The Dance Edit

Transcript, Episode 42: Remembering Ann Reinking, Ballet Must Do Better, and Kim Bears-Bailey

[Jump to Kim Bears-Bailey interview.]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends. Welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Lydia Murray:
I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media. In today’s episode, we’ll be paying tribute to Ann Reinking, the extraordinary dancer and actor and choreographer, who died unexpectedly this week. We’ll get into the damning allegations made by Chloé Lopez Gomes about the racism she experienced at Staatsballett Berlin. We’ll discuss what those allegations say about the wider ballet world. We’ll talk about the fact that #Ratatousical is really actually happening in real life and the various questions that that raises. Then we’ll have our interview with Kim Bears-Bailey, who has been a member of the Philadanco family since 1991, and who was recently named the company’s new artistic director. She is succeeding Joan Myers Brown, the company’s founding artistic director, and a hugely influential figure in the dance world. We talked about what their new relationship will be like since Brown isn’t actually going anywhere and what Bears-Bailey’s own hopes are for the future of Philadanco.

But before we get started, are you friends with us on social yet? Because we’re a fun and informative follow, I promise. We love hearing from you all, too, through those various media. You can find us on Instagram @the.dance.edit and Twitter @dance_edit. Of course, make sure you’re signed up for our daily newsletter, which is a digest of the day’s top dance stories. You can do that at thedancedit.com.

Now it’s time for our weekly dance headline rundown and because it is jam-packed this week, we’re just going to get right into it. Go for it, Courtney.

Courtney Escoyne:
All right, so London theaters went dark again Tuesday night after the UK government imposed Tier 3 COVID restrictions on the city. This means the West End, The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, and Sadler’s Wells, among others, have had to cancel shows just weeks after reopening. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber was quoted in the Evening Standard saying that it seemed, “Arbitrary and unfair that people can jostle uncontrolled and crowded shops, yet orderly, socially-distanced theater going is banned.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
What a mess. All around.

Lydia Murray:
But something that is a little bit brighter news: beginning March 1st, artists in New York City will be able to stage ticketed events on streets and other open areas thanks to the new Open Culture program, which was modeled after the city’s outdoor dining efforts, and should hopefully bring some much needed relief to the arts community.

Margaret Fuhrer:
A ray of hope.

Courtney Escoyne:
Meanwhile, upstate, Kaatsbaan Cultural Park announced plans to host another outdoor performance festival in May. Dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Mark Morris Dance Group, New York City Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will headline across the two weekends of programming, which has also been expanded to include music, poetry, and the culinary arts.

Lydia Murray:
The actors Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley are set to star in Fred & Ginger, the upcoming biopic about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The film will explore their individual lives as artists, as well as their professional and romantic partnership.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you for choosing actors with dance backgrounds.

Lydia Murray:
Yes.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yes. So curious to see what comes of that, but rather than waiting to add to your weekend watch list, there is a lot of ballet drama now streaming, or about to be. “Tiny Pretty Things” dropped on Netflix on Monday, think “Riverdale,” but at a dance school. Docuseries “On Pointe,” following students at the School of American Ballet, hits Hulu tomorrow, December 18th.

Lydia Murray:
Plenty of binge-watching opportunities there. Speaking of dance news from the larger entertainment world, BTS keeps lighting it up like dynamite. I had to. The pun had to happen.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Just don’t apologize.

Lydia Murray:
I’m leaning into it. The Korean pop icons and my long time faves have been named Time‘s Entertainer of the Year.

Courtney Escoyne:
I will say the suits that they wore on the cover got me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The suits.

Lydia Murray:
Join us! Join us!

Courtney Escoyne:
In more joyous news, American Ballet Theatre star James Whiteside is hosting an online holiday benefit to raise funds to help provide 150 students with at-home dance floors. Fancy Nut Mix will feature Whiteside and a number of his friends dancing a multi-genre suite of Nutcracker divertissement, including Isabella Boylston, Tiler Peck, Harper Watters, Al Blackstone, and Demi Remick. They’re also promising an interview with the elusive meme-r behind the satirical Ballet Moods Instagram account, which I’m intrigued by. As well as—

Margaret Fuhrer:
Big reveal.

Courtney Escoyne:
It’s a big get. As well as interviews with Jack Ferver and Reid Bartelme of With Dance and Stuff fame, and even James’s newscaster alter ego, Shannon Bobannon, who you may have heard fires news like a cannon. That will be streaming this Sunday, December 20th, at 7:00 PM Eastern on James’s YouTube channel.

Lydia Murray:
I am so here for all of that. That is wonderful.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Bless him.

