By Tammy Scileppi
Despite an always-changing world and the addictive draw of technology and social media, something as important as the arts should never be cast aside or forgotten. But behind the scenes, it seems that keeping the arts alive and relevant has been an ongoing challenge for creators, choreographers, artistic directors and producers, despite their best efforts – especially these days, with rising rents, a shortage of studio space, and changing audiences.
But for creatives like Kevin Albert and Nicola Iervasi, creating dance for all is their raison d’etre and a true labor of love. The Woodside residents have been partners, on and off stage, for 16 years. Albert graduated from the Boston Conservatory in Theater, and Nicola moved to the U.S. from Southern Italy as a scholarship student at the Martha Graham School.
As founders and directors of Emerging Choreographer Series (ECS), they have combined their expertise in theater and dance, and remain committed to promoting the arts locally through ECS and other imaginative programs, with the help of the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center.
The Queens Council on the Arts and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, have recognized the couple’s ongoing contributions to the borough’s dance scene.
ECS embraces all styles of dance, while providing artistic, logistical, and production support for the next generation of dance makers. In celebration of the program’s fifth edition, ECS is presenting its 2018 concert in The Little Theater at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (LPAC), located at LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City on Monday, Feb. 26 and Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Promising a variety of “dance voices,” Albert said concert-goers will see the culmination of eight weeks of hard work.
“We will present a wide range of dance styles, including contemporary, experimental, modern, hip hop, tap and musical theater dance. Also, the level of dancing is very professional,” he said.
After choosing the choreographers, the directors organize auditions for dancers and help them make the best choice for their piece. This year, nine emerging choreographers from across the U.S. as well as Costa Rica and Italy are being presented.
ECS developed organically in 2013, after the couple had been teaching their unique training method, The Wave Within, for several years. “More and more, we would witness participants use material they had created in class to start a new piece or use the tools they learned to better share their ideas with dancers,” said Albert.
Feeling they were ready for this new adventure, Albert and Iervasi applied for funds from Queens Council on the Arts.
“The hardest part was finding venues to host such an intensive program. When we met with Steven Hitt at LPAC, we knew immediately we had found a home,” Iervasi recalled.
Starting this year, each participant is mentored by an established choreographer who provides feedback and advice for their artistic and professional growth.
“The support we are getting from the industry is almost overwhelming. The expertise of this year’s team of panelists, mentors and consultants has exceeded our wildest dreams,” Albert said. “This is the proof that we are doing something extremely important and needed in New York City and in Queens.”
According to Albert, choreographers are receiving less financial and practical support while also seeing greater demand for productivity and organization. The partners say their goal has been to create responsible, business-ready choreographers with hands-on experience in best practices. The program is completely free, and each choreographer and their dancers receive stipends.
ECS also connected with Spaceworks NYC, a non-profit in Long Island City, and or the last few years, has received the CASA grant from the city with support from Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).
Albert pointed to other programs ECS is involved in, like an after-school program for K-12, called The Young Wave based off of The Wave Within method.
This program partners with creative writing teachers at PS 11 and PS 152. Students write about a subject and their writing is used to put together a script. Then a director is brought in along with a choreographer to work with the kids to develop staging and choreography, according to Albert.
“We also bring in Queens-based composer, James Rubio, to create a song for the children to sing, based also off of their creative writing,” said Albert. “The creative team helps them develop the show and it is performed for friends and family.
At the end of the program, the students are treated to a Broadway show.
“We feel it is important, after all the hard work they put in to create their show, to see a professional production — offered free of charge to the kids — which always helps to spark magic and wonder in their eyes.”
Albert blames the dwindling of dance audiences on addictive technology and the battle for commodified attention, but also rising costs.
“I have a feeling what is playing into the decline is part of the commercialization of our consciousness,” Albert said. “We are always connected to a computer or phone, and we see as much or as little of dance as we wish by clicking here or there. The way the city is set up now, it is too expensive for young or established artists to spend time exploring something that is unknown.”
One of the main goals of ECS, Albert said, is to make dance more accessable.
“This is part of why we created the ECS,” he said. “We could see a future where young artists were no longer able to afford the experimentation and the art of choreography would be left to commercial dance or to those who have the funding. We felt a need to support the up and coming to combat this problem, to give them a chance to learn about the business and maximize their creative potential.”