Thursday, February 04, 2021

Somerville's Callie Chapman: A chat with a multi-faceted dancer, media artist and choreographer.


I was pleased to catch up with the versatile Callie Chapman. She is a woman of many hats--as you will discover. She is an artist with a strong mission statement and one who can't be labeled into any particular genre.

You have lived in Somerville for the past 15 years--how has this been for you as a creative?

Somerville has been a 'safe haven' if you will for my creative practice. Although I have worked on my practice mostly in Cambridge, purely due to space availability, Somerville is where I can dream and where there is an acceptance that whatever is dreamed can be possible. I've received project grants and was a recipient of multiple fellowship grants from the Somerville Arts Council (including this past year). During the pandemic, the SAC provided encouragement (and funding) for creating in our homes, and that, for me, was a glimmer of light during some very isolating times.

Because of the Pandemic--many art organizations have been forced to close. How are you and the Zoe Dance Company surviving? I heard Zoe's Studio 550-- was forced out from their Cambridge home--and now you are looking for a new space in Somerville.

As a professional artist I wear many hats. One of which is directing Zoe Dance Company. Another is the director of Studio at 550. ZDC was housed in Studio at 550, which had a space at 550 Mass Ave., Cambridge. And yes, we were displaced. Not particularly due to the pandemic (although that expedited our departure), but due to the landlord intending on creating micro-unit apartments in a mostly residential area. Truthfully, we knew it was coming at one time or another, the pandemic just made it happen quicker, with less time to plan our relocation strategy (and less money in the bank to do so). Somerville has always needed more spaces for dance and performing arts. We would love to find our home in Somerville, and I think both artists who live here and want to create, perform, and present here would love it too. Somerville would also benefit from the performing artists who do live here, yet have to go elsewhere for their work. If we identify a suitable location in Somerville, we would love to fill that void and help provide that stability and outlet to showcase our working performing artists in Somerville (particularly the dance community).

Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the Zoe Dance company? What would be its mission statement? What genre of dance does it fit under?

Zoe Dance Company was founded in 2002 with a mission statement that read, "Zoé Dance nurtures the art of dance, dance theatre and performance through accessible performance venues, educates the public and creates social awareness through themes explored in repertory." The company has performed locally, regionally, and internationally in self-produced concerts, festivals, and commissioned works. Since its inception, we have integrated digital media in many forms into the performances, and also creation. Utilizing cameras, projectors, generative art, and media servers ZDC's integrations brings the 'dream world' to its audiences through various theatrical techniques to create worlds which stretch beyond the tangible and embodied. As far as a genre of dance goes we could get into the inefficiencies of genre labeling and the strange evolution of terms that comes with it. It's as vanilla as "contemporary dance" or as niche as "multi-media dance". I like to just settle on the word "performance" as I've always been compelled to not define before I do as to open the options up a bit. Perhaps my next piece has spoken word and theatre. Perhaps it contains original music, or an art installation. Trying to contain that in a genre or even discipline is just too limiting. For the audience as well as for myself as the creator.

You are also a marketer and graphic designer, and have worked with many arts organizations. How do you meet the challenge to get the word out.? What is your process for developing a 'brand'?"

Getting the word out requires a fine tuning and a consistency of the message (whatever that may be). I worked for Boston Dance Alliance for 11 years and the building of that 'brand' when I came into the organization required many strategies and constant engagement with our base. We grew the membership form 180 individuals and dance arts organizations to nearly 400 by the time I left in 2015. It took constant programming, communication strategies, and one to one engagement. And over time I helped take a grassroots organization with no logo or branding consistency and helped craft an organization where I created the logo, colors, fonts, and consistency it needed to be clear in its message. We also had a lot of fun doing that. In shorter time frames, for shows let's say, you are working with the established "brand" of the presenting artist/organization, so again, consistency is key. Tapping into multiple networks through various methods is fundamental to being successful in the project. Having a strong and energetic team is also helpful as expanding networks and getting the word out always starts with the people who you already know.

You studied at the Boston Conservatory. Were there any folks who mentored you there that you can mention?. What did they bring to the plate?

As a 18 year old from Lynn, MA I went into the Boston Conservatory with very wide eyes, basically eating anything up I could get my hands on. I also worked afternoons and evenings for my spending money and somehow on top of the already rigorous program I carried the momentum and felt appreciative of my time there (even getting into a studio by myself to choreograph, or improvise until 11pm some nights, having to go home (to Lynn) and get back at 8am the next morning for Dance History class)). All my teachers were so wonderful there. They taught me things I now pass on to the students I teach (with credit of course).

In 1999 one of my modern dance teachers, Diane Arvanites asked me to perform with her company Prometheus Dance over the summer as part of Somerville Arts Council's ArtBeat Festival. Of course I accepted and danced "the first one out" in the piece, "The Game", which was based off of the game of musical chairs. Previously, outside of Conservatory training I was taking open class with the company at the Dance Complex when I could (winter and spring break). It was Diane who "signed up" to be my mentor at the Conservatory as the faculty was asked to pair off with the incoming freshmen. And I guess those roles kind of stuck. I danced with Prometheus Dance until its folding in 2019 having toured with the company to many wonderful places and theatres. Many of very good lifelong friendships were built in that company, and still remain to this day.

How would you convince someone who has no experience with dance to attend a performance? Why should they view your work?

Again, circling back to the presentation of "dance" in the marketing of it to be more about the experience and the performance. This helps disassociate potential stereotypical associations with the word "dance" coming from that prospective audience member. Perhaps they have the notion it could be like their 5 year old niece's dance recital and there's no way they want to sit through 'professional dancers' doing the same thing! Tailoring the marketing and the 'brand' to match what the audience should expect from going to the performance with the way they talk about it, the visuals they use for publicity materials, and fine tuning any media that's out there can really help get people to not associate the dance recital to professional dance performance. Truth is, it CAN be all over the board, so just saying it's "dance" doesn't say much at all and walking into a theatre (or even thinking about walking into a theatre) with such little information is absolutely terrifying.
While I design and create experiences for as many people as I can. To touch them in some way through many senses and sensory preferences, I also understand many people may not enjoy it. And that is totally where I want to be. Instead of chasing down and force feeding people who have other preferences in taste, I create what is important to me and design to share that experience with others. Mostly I love the theme of transformation and I believe it's a thread that shows up throughout my work over the last 19 years. I mean, that's part of the experience which we all share and can get on common ground together with. Tapping into what makes us human and sharing different relatable experiences through various lenses is what makes me want to create. The cycle is nearly completed when I've fleshed it out enough times to share it with others. It's an open ended cycle as those who experience "it" go out and have that experience linger with them for a while into their own lived experience after the show is done.

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