Mere weeks after a successful CHOP SHOP Contemporary Dance Festival in February 2020, the world was fully enveloped by the maw of a 100-year pandemic.
When festival administration duo Lizzy Melton and Eva Stone began conceptualizing what next year’s performance might look like they were left wondering…
“How do we plan for this?”
What quickly became clear was that CHOP SHOP would rely on artists unlike ever before in the event’s 13-year history as a virtual approach—while uncharted territory—was a given.
“[The choreographers are] all artists that have already been presented at CHOP SHOP, and they’re artists that we each chose...not just for loving their work, but because we thought they would have a particularly interesting perspective creating dancework in this moment,” Melton said.
Rather than following their typical process and operating under an application period, Melton and Stone believed letting go of the reins was a more appropriate model for this season.
“We love these artists and we trust them so...we just got out of the way,” Melton remarked. “Artists are dealing with enough, they don’t need a couple of arts administrators telling them what to do.”
The virtual format also lent to surprisingly broader horizons that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. For instance, at least four different states were represented in a Zoom Master Class hosted by choreographer Nicole von Arx last month, a scenario which would have never occurred any other year.
Accessibility is a recurring theme this year, and not only with respect to schedule accommodations or distance. All of the programming involved with CHOP SHOP 2021 is either free or “pay what you can.” Melton reported that such a model wouldn’t be possible if they were dealing with the typical challenges and costs associated with gathering in a physical space.
“I think we have to explore these opportunities because even after the pandemic, so much has to change...this moment is asking us to get more creative than we have been in the past, and I think we have to.”
When asked for her prediction on where the arts will fit into society in a post-pandemic world, Melton’s definitive appreciation for creators is more than apparent.
“If you’ve enjoyed [books, music, movies, TV, furniture, housing, food] and any of those things have made the pandemic easier for you or lifted your spirits, then you have relied on arts and culture to get through this,” Melton said. “I think we have to honor that.”
Following a year marked by civil strife, loss, and isolation Melton believes artists should serve as a primary inspiration as people move forward.
“Artists embody so many qualities that I think we need more of in the world—collaboration, recognizing each other for our unique gifts, willingness to be vulnerable with one another and share, the way artists build trust with each other to get their work done...I want to see arts and artists embedded into every aspect of society”
In the meantime, Stone and Melton will continue to serve their community the way they know best, and that’s through sharing the joys of dance.
"As the producer of CHOP SHOP, I am thrilled that despite a pandemic and a devastating blow to the dance community, we have kept this festival alive!” said Stone. “Creating a platform for these brilliant choreographers to be innovative during a very challenging time is the one true joy. With careful thought, collaboration with our artists, and good planning, we found a way to pivot our festival to an online format that supports these incredible artists and benefits them as well as our viewers."