Growing Through Collaboration: Finding Balance in a Shifting Landscape

Collaboration may generate energy; ignite relationships that build trust, further knowledge and group effort that continue to infuse the creative process.

Interdisciplinary collaborations can be very inspiring, and allow for artistic inventiveness that challenges the very fiber of traditional ideas. Years ago, when I first began using multimedia in my works, I received many criticisms as to why. “Dance should be pure movement,” these armchair critics would say. “You don’t need it!” I don’t agree. I was curious and my creative vision was trying to express itself. In short, these forays into multimedia were born out of what happens when we unleash our imaginations and fire our passions.

True collaboration is harder than ever. In today’s climate of instant information and gratification is there the space and time so that we may trust our intuition, our own truth to explore the inner landscape? As an artist, I feel connected to the collective unconscious, as Carl Jung spoke of it, and to the human condition.

Taking chances and stepping out on the edge led me to realize several artistic collaborations in Venezuela, China, India, and Indonesia. The journey to Indonesia inspired me to craft The Conversation, which was influenced by the many women weavers (the rice fields), artistic and spiritual leaders, dancers and the unsung Everymen. Through recorded interviews and filming on Hi8 videotape, reading cultural and social history of the region, and the help of my trusted patron, fashion designer Nadya, this work percolated. Upon returning to the studio, I developed a storybook script with spoken word and images by collaborating with technology artist Jan Hartley. I learned a great deal about integrating the images with my dancers to tell the story. Choreographing with multimedia and the spoken word produced the multi-layered dance The Conversation. Whether collaborating with a composer, live musicians, lighting and set designers, actors, or writers, all of these interactions have been sources of growth for my company dancers, and have played an inimitable role in the development of these works.

Collaboration begins at home, before the dancers—or even I—set foot in the studio. Having a board of directors who believes in your artistic vision can really give life to a work. I am always filled with humility and deep gratitude for all my board and funders have given to allow for the creative process and continuation of my company. One might say this is the most profound and necessary collaborative engagement an artistic director has to cultivate in the current circumstances.

Today more than ever the playing field for collaboration is filled with complexities. It is complicated to move forward on multimedia, cross-disciplinary collaboration without having funding secured. The challenges to realizing the vision are constant: raising funds to support imaginative collaborations, dancers’ salaries, and studio space, plus strategic planning, budgeting, community outreach projects, restaging of ballets, exploration, research, engaging young audiences, and, always essential, grant writing.

Sustaining the craft and vision in a time of constant change one must be tenacious in the belief that art is essential to everyone’s life. How do we find balance then, as artistic directors and choreographers? Now the evolution of vision may be more a topic for discussion as time and electronic communication forges ahead at sonic speed. A direction that may seem positive one day may seem irrelevant on the next. That’s the nature of making art. Engaging with boards and encouraging their participation and commitment to the field while coping with the new funding environment is like keeping a juggler’s balls in the air.

At the end of the day, time, for balancing the creative process, nurturing collaborations in the development of a ballet, and building infrastructure, has become scarcer. While choreography labs and residencies for creative exploration and education may be opening window, the availability of ample space and time with company dancers and collaborators without having to produce a major work remains the greatest gift coming to those emerging choreographers of tomorrow.
Walking through the trials of fire and still having faith in the munificent power of dance to move and transport audiences to give breath to the unsung ….
Away I fly from the world of reality to the mountains, a realm where the Hierarchy courts the graces of “divine normals,” an ineffable place of rapture ….
Time to be still … to drop all thinking to get close to the inner landscape … to be in that liminal space, to suspend yourself just before stepping through the threshold … arriving at a place where we can listen to the heartbeat .,., the collective unconscious …

Jacqulyn Buglisi is artistic director of Buglisi Dance Theatre. In her four-decade long career as a choreographer, artistic director, dancer, and master teacher, Buglisi has made an indelible impact on the field of contemporary dance. Renowned for highly multi-disciplinary, imagistic dances that use literature, history and heroic archetypes as a primary source, Buglisi’s ballets are sweeping, passionate and always rooted in a dramatically visceral technique. She is a prolific choreographer, creating more than 65 ballets for BDT and commissioned worldwide, including the NY Flamenco Festival; Shankar Performing Arts Company, India; Dou Dou Huang’s Shanghai Ensemble; China, Teatro Danza Contemporanea di Roma; Richmond Ballet; North Carolina Dance Theatre; The Juilliard School, Ailey II, and the Martha Graham Dance Company, where, during her 30-year association with the company, she danced as a principal for 12 years and was featured on the nationally televised CBS presentation of the Kennedy Center Honors. She has collaborated with composers Tan Dun, Glen Velez, Jennifer Higdon, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and Libby Larsen; projection designer Jan Hartley; and Venezuela’s leading environmental artist Jacobo Borges, to name a few. Buglisi is chair of the Modern Department at The Ailey School, served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, the Martha Graham School, and the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts (alumna), and holds creative and educational residencies recently at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, MWPAI, SUNY Purchase, California State University/Long Beach; George Mason University, and, upcoming, University of Richmond and Syracuse University. Her honors include the American Dance Guild Award, Altria’s Women Choreographer Initiative Award, and creation grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Buglisi serves on Dance/USA’s Board of Trustees as a chair of the Artistic Director’s Council.


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