Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company Caps 20th Anniversary Season this Friday, September 21st
A year ago critically acclaimed choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess realized he was in danger of closing his dance company on the eve of its 20th anniversary. Burgess, who The Washington Post described as “the poet laureate of Washington dance,” is the director of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at George Washington University, and serves as a cultural envoy to the U.S. Sate Department. Yet despite these accomplishments, Burgess faced imminent closure when the main federal grant his company relied on did not come through.
“It was a scary situation,” he recalls. At a moment when Burgess should have been celebrating the achievements of his company’s twenty-year existence, he was forced to raise emergency operating funds. He started by contacting friends and long-time supporters Georgie Warner and Jane Cafritz, who recognized the urgency of the situation and came up with a “giving circle” of their own contacts to expand the company’s individual donor base. Bolstered by private donations, Burgess then sought corporate sponsorship from companies he previously worked with, including his bank, Wells Fargo, and his insurance provider, State Farm. The outreach efforts paid off, and Burgess was able to celebrate his company’s 20th anniversary as planned.
The whole experience served as a wake up call for Burgess; he realized that the trickle down ramifications of the struggling economy were directly affecting his ability to operate the dance company, and with cutbacks in federal funding for the arts, he could no longer conduct business as usual. Burgess is experimenting with new ways of fundraising, including the internet-based funding platform, Kickstarter, which he will use to launch a new campaign next week to fund his youth mentoring program for high school students at the School Without Walls.
Still, the challenges for small dance companies are formidable. Burgess explains that he is focusing on constituent relationship building at a time when dance is a particularly “fragile art form” and a “harder sell.” He is committed to keeping ticket prices low so as not to out-price patrons of different ages and backgrounds, but stresses that more than ever, “ticket prices alone never cover the cost of a performance.”
A year later, Burgess is happy to announce that his 20th Anniversary Fall Performance will premiere this week on Friday, September 21st at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre on George Washington University’s campus. In addition to the world premiere of Caverns, a piece Burgess describes as “a voyeuristic exploration of a woman remembering certain moments in a relationship,” viewers can expect a broad sampling from recent works to pieces that date back to 1999. But like the psychological undertones common in Burgess’s work, the performance will center on the study of the individual moving from an outsider to an insider status, and becoming a part of a community. As a Korean-American, Burgess finds richness in dance by exploring themes of identity and the Asian American consciousness, a focus that gives his company a unique aesthetic viewpoint that sets it apart from other dance groups in the Washington area.
Burgess takes his love for cultural diversity to the global stage, traveling with his dance company to over sixteen countries in his work as cultural envoy. His recent trips abroad include visits to Peru, Egypt, and Israel, and he has had numerous recognitions from the State Department for his work. Burgess believes that dance is a shared language and a force for bridging global connections and understanding.
“Dance is a universal language that communicates beyond boundaries,” he said. And for Burgess, it is this universality that appeals to people from a wide range of age groups and cultural backgrounds. The fleeting quality of dance as an art form is also part of its appeal. Burgess says that “dance is a moment in time that is never repeated the exact same way” and that moment is a chance “to witness greatness.”
Despite the uncertainty over the last year, Burgess is optimistic for the future of his company. “Dance fills my life, [and] over the last two decades there have been so many wonderful journeys and adventures associated with creating dances. I can't wait for to see where dance takes me in the next 20 years.”
To purchase tickets to the 20th Anniversary Fall Performance, which will run from September 21st-23rd at 8 pm, please visit http://www.dtsbco.com/news/currentseason.html. General admission is $25, and a discount rate is available for students and artists. Donations to DTSB&CO will be accepted on site at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre, 800 21st Street NW.
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