Carley Conder on Breaking Ground Dance and Festival and 10 Tiny Dances

Carley Conder is a pivotal player in the Phoenix dance scene. Her company, Conder/dance, has raised the bar for local choreography. The dance and film festival that she spearheaded, Breaking Ground, enters its eighth year this weekend, and will feature art from 32 artists, choreographers, and filmmakers. Jackalope Ranch caught up with Conder to learn more about what to expect from this year's event.

See also: Julie Akerly On The State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

What do you consider to be your signature choreographic style? I would say, now that I've kind of watched the company emerge, that I have a really strong physical proclivity. I always start with the physicality, rather than the image - or even the concept. I feel like those things emerge from the physical research or exploration that I require from myself and the dancers. I come from a ballet background and I feel like that classicism is still influences what I do - sometimes more and sometimes less [influential]. But I still have that sense of discipline in a way of what I do, so it has weight and a sense of falling all the time.

What made you choose contemporary dance over ballet? The school I went to was the University of Utah. They have two separate dance departaments, a ballet department and a modern department. Usually university programs don't do that. I was in the ballet department and would always sneak upstairs to see what the modern department was doing. I had never really been exposed to that kind of dance, and I really wanted to do it. As I delved deeper into it I knew that it was so much more interesting intellectually and artistically, and I knew that I'd have longevity in this field - whereas I felt that ballet (to me) would become limiting, and that I'd only go so far before I'd let it go. I always feel like I'm able to discover and rediscover and stay engaged in contemporary dance.

What do you view as the role of dance in the larger Phoenix art scene? It's really gaining momentum. Lots of students from ASU are staying and are making this their artistic home -- they have a lot of great ideas and energy to make dance that is really accessible but also has a high level of artistic integrity. I see a lot of people working hand-in-hand with the arts scene. I'd like to see more intersection with the theatre. Ballet Arizona is a great anchor for smaller organizations to be supported by.

I'd love to see contemporary dance get more of a foothold so that it gains corporate sponsorship. But people are very willing to produce in their houses. I saw today someone is producing their show in a yoga studio. Art galleries. Photo studios. It's very exciting, I love that, I love that they're willing to make it happen no matter what.

How has the Breaking Ground Festival changed since you started in 2007 Breaking Ground started really small. It was really a way to showcase artists here in Arizona that I felt were underrepresented and to create a platform for individual artists to showcase their work. I feel like there were a lot of companies that were able to produce, but it was harder for individual artists who maybe don't have the funding or the backing that a larger artists have.

[Breaking Ground] has gotten bigger each year -- it went from a friends and family type of thing to a nationally recognized dance festival. Every year I feel like there's a new direction that is revealed. Last year, for example, it was very set-heavy. There were big lighting ideas and people were bringing in big props and it was based on visual images.

This year it's back to being very physical. There's a lot of physicality and a high level of production value that doesn't rely on props and big visual ideas.

What do you think accounts for that shift? If I had to guess, I would say maybe it's a reaction against a digital cyber reality. People are going back to raw physicality that is still supported artistically, but is more tangible.

How do you think Breaking Ground has impacted the larger Phoenix art scene? It has surprised me. It's a lot easier to produce your own show because you don't have to coordinate with so many people and keep asking them for information. When we started, and we didn't really have great audiences and I didn't feel like the work was very strong, I'd say "why am I doing this, why don't I just work on my own stuff?" But over the years the audiences became stronger and there was more of a public interest in what it was and what it was becoming, so that's what I feel has kind of kept us going.

We've also got great public funding through the City of Tempe and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and we really couldn't do it without that funding. They've seen how [Breaking Ground] brings audiences from all over the state to Tempe, and they like that artists from all over the nation - and international artists! - come in too. It draws attention to the artistic value of Tempe.

What should we look forward to from the Festival this year? We have a lot of artists that are really interesting that we're hosting this year - Joshua Peugh was just named by Dance Magazine as one of their "25 to Watch," so he's really hot right now. His work is really smart and quirky and funny. So that's exciting.

We also have master classes that we offer to the Arizona dance community, so almost every artist that was selected is teaching a master class. Those have gotten really popular over the past few years and it's great to offer that information to the community.

Maria Gillespie is another one - she and her partner [Nguyen Nguyen] deal with multimedia work. They're wearing Go Pro cameras, and then they have cameras mounted on the front of the stage, and then they have a media engineer that is mixing the live feeds from the cameras, so the audience is always shifting their perspective on what they're seeing. [The media engineer] is also mixing live sound, so it's very in the moment and process-oriented. I love to see dance and technology overlapping and influencing each other.

One last question - tell us about 10 tiny dances. Every year, I think for the last five years, we've incorporated dances in the public spaces at Tempe Center for the Arts. The theatre is very welcoming of new arts experiences in their property. This year's concept is ten tiny dances. We challenged twenty choreographers to create a new work for the festival, the limitations were that it has to be in a four-foot by four-foot area raised two-feet off the floor - tiny little stages! We didn't give them subject matter or a theme. It was great to see how vast the ideas were and the way that the stages were used.

Breaking Ground is at Tempe Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22. Pre-shows begin at 7:30 nightly. Tickets are $20 via tca.ticketforce.com.

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