Lydia Murray:
Dance Theatre of Harlem member. Alicia Mae Holloway will be a contestant on the upcoming 25th season of “The Bachelor.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
Very intrigued to see how they portray her on that show. I hope they give her the respect that dancers deserve because that has not been the way that show has historically treated dancers, so fingers crossed.

Courtney Escoyne:
Indeed. Taking a bit of a sad turn here. We said goodbye to a number of dance world luminaries this week. Othella Dallas, an early Katherine Dunham dancer, who was instrumental in passing on the Dunham technique to new generations, particularly in Europe. Astad Deboo, a pioneering Indian choreographer who toured his uniquely contemporary take on kathak and kathakali all over the world. William J. Gillespie, a philanthropist who provided notable support to dance and presenting organizations in particular American Ballet Theatre, whose Orange County school bears his name. Louis Peters, aka Luis Olivares, an American Spanish dancer, choreographer, and dance historian who performed with the likes of José Greco. They will be missed.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It was a particularly devastating week for the dance world. I mean, every death is incalculable, but this week felt really heavy.

In our first segment, we want to take a moment to honor a dance artist whose death felt truly shocking. That’s Ann Reinking. She died in her sleep over the weekend at age 71. The cause of her death is still unknown. She was, and it’s genuinely strange to be using the past tense to describe one of the most present performers of all time, but she was a dancer and an actress and a choreographer. She had roots in ballet, but she was best known for her long-term symbiotic relationship with Bob Fosse. She was his muse and for a time, his partner. There was simply nobody else like her.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. I think when we talk about choreographers’ muses, sometimes we can overlook their personhood and overlook the fact that without them being there as vehicles for that work and remembrances of that work and evolutions of that work, we wouldn’t have that choreographer. I think Gwen Verdon is very much early Fosse, but Ann Reinking is just the epitome of later period Fosse.

I think also she was just such a singular dancer. Watching her, there’s a sense of cohesion and organization. This idea that she knows to the barest millimeter exactly what every part of her body was doing at any given moment, but at the same time, none of it ever felt calculated. It felt instinctual and vital and like it was just coming from the core of her being. I think she really embodied the idea of dancers having knowledge in our bodies that maybe we can’t quite articulate with words.

I found myself, whenever the news was breaking about her passing, I very quickly “noped” out of Twitter. I just didn’t want to deal with it. But then when I came back, the first thing I saw was this minute-and-a-half clip of her dancing in All That Jazz. I couldn’t look away.I think that that was Ann.

Lydia Murray:
My earliest memory of Ann Reinking was her performance in the movie Annie, as Daddy Warbucks’s personal secretary, Grace Farrell. I loved that movie when I was a kid, I watched it countless times. She was so elegant, so strong, such a fluid yet dynamic dancer. She portrayed that character with such warmth. Her range as a dancer, as an actress, and singer was just mesmerizing and fantastic.

In 2007, Dance Magazine published her account of auditioning for Bob Fosse for the first time, which was in the summer of 1972. One reason I love it is that even though she was known as this larger-than-life icon, that essay really underscores the raw passion she had for the art form itself and the hunger she had to master her craft. That drove so much of what she achieved. Even though she may seem like this otherworldly figure.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Lydia, I love that you called out “We Got Annie,” because that number, it’s just full on joy, it’s very different from the usual sardonic, gimlet-eyed, Fosse approach that we typically associate with Ann Reinking. I like that in it, you can see her connections backwards to old Hollywood stars like Ann Miller. Then also the influence she’s had on today’s musical theater stars like Sutton Foster, who then went on to do that very role, to that Grace Farrell part.

I mean, Courtney and Lydia, you both already said basically all of this, but she also helped shape this type of sensuality that many people think of as Fosse, but it’s actually Reinking. It’s ferocious and unabashed, but also extremely refined. As you were saying, Courtney, she’s completely full-bodied, but also incredibly specific.

I just want to call out a lot of people have been talking about that clip from All That Jazz, about “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” and rightfully so, because it’s incredible. But there’s also this clip of her dancing “Big Noise from Winnetka.” Have you seen that?

Courtney Escoyne:
I don’t think I have.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s this high speed, intricate choreography. She was performing it on some 1980s variety show—I should know what, and I don’t—but even though it’s faster than anything else I’ve seen her dance, she’s completely relaxed and at ease the whole time. Her hair is literally down. It’s yet another facet of her greatness.

