A Festival For All: an interview with Jason Andrew and Julia K. Gleich
by Caroline Kehne
Lake Champlain Weekly, Aug 8, 2007
Jason Andrew and Julia Gleich are two of the driving forces behind the August 16 dance gala, Fete de Danse 2007. Caroline Kehne recently talked with them about the shaping of this unique North Country dance event.
Jason Andrew is a founder of Norte Maar For Collaborative Projects In The Arts, a not-for-profit organization that is the principal organizer of Fete de Danse, as well as numerous other arts projects. Andrew plits his time between his Pratt Street home in Rouses Point and New York City, where he is actively involved in the arts community.
LCW: Norte Maar has a string of successful collaborations with local community organizations, including the Rouses Point Historical Society, the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, and Evergreen Assisted Living (“Arts At Evergreen”), to name a few. Is it difficult to find and audience for arts here?
JASON ANDREW: It has always been my belief that great art exists everywhere, be it in the rural communities of the North Country or the populated streets of a major city. I am continually surprised by the art and he artists that I encounter in both places. While the audience for arts up here may appear to be thin, it is just as compassionate and sophisticated. It has always been the goal of Norte Maar to collaborate with other arts/cultural entities, elevating the imaginative possibilities in us all.
LCW: Do you have a formula for picking a successful project?
JA: A project and its backer must have passion for the art, dedication to the worthiness of the project and commitment – a willingness to see the project through.
LCW: Norte Maar’s projects seem more edgy than the normal artistic fare one encounters in conservative rural communities. Does that pose a problem?
JA: It can be a struggle at times. I’ve nicknamed it “SRT” (slow response time). After I have committed to a project, there is a period where I gather support, fundraise, and organize volunteers. This can take some convincing. But more often than not we have succeeded in rallying the communities around our unique exhibition and unusual performances. I could not do what we do without the support and equally dedicated communities where we present art. Of course, there is a limit to the fundraising I can do here in the North Country and I use New York City supporters and artists as a resource – I spread it all around.
Fete de Danse is the perfect example of this. Who in their right minds would believe that world-class ballet could come to a hockey rink in the North Country?
LCW: Norte Maar has worked with many dance organizations, including the Albany-Berkshire Ballet, the North Country Ballet Ensemble, and Vermont’s Burklyn Ballet Theatre to name a few. This year, you will have return visits from the Short School of Irish Dancing (Plattsburgh and Montreal) and Andrew J. Nemr with CPD Plus (New York City), as well as new additions to Fete, including the Adirondack Dance Company (Plattsburgh) and Equipe Capoeira Brasileira (Montreal). You clearly seek out an eclectic mix of dance styles – classical and modern. How is that received?
JA: Without question, Fete de Danse has become one the North Country’s great performing art events and audiences travel from all over the Northeast to attend this unique event. The diversity of the performing companies is key. We have local sensations performing on the same bill as an internationally recognized ballet company.
LCW: You’re an advocate and supporter of rural arts projects and yet you had to return to New York City to find financial success working in the museum and gallery world. What do you say to those artists who may want to work and live in the North Country, but may be getting the message that there’s no future here?
JA: It is true that I commute back and forth from New York City. It is there that I have access to a financial base that can support the caliber of arts to which Norte Maar is committed. Access to funds in the North Country is very limited.
I do support local artists living and working in the North Country…I have held many dinners discussing the dilemma surrounding making and seeling art in here. My advice: always return to the essence of making art. Making art is what defines you as a person. Making the art is ten times more important than selling it. Define your success by finishing a new sculpture or painting another picture.
It’s also important to remember that financing art has historically been difficult. Many are discouraged that our nation doesn’t do more to finance its artists and its art organizations. I believe it is the responsibility of the individual and local communities to invest in the art that surrounds them. Attend a dance recital, volunteer as a docent at a museum. Get involved, collaborate.
Julia K Gleich is the founder and artistic director of the London-based Gleich Contemporary Ballet. She is also a member of the board of Norte Maar and has played a major role in Fete de Danse since its beginning four years ago. Her company makes its fourth appearance in Fete de Danse this year; she serves as a choreographer for many of the pieces performed.
LCW: You, along with Norte Maar founder Jason Andrew have been instrumental in shaping Fete de Danse. How did your collaboration begin?
JULIA GLEICH: Jason Andrew and I have known each other for over 15 years and have found great support, enthusiasm and shared creative visiion. Through the years we have danced together and produced evenings of concert dance as well as site-specific works. We have followed each other across the country and now that I live in the U.K., we still manage to find a way to create together. Of course, this is in addition to his other artistic projects for Norte Maar.
I admire Jason’s artistic sensibility and trust his judgment. He is a kind of a Diaghilev for me. He generates terrific ideas, brings artists together to collaborate and brings a historical perspective as well. I consider myself fortunate to be able to be a creative part of Norte Maar.
LCW: Most think of Fete de Danse as one night of ballet; however, that’s only the culmination of several weeks of hard work with dancers. Could you describe that period in the life of a working dancer?
