Dancers are accustomed to rehearsing and performing in all sorts of spaces: bars, attics, basements, kitchens. They are adaptable creatures, quick to size up their temporary practice lair and visualize ways to move within, or not. But when I think of rehearsal spaces for dancers in Bushwick, I don’t think shady/smelly/small, because Chez Bushwick is here. You might have heard of it- The $8 an hour (or less) rental space just a quick walk from the Morgan L stop at 304 Boerum Street. Amidst the concrete jungle, Chez Bushwick is a reliable and cheap space where creators can create and dancers can jump without having to ask “how high?”.
The team behind the business wants to provide a space for dancers while helping emerging choreographers, and advocates towards economic justice for the performing arts. An artist-run organization, Chez Bushwick’s founders include Jonah Bokaer, Loren Dempster, Miguel Gutierrez, and Jeremy Wade. Under the leadership of Jonah Bokaer, Chez Bushwick has developed one of the most inexpensive artist subsidy programs in New York. It has earned a reputation for creative risk-taking, political activism, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
I interviewed Chez Bushwick’s Programs Manager, Christiana Lederman, to find out more about the inner workings of the space, and how Chez Bushwick has evolved since its inception in 2002.
1) What was your first job in NYC?
My first job in NYC, where I actually made money, was as a team lead at Urban Outfitters on 6th Ave and Waverly. I had been working at Urban in Arizona so I just transferred to a store in the city when I made the big move.
2) When did you move to Brooklyn?
I moved to Bed-Stuy in 2007, and in 2010 I moved to Williamsburg.
3) When did you start working at Chez?
4) What was your initial impression of Bushwick when you started working at Chez?
Industrial, developing, dirty but gleaming with infinite possibilities hidden right beneath the surface.
5) What is your process like as Chez Bushwick’s Programs Manager?
My process is methodical with a tinge of madness. Generally when working in small nonprofits you don’t have just one or two specific tasks, you do everything, and often with minimal resources and workforce supporting you. I’ve found that keeping up with the day-to-day requires consistent communication, detailed planning, extreme patience and an adaptable nature…and a bit of crazy to make it fun! I try to make everyday enjoyable for my staff, because who wants to go to a job that they hate?
6) Approximately how many dance companies/soloists perform at Chez Bushwick in a year?
Through our program “Chez Bushwick Presents” we have two main focuses: international companies, and local emerging and mid-life choreographers. For our international presentations we usually bring in 3 – 4 companies per year which are mostly solo artists or small scale companies (usually 4 – 5 performers max). For our local emerging and mid-life choreographers we have a curated 8 show series titled the “The 2Night Show.” These shows are a collective of 4 – 5 choreographers with pieces that range from solo works to group pieces. In total we present 32 – 40 local choreographers per year.
Unfortunately we no longer present on site at Chez, as our capacity restrictions are set at 25, which is not conducive to a very robust event. Instead we present at our sister organization Center for Performance Research (CPR) that was originated by our founder Jonah Bokaer with John Jasperse of Thin Man Dance. We do try to work on site in our studio as much as possible by hosting monthly Work in Progress showings for our studio members, open rehearsals when we have a company in residence, and participate in Bushwick Open Studios. Our studio rental program has approximately 150 members annually, creating an expected reach of over 1,200 artists locally.
7) How do you think Chez Bushwick has impacted/changed the dance scene in north Brooklyn?
Chez has been a staple in the Brooklyn dance scene for the past 10 years, not only providing a beautiful studio at highly subsidized rates, but also as a incubator of new choreography and performance, and as an organization that has worked to integrate arts into the local community and schools of Bushwick. We work large, with small resources, and are known by many in the Brooklyn dance community, larger New York area, US, and internationally. Currently, we are looking to expand our local impact by creating a formal residency program, developing talent through our studio and presenting programs, and re-engaging in one of our local schools, PS147.
8) Favorite performance memory at Chez?
I’m usually too busy making sure all the parts of the show are working to sit down and actually enjoy a performance, however there was a 2Night show curated by Lindsay Clark that comes to mind. Choreographer Lily Gold performed her piece in a very intimate seating configuration with an art installation hung overhead. I was so close I could see the sweat pooling on Lily’s skin and the hair curling on her legs.
9) Who is your dance idol?
My mom. She was a ballerina with the the Radio City Music Hall Ballet and the Joffrey, and trained me until I was 16. I’ve never witnessed someone with so much discipline and commitment to the arts. Biased, perhaps, but she was the first dancer to inspire me and push me to always be my best self.
10) What do you enjoy most about live performances (of any kind)?
Intimacy. I want to connect to what I’m seeing and I want the artist to connect with me. I don’t care how amazing your technique/skills are, if you don’t make me believe you, and don’t hold my attention for more that 5 minutes than I don’t want to waste my time.
11) Graffiti or gallery?
12) If you could be reincarnated as an animal, which animal would it be and why?
A bird. How cliche, but wouldn’t it be great would it be to soar through the sky?
13) Most played song on your iPhone/iPod?
It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to music on my iPhone, usually I just let Pandora play, but my top 25 says it is ‘Same Mum‘ by Braids.
14) When’s bedtime?
I try to go to bed by midnight so I can get up and make it through those long days at the office with a smile on my face.
15) Rainbow or chocolate sprinkles?
Sprinkles taste like wax, plain please.