Courtney Escoyne:
I think it’s also worth shouting out she co-directed and co-choreographed the Broadway show Fosse, which, Sylviane Gold wrote a few years ago for Dance Magazine a story talking about all the now great Broadway choreographers who came up through that show as ensemble members. We got Andy Blankenbuehler because of that show, and that show is because of her.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Absolutely. She won a Tony for her choreography for the revival in Chicago too.

Courtney Escoyne:
And she performed in it! Okay. Icon.

Margaret Fuhrer:
What we’re saying is, this one really hurt, 2020.

Courtney Escoyne:
I think if the lights on Broadway were still up right now, they’d definitely be dimming this week for her.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Our next segment can actually also be filed under 2020 Being Terrible. Although it centers on a problem that long predates 2020. We’re going to talk yet again about the ballet world’s well-documented racism. There’s now even more documentation on that ever-growing pile. Chloé Lopez Gomes, a Black dancer who joined the corps of Staatsballett Berlin in 2018, recently gave a series of interviews to media outlets around the world, detailing her experiences with institutional racism at the company. Her stories, which were confirmed by several others affiliated with Staatsballett, they’re harrowing. They focus on some allegedly terrible behavior by one ballet mistress in particular, but the issue, obviously, isn’t just one bad actor. It sounds like that person was enabled by the company as a whole, and also by the old ballet world preoccupation with “uniformity,” heavy quotes, that’s often just a thin veil for racism.

Lydia Murray:
Where to begin with this story? Well, just to name a few of the things that Chloé Lopez Gomes mentioned having allegedly experienced. She said that the day after her audition, a ballet mistress told one of her colleagues that, she didn’t think the company should hire Lopez Gomes because a Black woman in the corps de ballet is not aesthetically pleasing. She said that she spent about 90% of her time under this ballet mistress’s supervision. She endured racist mistreatment from her for two years. One of the egregious examples was that the ballet mistress directed all of the female dancers in the company to wear white powder for Swan Lake. When Lopez Gomes told her that she would never be white, the ballet mistress replied that she’d just need to wear more powder than the others. She also said things like, “You’re not in line and that’s all we see because you’re Black.” There were just several really troubling incidents that were reported here.

Some of the themes of this: there’s the problem of the extreme power imbalance of ballet masters and dancers, especially ballet masters with lifetime contracts and dancers on one or two-year contracts. This creates a culture of fear and it discourages company members from voicing their concerns to leadership. Lifetime contracts for ballet masters—should they even be possible? There was the lack of a safe channel for company members to report harassment or discrimination. The idea of uniformity, which is so outdated and goes back to a time when ballet dancers were all white, but of course, guess what? That’s not the way it is anymore. It’s not the way it should be.

Courtney Escoyne:
For once, I’m agreeing with Benjamin Millepied, which feels a little strange for me, but in the New York Times, he was quoted as saying, “This army like idea of everyone in unison, everyone looking identical is a major problem with ballet. It is an incorrect view. What makes the scenes work in Swan Lake or La Bayadère is great dancing, a sum of everyone’s energy and individuality, not a display of pancaked white people.”

Lydia Murray:
Fully agree. There’s also the age old idea that ballet dancers have to suffer for their art. That racism is just another component of this suffering. I think it’s safe to say that for a lot of people who hold old fashioned beliefs about ballet, enduring abuse is the expectation. It’s assumed that you’ll just accept targeted mistreatment according to whatever way in which you don’t need the traditional ideal or as a means of paying your dues. That mentality needs to end.

Situations like the one we’re seeing with Chloé, of course, just hinder the survival of ballet as a whole. Keeping ballet relevant is always an important issue, but especially now when the art form is in parallel due to the pandemic and when the world is still in the midst of a racial reckoning, this is not the time. It’s never the time to fuel the idea that we’re backward, out of touch, and fostering hostile environments for people of color or for anyone. This is a multicultural, interconnected world and young people, many of whom are already facing financial precarity, don’t want to pay their hard-earned money to see a production or company that signals to them that they don’t belong, or that has been accused of hurting someone because of who they are. I mean, Misty Copeland’s success has proven the power of diversity to bring new audiences to ballet. Can you imagine how many people outside of the dance world had never heard of Staatsballett Berlin and their introduction to it will be these news stories. It didn’t have to be that way. Change is possible.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh, hard retweet.

Courtney Escoyne:
Okay, Lydia, go in! What Lydia said.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I do want to call out—Theresa Ruth Howard just published an op-ed in Dance Magazine that unpacks a lot of the issues that were raised by Lopez Gomes’s testimony, a lot of which Lydia just laid out beautifully. She gets into the fact that companies’s continued use of aesthetic practices like white makeup and pink tights and shoes unnecessarily “makes Blackness and unsolvable problem in ballet.” Also leaning on the old, when it comes to repertory too, why are we still making these racially problematic works central to ballet? Because they “telegraph ballet’s commitment to whiteness” unnecessarily. She also gets into what Lydia was talking about, the power imbalance that’s so toxic in most ballet companies. Why are artistic leaders generally passive when they’re confronted with allegations of racism? They have this formidable gate-keeping power, but often keep quiet in the name of respecting boundaries. It’s time for them to start holding themselves accountable.

