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Exchange and connect

Choreography festival keeps dancers on their toes

“Until Home” by Valarie Alpert

Maranda Blumenthal

On the fringes of Tulsa’s big-name arts organizations, there’s a population of choreographers quietly making more dance than you would ever believe. Since 2009 it’s been Rachel Bruce Johnson’s mission to help that art get seen and supported through the Exchange Choreography Festival, a weekend where modern dancemakers from around the region come together for professional development, performance opportunities, and camaraderie.

Oklahoma can be a lonely place for independent dance artists, who often struggle to connect with audiences and with each other.

“There are few venues in Tulsa for independent choreographers to present their work that are affordable,” Johnson said. “Institutions are great: they come with the gift of power to align things for you and get things done. If you’re not nestled within an institution, then you need to band together. There are great artists out there doing really nice work—not superstars, not in enormous dance hub cities—who need a way to document and further it.”

In its first year, Exchange presented the work of just a few local choreographers. This year, it accepted 23 pieces out of many more submissions from Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Arizona.

“Any kind of growth in small communities is always going to support the larger field,” Johnson said. “I love the fact that artists connect with other artists at Exchange. I love that Karen Castleman got a job with Tulsa Ballet out of performing here last year. Others have gotten choreography commissions because of people they’ve connected with at Exchange.”

While Exchange is geared toward artists, arts consumers have a lot to gain as well.

“The performances show a huge spectrum of modern dance,” Johnson explained. “It’s like going to a museum and seeing traditional painting styles, abstract painting styles, a wide range of physicalities and approaches.”

The festival, held at Holland Hall’s Walter Arts Center, features two open concerts ($10 each) on August 24 and 25, during which audiences and adjudicators (professional members of the Tulsa dance community) will vote on their favorite pieces, three of which get a second performance at a curated gala on August 26 alongside works by Johnson, Shawn Rawls (based in New York), and Dominick Moore-Dunson and Kevin Parker from Cleveland’s Inlet Dance Theatre. Inlet’s director, Bill Wade, will offer a choreography workshop and a talk on “The Artist as Entrepreneur.”

Tickets for all Exchange events are available at thebellhouse.info or at the door.

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