Women and The Art of Mentorship – The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s CHIME program spotlights mentorship as an essential tool in creativity
By Fanny Garcia
When modern choreographer Margaret Jenkins returned to her native San Francisco in 1970, she founded her own dance company. Producing work was not her focus. Instead, she wanted to raise the quality of dance in San Francisco by mentoring others. Her teaching goals have been centered on the idea that mentorship and collaboration is at the center, not the fringes, of creativity. She also promotes the idea that this type of learning can, and possibly should, be done outside the academic environment, thus creating a less structured and restrictive atmosphere for artists. In 2004, Jenkins teaching philosophy regarding mentorship and collaboration were funneled into a program called Choreographers In Mentoring Exchange (CHIME) which was initially created to serve choreographers in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2008, CHIME expanded to Southern California and in 2010 CHIME Across Borders was created to foster exchange nationally and internationally.
CHIME allows the mentor and mentee to select each other. The pair then works together for a year, during which CHIME provides significant support that includes grant money. In addition to financial support, CHIME provides opportunities for the paired choreographers to attend events in San Francisco or Los Angeles with the express purpose of the exchange of ideas and information with other artists in their fields. According to Jenkins, “CHIME is a process-oriented grant with no expected result, no required performance other than an informal showing called CHIME Live!, which is an opportunity for the mentors and mentee to share with the public their experiences in the program.”
One pair of current participants of CHIME Southern California’s grant are Los Angeles based dancer and choreographer Elizabeth Hoefner Adamis and Nancy Keystone, founder of Critical Mass Performance Group in Los Angeles. Adamis (the mentee) had been introduced to Keystone’s (the mentor) work through a video clip of Keystone’s Apollo, a play in three parts that dramatizes the dubious relationship between Nazi rocket scientists and the U.S. space program.
Adamis is a seasoned artist who has been choreographing dances for the past eighteen years and holds an MFA in Dance from California Institute of the Arts. In a recent interview, she explained that she’s been struggling with whether to use text and other theatrical elements, such as projections, in her choreography. She fears giving too much away and not allowing the audience to decide for themselves how to react to the themes and topics in her dances. She has also been interested in returning to her early career interests in acting. Adamis was inspired by Keystone’s work because she is “a poet and designer who uses gesture and voices, thoroughly researches the subject matter, and creates seamless works in which all parts are wholly integrated.” Adamis’ need to clarify her artistic intent and infuse new energy into her work prompted her to apply to CHIME.
At first glance Keystone’s artistry may not fit the definition of a choreographer; Her theater productions focus on research, writing, directing and design, and she meticulously integrates different artistic elements into her pieces. However, CHIME’s goal is not to define “what is dance or what is a choreographer, but rather to create a rigorous space where these deep inquiries can be posed and considered,” says Jenkins.
One of the main goals at CHIME is to reduce the isolation artists experience during the art-making process. “Any choreographer who is struggling to find his or her voice needs permission to ask questions and try things,” says Dana Reitz, the chair for CHIME’s 2014 Across Borders program. Keystone’s approach to creating seems to be perfectly suited to this, “I work very collaboratively with a group of people, and it’s the conversation, the give and take that is the muscle for creating work.”
For the first six months of the program, Adamis has been participating in Keystone’s rehearsal process with actors of Critical Mass Performance Group on the adaptation of the Greek play Alcestis by Euripides for Theater at Boston Court in Pasadena, California. During this process Adamis has learned that, “being honest and emotionally present on stage and creating great work takes time and takes a certain amount of experimentation.” However, the most rewarding aspect about working with Keystone has been the opportunity to “talk to someone about movement, theater, process and images and have them really understand or try to understand where it is I am coming from.”
The women have discovered that they share similar concerns about aesthetics, the struggles that come with being self-producing artists in Los Angeles, and even about motherhood. Both women are raising daughters. Adamis has described the opportunity to work with Keystone as a “creative rebirth.” This may be because Keystone believes mentorship involves placing the mentee at the center of the partnership, “it is all contingent on the needs and desires of the mentee and what her goals are.” Mentorship is akin to motherhood in that both relationships require patience, nurturing, observation and intuition in order for the child or mentee to grow and develop.
In the future, Margaret Jenkins hopes the CHIME Southern California program will receive funding to accept eligible choreographers from neighboring communities such as Orange County and Riverside. Furthermore, the program wants to assist choreographers in creating “dance on film” and working in the commercial film industry in Los Angeles. Keystone and Adamis will continue their mentorship partnership through 2013. In December, they will participate in CHIME Live! which will be hosted in Los Angeles where they will present and discuss their collaboration.
If you are interested in applying to CHIME, guidelines for their 2014 programming will be available as of August 1, 2013 through the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company website, www.mjdc.org