Courtney Escoyne:
I think the relationship between dancers to ballet masters to artistic directors is something that could honestly be unpacked a lot more because I know I have definitely heard stories about friends who are in companies who the artistic director is very supportive of them, but also the artistic director when they’re not there, they’re at the whims of the ballet masters, some of whom have favorites and have people that they really don’t like. That directly impacts dancer’s careers in a way that isn’t as publicized as artistic directors’s decisions.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Also, too, this old idea of uniformity in the corps de ballet, it’s often a cover not just for racism, but also for sizeism. It’s just toxic all around. It’s at best an incredibly oversimplified way of thinking about what makes ballet beautiful. It’s just wrong and outdated. We got to get rid of it. We’ve got to get rid of it.

Lydia Murray:
Totally agree.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Anyway, bravo to Chloé for speaking out. We hope she’s currently being flooded with job offers, because let’s not forget: she’s also a beautiful dancer. Rooting for you.

Our next segment offers a bit of much needed relief after this hellish week. It turns out that the TikTok-generated, collaboratively written musical version of Disney’s Ratatouille will in fact be happening in real life. It was announced last week that Seaview Productions will present a filmed concert version of the viral phenomenon, which they’ve titled Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. It’s going to stream January 1st as a benefit for the Actor’s Fund.

The Dance Edit Slack channel was a very festive place for a while after that news came out, but after we finished our squee-ing, we realized there are now a whole lot of Ratatousical questions that need answering, like: Which of the hundreds of TikTok songs out there are they going to choose? Who is the “they” doing the choosing? How is this production going to credit the TikTokers who birthed it?

Courtney Escoyne:
Here’s what I love about this is because it is happening IRL, but still on the internet, the possibilities for who can actually be involved in this are endless. I think that’s so much in the spirit of Ratatousical. I just really love that about it. I didn’t choose the Ratatousical life, but I feel like it’s chosen me. I’m just the most—

Lydia Murray:
It’s chosen all of us.

Courtney Escoyne:
It’s just really nice! I just love that this is happening. I don’t have much coherent thoughts to add because I just love that this is happening.

Lydia Murray:
Me too. I just I feel like seeing the number of creatives who’ve come together for this, ranging from choreographers to costume designers and songwriters, and just about every other aspect of production, has been one of the highlights of 2020 for me. I mean, it’s just such an example of the power of the arts and the resilience of artists. I want to know how and when will they reveal the team? Playbill recently reported that the details would be announced at a later date, but I’m impatient.

Courtney Escoyne:
Also it’s in like two weeks though.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. It’s happening really soon.

Courtney Escoyne:
How? Just how?

Margaret Fuhrer:
I have to say I’m hopeful because the creative team, first of all, made all their social handles @Ratatousical. Which, even that seems like they’re going to be true to the spirit of this thing. Because however amorphous the thing itself is, on TikTok, the spirit of it is clear. I am curious to see how they’re going to credit the TikTok creators, how they’re going to involve the TikTok creators, because it would be especially bad form not to credit TikTokers when TikTok itself pioneered this sort of crediting revolution that was long overdue. Beyond credit, how are they going to compensate them?

Do we also want to talk about dream casting?

Lydia Murray:
I want to see Andrew Barth Feldman as Alfredo Linguine.

Margaret Fuhrer
Cadence is just listening in, you can’t hear her, but she is nodding so enthusiastically right now. Yeah. Hard agree.

Courtney Escoyne:
I don’t have dream casting for this, but I really want this to launch like… I don’t know if any of you guys were around for A Very Potter Musical, when that blew up on the internet the first time. It literally launched Darren Criss’s career, as well as the people on that production who are all University of Michigan folks who just put on a show together. They all took that launchpad and did such extraordinary things and had a fandom grow up around it. I just, my heart of hearts, I would love to see some up and coming performers and choreographers and songwriters and set designers actually their careers launched by this. I think that would be incredible.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Totally. Is the creative team going to do some crowdsourced casting? Because it seems like they’re very open to that idea, given what they’ve posted on social so far. Maybe they will discover those next big things on TikTok, which would be so appropriate. That would be fantastic.