JG: We bring a group of dancers together for only two or three weeks. We have daily technique class Monday through Saturday starting at 9:30 a.m. There are some local students who attend this class as well. It is a nice opportunity for them to see terrific dancers up close and learn from them.
We may have a stretch class, a pointe class, a men’s class, etc. before beginning rehearsals. We rehearse from about 1:00 to 5:00 and then may have an evening run-thru. That’s a total of about six hours of dancing per day. Not all of them rehearse at once, but they will be on call, usually watching and supporting each other. Some of the dancers teach class. This year, Claire Schmid is working with me and the dancers on techniques for improvisation. This helps with the creation of new choreography as well. And then in the evenings we sit around, watch ballet videos and discuss dance from all kinds of perspectives. Sometimes we become a bunch of nerds talking about dance, art, and technique! It can be a kind of a dance think-tank.
LCW: Your pool of talent includes local, regional and international dancers. Could you tell us a little about them and how they come to be a part of Gleich Dances?
JG: We bring up dancers who are intelligent, curious and lovely people. This is very important because we have to spend so much time with them. I ask dancers whom I like and whom I think will enjoy the experience. There are some who come back every year. This is Marc St. Pierre’s third year with us. It is not only the dancing, but also the community and the excitement of the event that grabs us all. Some of the dancers have been my students, some of them I have worked with at Burklyn Ballet Theater in Johnson, Vermont. Two I met in London. I try to bring a diverse group so they can meet new people. This year we have the largest group ever, nine dancers. And the most ambitious ballet, too!
LCW: In addition to Fete de Danse, you also have quirky “sideshows” that such as “Tutus at Wal-Mart” where the mass merchandiser allowed your dancers to perform short dance pieces in the parking lot. The idea was to take ballet away from its traditional setting and make it accessible to non-traditional audiences. Whose idea was that and how was it received?
JG: Jason and I have created many site-specific dances together. One of the first was in a drained pool in NYC. We always have felt that ballet doesn’t get sufficient opportunity to exist off the proscenium stage and so the so-called “WalMart ballets” became an essential part of our mission to share ballet and dance in general.
We often made a kind of pastiche of the historic works we chose for these pieces. In the beginning WalMar tolerated us and then they started to welcome us. Unfortunately we were never able to get financial support for the project.
This year Cordelia Sand from Westport generated choreography for the dance that was performed August 2nd in the Rouses Point train station. She enlivened the space and created an event of movement and energy in the old station… We were glad to bring a local choreographer into the Norte Maar project. Of course, I felt a bit extraneous so I leant enthusiastic energy.
LCW: Since the beginning, proceeds from Fete de Danse have benefited the Rouses Point Historical Society, which hopes to restore the D&H train station on Pratt Street and transform it into a museum. This year, visitors were led by a “conductor” Jason Andrew from Norte Maar headquarters at 20 Pratt Street up the block to the tour station, meet with historical society volunteers, and see improvisational dance in and around the station.
JG: We thought it might be nice to create a piece to celebrate the station. It is a whimsical idea. But we found ourselves visiting the station with the Mayor of Rouses Point [George Rivers] and Geri Favreau, President of the Historical Society. Well, we all got so excited about it. And suddenly it was a reality.
There wasn’t a lot of time to create and sometimes that is fine. I particularly enjoy working quickly and getting inspiration spontaneously. Sometimes the dance is the easy part. I know there was a lot of preparation around the station. Volunteers worked hard. Costuming also takes time. Jason and I have many other ideas – some of them for European locations and some local. But we have to keep that a secret for now.
LCW: This year you are choreographing a work with composer Paul Siskind of the Crane School of Music, who has been a collaborator on past editions of Fete de Danse. The work, the Leger Ballet, will have its world premiere in Rouses Point as part of Fete de Danse 2007 and commemorates the visit of world renowned cubist painter Fernand Leger who summered in Rouses Point in 1943-45. Here is a collaboration between a composer a choreographer and dance company to commemorate a brief period in the life of another artist (Leger). This underscores the connection between arts, culture and history and literally brings them close to home.
JG: The Leger Ballet epitomizes the Norte Maar mission. I am so excited to be making this ballet. It has been on my mind for 10 months. Slowly the ideas take root and shift over time. We came up with a synopsis and took it to Paul, who was eager to tackle the project. So, we have a commissioned score from him.
But there is also Bill Pfaff from Plattsburgh who composed one segment of music and Lola Perrin, a composer from London who also created a segment. The collaboration isn’t just about the choreographer and composer; it is also everyone who inspires and assists with the work. Jason is designing a set for this piece and he has had help from Rouses Point resident Dick Baker. There are people helping to make costumes and helping in ways that support the vision and keep us all going.
It is a labor of love. I dream of expanding this piece and taking to more audiences. The ideas in it are beautiful and the imagery is interesting. I always get nervous about how a piece will be received but this one shoul have something for everyone. I guess I could say that I am proud of it. I hope it does Norte Maar and Rouses Point proud, too.