Last week, Michael Miller of Wellspring: Cori Terry & Dancers did a run through of his choreography called “Crackers in Bed.” The dancers posed to recreate familiar Norman Rockwell paintings and then transitioned to the next scene to the tune of a modern DJ.
Miller will premiere the dance at this year’s Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival also known as RAD Fest.
The festival will take place Thursday through Saturday at the Wellspring Theatre in Kalamazoo's Epic Center.
Miller says the festival gives contemporary choreographers a chance to show their work and do something few dancers have time to do—talk.
“Like you have your tech time, they have their tech time. You never really get a chance to talk," he says. "So this kind of festival, which is a weekend long thing, is really fun because we do have down time.”
This week more than 50 dance groups from across the country will gather in Kalamazoo to dance and give feedback, as well as discuss techniques, trends, and problems in the dance world.
Sara Yanney-Chantanasombut is moderating the festival’s “Dance Talk.” She says they’ll be discussing things like funding cuts and copyright issues.
“Before if you use someone’s music, they probably wouldn’t hear about it, but now with YouTube and websites…Some musicians are not so happy about dancers using their music," she says. "And we often don’t have money and don’t make money, or if we do it’s very minimal. So, how to deal with those copyright issues.”
Renowned dance improviser Kent DeSpain from Ohio will be on the discussion panel. He says one of the biggest problems in dance is dwindling audiences. DeSpain says artists need to be a little more open with their work.
“You know, they want to just put the product out there but not talk very much about what is going into it. And I think audiences need more information than they’re getting,” he says. “And so finding opportunities like pre-concert talks, or question-answer sessions, or that kind of thing really helps people connect to the work in an easier and more compelling way.”
DeSpain says, oddly enough, another thing the dance world needs is a critic.
“I think that’s one of the things that we miss as a community of dancers is getting a response back, a voice back to us about work. And that voice helps everyone understand better what’s going on. I’d like to see more people jump in to dance writing. And people with a love of dance, with a knowledge of dance, get in there and get the opinions out to the community.”
Rachel Miller of Wellspring coordinates the festival. She says every year there’s a trend. One year it was nudity, another year it was using film as a background. Rachel Miller says this year's trend is duets.
“You only have to pay travel costs for two dancers that way. So, it’s easy," she explains. "And people like to see duets because there’s that emotional bond between the two dancers. You see how they relate to each other.”
Another trend this year is film. For the first time ever, RAD Fest will show dances made specifically for the camera. Rachel Miller says that means unique scenery, special effects, and close-ups to draw the viewer’s eye to the most important parts of the movement.
“There might be this particular spot with a close-up on the hand and you see just the hand movement," she says. "Or you’ll see just the knee, a swish of a dress, different things like that that go into the choreography.”
Michael Miller says whether you’ve been to RAD Fest every year or you’ve never seen modern dance in your life, the variety of dances in the festival will keep you coming back.
“Some modern dance concerts it takes a very specific audience, but this is something that really anyone can enjoy," says Miller. "They’re only hour-long concerts. And it’s really a good way, if you haven’t seen modern dance to get a taste of it or be introduced to it.”