Lydia Murray:
It would be wonderful if this could become a full-fledged Broadway production. And since we’re on the topic of Broadway, what will happen to the 2020 Tony Awards now that the year is almost over?

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Sidebar.

Courtney Escoyne:
There’s been no word about when it’s happening. We were told early December and there’s been nothing. Now it’s mid-December.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Just radio silence from the Tony Awards Admin Committee. Yeah. The Ensemblist has been posting a ton about that. We have no answers, only questions.

Courtney Escoyne:
Pretty much, so thank you, Ratatousical, for filling our musical theater needs, I suppose.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yes. One of the few not-terrible things to come out of 2020. Don’t mess this up, Ratatousical people. We need it.

All right. We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll have our interview with Kim Bears-Bailey. Stay tuned.

[pause]

KIM BEARS-BAILEY INTERVIEW

Margaret Fuhrer:
This week’s guest on the podcast is Kim Bears-Bailey, who was recently named the new artistic director of Philadelphia-based modern and contemporary company Philadanco. Kim has been Philadanco’s longtime assistant artistic director, serving under founding artistic director Joan Myers Brown. And before that, she was a celebrated dancer with the company, which she first joined in 1981. She has a BFA from the University of the Arts, where she’s now on faculty, and she’s taught and staged repertory all over the world. Welcome Kim. Thank you so much for joining us.

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Thank you so much for having me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You have this beautiful history with Philadanco as both a dancer and a leader of the company. Can you talk about how you first came to the company and then how and why it became a home for you?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Okay. So, I’m originally from Washington DC, that’s where I started my dance career, in Washington. And when I decided after high school—the Duke Ellington High School of the Performing Arts, one of the premier high schools to go to if you were interested in the arts at all—I came to Philadelphia, researched what is now the University of Arts, which was then Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. And it had the tone of what I was looking for in terms of furthering my career as an artist, expanding in areas outside of the studio. And so immediately after high school, I came to Philadelphia. I was actually the fourth graduating class out of Duke Ellington to come to University of Arts. So that already set a tone in my head that this must be the place to be. So early in my freshman year, my first semester—of course Susan Glazer and Edna Cohen were the staples there directing the dance department, the school of dance there, and Edna Cohen took me to my first Philadanco Concert.

Of course, I had heard about Philadanco. There was so much passion and verve around when people talked about the company. And I said, “Okay, I have to go see this Philadanco.” And five minutes in, I was blown away, not just by the repertoire, which was so vast and diverse, so many spectrums, being a contemporary modern company—but the dancers. The dancers in their skill set and their training, they exude it across the screen. And I went, “That’s what I want to do.” And also they looked like me. Joan Myers Brown started this company because she wanted to have a place where Black dancers and dancers of color could have a place to continue their training, continue their art form. And I saw that onstage. The men were strong and passioned and—oh, it was just amazing.

So anyway, I was bitten immediately by that. And little did I know that at one of the dancers in the company was also at the University of the Arts—you never know who’s watching. And he approached me and said, “I think you should audition for Philadanco.” And I just was speechless. I’m thinking, “Really, you see me there?” I didn’t see me there yet. Of course, I’d been working hard and training to be there, but he saw something and he said, “You should try it.” And on January 11th, 1981, my life changed. I was number 14, I’ll never forget it, because my life did actually change. So I took the leap of faith and then Joan Myers Brown took a leap of faith on me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Joan Myers Brown obviously has been this anchor for the company. And as you said, I mean, a force for change in the dance world as a whole too. How would you describe the working relationship that the two of you developed?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
We’re in a partnership right now, and I know that it’s always been that, but I’ve also been part of the mentoring, since the day I walked in. And when you have somebody who embraces you and takes you in their arms, and starts that mentorship on day one—and it never wavered. One of the things about those that have wisdom, those whose shoulders we stand on, is that they see it before you see it. And I knew early that this was the place I would call home, but she knew it before me. I have to believe that. And how I managed to grow in this organization as a dancer, and then as part of the administrative organization artistically and then now as a predecessor. So the partnership is real, it’s honest, it’s humbling, it’s nurturing. And so, I’m going to stand on her shoulders until the end, because this is ultimately her vision. But what happens when you come here and you stay, it becomes part of yours as well. But the root, where it came from, where it was ignited from, was from Joan Myers Brown. And when you step on board and become a part of that, and making sure that it is sustainable and it continues and the legacy goes on then, yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, Ms. Brown had said for a while that she was planning to end her tenure as artistic director this year, when the company is now hitting the 50 year mark—which is amazing, congratulations. What was that process of determining an artistic succession plan like from your perspective, because Ms. Brown has been the company. I mean, she’s been the face, the soul behind the company for so long. What was your voice in the process? What was it like?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Well, first of all, she’s got to continue to be that. When you have that—now she is our artistic advisor. Again, I want to stand on that, because it is the root of where this all started. But as I alluded to in the beginning, Ms. Brown—I want to say “Mom” so much!—Aunt Joan, she watches, she listens, she observes, and so everything comes out of a need, of what needs to happen. The school started out of a need for having a place where young dancers of color could come and study. The company came out of a need of these dancers now not having any place to go.

