried the audience by bus to several locations), turning every show into a shared sensual journey.

What do you think of recent developments in your field, and the current scene?

Overall, I'm very worried about what I see in the performance field and the local scene. Despite dropping attendance and attention across all demographics, venues and major institutions are locked in cycles of replication of dated work that no longer speaks relevantly to the modern experience. Since the NEA conflicts of the 1990s, experimentation has become stigmatized, with no differentiation between spastic shock-value-driven exhibitionism and the rigorous, thoughtful avant-garde that is continually formulating exquisite, important aesthetic experiences possible only in the live-theater format. Locally, I see fewer artists and companies making ambitious, groundbreaking work that is relevant outside of a community-art format.

What could be done to improve the scene?

Merit-based curation/presentations, and more money: The performing arts need more competitive, merit-based opportunities, more efficient structures for delivering and using funds, and more funding overall -- particularly more mid-level independent donations. New and non-traditional artists have few opportunities for upward mobility or even sustainability in a professional practice. Arts support in Denver and the region is very top-heavy and overly laissez-faire: municipalities and foundations fund major institutions that by their nature aren't suited to experimentation and innovation. Below the repeatedly bailed-out Tier 1 and 2 institutions, the entire arts ecosystem is extremely under-supported and suffers from anemia of resources, access and opportunity. SCFD openly proclaims that its funding decisions do not consider artistic quality or merit, and instead award funds based on the current cash budget of a company -- effectively ghettoizing new artists.

Taxpayer-funded city initiatives in Denver focus on building and renovating venues (McNichols, Crossroads, DPAC additions/renovations), but then they cut these venues loose to stay afloat on their own. This creates a rental-house performance culture driven by pocketbooks instead of artistic quality and relevance, and it leaves every small and mid-sized company to conduct advertising, fundraising and production entirely on their own, resulting in immense redundancy of effort and inequitable access to resources. If these venues had even a tiny percentage of their renovation costs to use to operate the space as an active presenting house, these curatorial activities would create a much more vibrant and relevant (locally and globally) performing-arts scene in Denver.

Who/what has inspired you most in your career?

There's no one thing or person that rises to the top, in my mind. I am thrilled by unique, well-crafted, complexly meaningful experiences -- artworks that deeply shift what and how I'm seeing/experiencing the world. Some of my favorite experiences have come from DV8 Physical Theatre, William Forsythe, John Jasperse, Meg Stuart, Neuer Tanz and Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People. I guess I would say that the field itself -- the dialogue, the progressive instincts and the extraordinary research methodologies employed in the creation of new works -- is what inspires me to participate in it.

Who/what will you be watching for this arts season?

I'm very curious to see where Wonderbound (the phoenix of Ballet Nouveau Colorado) will go now that it is no longer tied to its school and youth program; I hope that this allows them to explore new territory in terms of content and innovation. And although I haven't heard about any new projects in the works, I look forward to seeing how the Denver Art Museum, RedLine, MCA Denver and other visual-arts organizations respond to their exciting forays in the past year into performance/embodied art/participatory art events.

Learn more about Control Group Productions online.

Come back to Show and Tell tomorrow for our interviews with the Denver Center Theatre Company's Kent Thompson and Emily Tarquin.

To keep up with the Froyd's eye-view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.



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