And so this is not something that was thought about overnight, I’m sure this is something that she’s thought about for many years. And the succession plans come from different parts of the organization. Artistically, I know that she and I have had that conversation and timing is always something that’s really important to her. When is the right timing? We talked about it. Is this your plan? Is this your dream? Is this your desire? Because the moment I say it’s not, then something changes there. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a part of the company and its legacy, but immediately that conversation changed to being something that I could see myself being. Did I imagine that it would happen in a pandemic? No, but in her eyes it happened way before then, for her to be really secure and sound that this was the right placement. And again, because I’ve been grown and mentored in this artistic place with the company for so long—I became assistant artistic director in 1989—my goal was always to, one, make her plate lighter, because when you see someone work that hard 24/7 at some point you want them to sit back and just relish the fruits of their labor. And so timing was right for her. And it was right for me. And it’s not going to be something that’s going to happen overnight. Succession is something that’s ongoing. Learning this new position—which is not totally new, but—being able to delve in deeper in the aspect of the artistic decisions with the company, is something that I’m going to continue to grow in every day.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Can you talk about what aspects of this job as it evolves will be new to you?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
So when I say new, I work a lot behind the scenes, because my overall objective is the product, the dancers. I mean, that’s why we’re Philadanco. And so my mission has always been that whatever that conversation is that Ms. Brown and I have about, where do we see the season going this year, what choreographers or dancers do we want to bring in? Then that’s where I started doing the back work. So now, I’m going to be sitting at the table like, open, front and center. She always gave me a voice, but now my voice has to have a different intent. Now I have to realize that these decisions or comments or ideas that I bring to the table are now part of me bringing that to fruition. But in anything that you do, even in the things that I’ve done that I could do with my eyes closed, there’s always more to learn. I don’t ever want to arrive at a place where I feel like I know. The greatest thing that this pandemic has offered is for me to be right underneath her footprints, right underneath her armpits, right next to her to say—of course, socially distancing!—but because unfortunately of the lack of a touring, I’m able to be right here to continue to watch, to continue to be mentored, to continue to know the follow through of what comes next. And we talked about it. Our consistent regimen of meeting and talking here is always two, three years ahead. So it’s not like me taking on this succession—all of a sudden, “Whoa, we have to think of, what are we going to do now?” Then now has already been thought about. And so my mission is to make sure that it’s followed through and carried through.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And you’ve touched a little bit already on what Ms. Brown’s vision for the company was. Can you talk a little more about how you will be carrying that into the future? What will that work involve going forward, especially coming out of the pandemic, since this is sort of a strange time for everybody in dance?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
This time has definitely offered quite a lot of challenges for many arts organizations, that you have to rethink and kind of—I don’t want to say rethink, kind of re-imagine how you move forward. One of the things I understand and definitely know is, when you are with an organization that celebrates 50 years—five zero, 50 years!—there’s a reason why we’ve maintained for so long. And part of that is our mission statement of bringing the highest quality of dance to our audiences near and far, to continue to have the best training at our fingertips, to continue to educate our community here and at large. And those things are something that you continually work at to maintain. Dancers come and go, but the root of excellence that we maintain here and that we look for in our artists, that never waivers. And so the next generation prepares it for the next group that’s coming in. But the dancers we have here are so strong and resilient.

So looking forward, because we were already on a mission of presenting four beautiful works with four amazing choreographers that didn’t get to happen when it was supposed to happen—but we’re still looking ahead to the future for those things happening. We’re celebrating 20 years with the Kimmel Center, and they have been right there behind us, supporting us through all of this. And so it’s looking at, how do we then step back into this “pause” moment where we were, so that those things that we want to present, those things that we want to continue to talk about and express as a major contemporary company, those things still come to light and still stay at this point of excellence.

We’ve done some things under this pandemic with some of our dancers, of course following all the guidelines. We’ve done lectures and conversations with universities. I still get many emails from dancers who are saying, “When you’re ready and you’re open and you have auditions, I’m ready to come. So just keep me glued on what that is.”

So, I know I went around the world to say: It’s a continuum. That’s part of my mission as being part of the succession. You don’t come in and totally do an abrupt change when something has worked. You maintain what has worked and you bring new energies and new ideas to the table. I come to the table with a collective, by no means am I going to do this by myself. There’s an artistic team. Debora Chase-Hicks, who has been the rehearsal director and coach—it doesn’t work without her. We can’t get to that place on the stage without her. Marlisa Brown-Swint as part of the artistic team—it doesn’t work without all of those elements coming together. And so, again, what I do want to offer is that Ms. Brown gets to take that step back and watch. And still have her hands in from a distance, but at the same token she doesn’t work 24/7. I want her to see that what she has indeed nurtured is working the way she envisioned it to work.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And paying full respect to the fact that you are continuing a legacy and that you’re not working alone. And that it’s early yet, just starting down this path…

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Absolutely.

Margaret Fuhrer:
But what would you say are some of your own hopes and goals for the company? You mentioned new ideas, new perspective—what are you hoping for, both bigger and smaller picture, in this new role?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Well, being here 40 years, I’ve seen so many transitions. And when I say artistic, again, I have to go back to the product of why we all work so hard, and that’s the company. Having danced with the company for 20 years and knowing the ins and outs of what the dancers really need so that they get to do exactly what they’re here to do, and that’s to be excellent in their craft. That’s where… And Ms. Brown, of course, has always fought for all of that, like having financial security so that these dancers know that they have a place that they can call home if they want to call it home for the next 40 years. Continuing the fight for Philadelphia to really recognize that national treasure that they have here. I’ve been on tour with the company where we sell out before we even get to New York City, or before we even get to Germany. And we come home and there are empty seats in the theater. And I know Ms. Brown used to say it’s like the Liberty Bell syndrome: “Oh, it’s there, we’ll see it.” Well, I really want in her lifetime to see that kind of recognition and support as a continuum in full range, from finances to seeing us on many billboards, not just one or two, but just being able to see your own home recognize you that way.

Also, I’m putting my ears and my eyes in the pulse of what’s happening out there. And looking at choreographers that will come in and infuse a newness on top of what Philadanco already possesses to figure out what that looks like in the continuum. Looking at dancers, and who out there is going to bring that new energy to something that already has a foundation to it. So I want to be ahead of the game, even more so in that regard of being able to see, and hear and listen the way Ms. Brown does 24/7. And so now my senses have to elevate so that we can bring in the newness that’s out here now, but also maintain the historic presence that Philadanco has done for so many years.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but are there any choreographers that you’re willing to talk about who are on your dream list, who might speak to the Philadanco legacy, but also take it in a new direction?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Ooo. I think I’m going to plead the fifth on that. Because, once you speak it… [laughs] And sometimes you don’t want them to see you coming. Because you want to be on that back end watching and observing, and I think that’s the beauty of what Aunt Joan does. We had a concert that featured alums of Philadanco’s success stories. And I was on the receiving end of that phone call where Ms. Brown called and said, “Hey, I would love for you to create a work for our success stories production.” And then literally being speechless like, “Really, like me? You want to showcase me?” And I think that’s beautiful, that they know that she never stops watching. That she’s always looking to elevate the artists.

And so, as I am, again, new in this position, I have sat down with my artistic team and we have jotted down some names and are looking at possibilities. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because we are already two, three years into conversations with choreographers that we know that we want to bring in. And a lot of them are people that have already been here and created work that are coming into newness of their own, that we want to be, as we have been, that hub for them to bring that creativity to Philadanco. And so I don’t want to be remiss in that those that we have celebrated over the past few years, we want to continue to celebrate them. And we already have two new choreographers that we’re bringing on board, BaKari Lindsay out of Canada and Katherine Spitz out of Washington DC. And so that’s already opening doors to the newness of what’s out there.

Margaret Fuhrer:
As you’ve touched on already, Philadanco has from its inception played this critical role in presenting and preserving Black dance traditions. I mean, for decades you’ve been doing this work. Can you talk a little about what that work means to you both as an artist and just from a human perspective, as a person?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Oh, absolutely. Like I said before, not only standing on Joan Myers Brown’s shoulders, but we stand on the shoulders of those who have paved the way for us to be able to do what it is we do—in some ways, so freely, but yet still so far to come. Choreographers like Talley Beatty and Pearl Primus, that their work has come out of a need to make change, and social justice, and to bring light to the inequities that Black dancers and artists have endured for so long. And so it’s their blood, sweat and tears, that they have worked so hard to not only entertain the audience, but also educate them. And so we have a responsibility to be able to carry that legacy on. And it’s wonderful that they saw the need to find Philadanco to be that home. And I know it’s because of Joan Myers Brown’s commitment to preserving the rich legacy of these works, that call for change and that we want to not forget.

And so we have been that hub. Talley Beatty did Southern Landscape, which he created in 1947, talking about the Reconstruction era. And timing is of the essence in terms of, when do you present these works so they really set that tone and really resonate with your audience and entertain as well? We are committed to maintaining that, being able to perform those works. And it hits your spirit in a way that nothing else can.

I was fortunate enough to be the repository of Pearl Primus’ The Negro Speaks Of Rivers and Strange Fruit. She was the only one to perform it from 1944 until 1988, when the American Dance Festival did the reconstruction concert, where again, [Primus] was watching and chose Philadanco to be that repository of that work. That speaks volumes, when a choreographer spends their life presenting works to make change, and then puts that in the hands of a young dancer. Strange Fruit dealt with a lynching, something that I’ve never experienced in my life, but having to understand what that meant for her to step out and present a work like that, to talk about these issues that were destructive in her time and can still be in some places.

And so the fact that we have maintained that speaks to the integrity, and the commitment, and the demand to never forget, and to celebrate these artists that have opened doors for us to continue to do the work that we do and know that the journey isn’t finished, that we must continue to fight like they fought, we must continue to celebrate our riches and also speak to things that just still aren’t right.

And so, yeah, it’s been a wonderful journey to be able to be part of the repository that continues these works in terms of resetting them, remounting them. I have a great responsibility for these artists who are no longer with us, to bring them into the space with the dancers, to talk about what it was like to be in the studio with Pearl Primus, or Talley Beatty, or Gene Hill Saigon, or Louis Johnson—these amazing artists that fought hard, but brought so much beauty to the concert stage at the same time.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Kim, thank you again so much for sharing all these insights with us. And before we say goodbye I want to ask you, are there upcoming Philadanco projects or events that you’d like to highlight, to make sure that we don’t miss?

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Okay. So again, it’s challenging in this pandemic. All of our touring from 2020 shifted to 2021, ’22. Again, working with the Kimmel Center, we are in hopes that we can present our season that was supposed to be in the spring at a later date in the spring of 2021. But until then, we want to… We’re bringing forth via Zoom, via Instagram, some lovely little tidbits of Philadanco. I don’t want to spill the beans, but I want people to look out for us! We have a new website, go to our website. And of course, anything new is always reimagining itself to be even greater. But working closely with these choreographers, we want to bring them to the forefront, get you to meet them personally on a one-on-one basis. So we’ve done some interviews with them.

We know that we have to bring the arts back to not only our community, but to the world at large, because it’s not only entertaining, it’s healing. And I know people are missing it and that’s the beauty of dance. It takes you on a journey where you don’t have to live in this pandemic emotionally 24/7. Even for that hour and a half, we can take you away. So stay tuned with us. Go on our Facebook page, and our Instagram page and our website, and continue to support ‘Danco, continue to support the arts, so that we can thrive and continue even in a pandemic.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And I just want to note the Philadanco website is at philadanco.org, we’ll link to that in our episode description. And we’ll also link all of your social pages that everyone can properly keep up.

Kim Bears-Bailey:
I’m so mad I didn’t talk about IABD, but—

Margaret Fuhrer:
We’re still recording! You can go ahead.

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Okay! So, the International Association of Blacks in Dance. Aunt Joan, Mom, Ms. Brown—all those names!—started this. This is, what? 33 years we’re getting ready to embark on, and it’s still thriving. The website is still up. We’re still out there engaging and being that hub for companies all across the globe, because we bring that conference every year. I’m looking forward to how it’s going to be reimagined come January so that we continue to keep our mission going of supporting black institutions, black companies and organizations, and organizations at large.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We’ll make sure to include links to IABD—their site and then information about their conference, as well—in the episode description, so everyone can check that out. Thank you again so much, Kim. Really appreciate you making the time.

Kim Bears-Bailey:
Thank you for the opportunity to want to hear my story, to bring Philadanco’s story again to the forefront. That means a lot. Stay well, stay safe.

[pause]

Margaret Fuhrer:
One more big thanks to Kim for her candor and her perspective and for reference and we will indeed include all these links in the episode description, but for reference, you can find Philadanco on Instagram @philadanco. On Facebook at: facebook.com/philadanco. The IABD website is: iabdassociation.org.

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right. Thanks everyone for joining us. We’ll be back next week, actually with a special holiday episode. Stay tuned. In the meantime, keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Lydia Murray:
See you next time, everyone.