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Shop Talk

Interview with Chop Shop founder and director Eva Stone

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

31 December 2012

In a warm café in a seaside town north of Seattle, we sat down on the last day of 2012 to chat and hear about Chop Shop, one of the region’s most exciting modern dance festivals from its founding director and guiding light, Eva Stone.

Tell us about the Genesis of Chop Shop.

I had been an instructor of modern dance and choreography at the Washington Academy of Performing Arts and at the International School of Classical Ballet in Kirkland (WA) for many years and have found, since coming to Seattle in 1995, that the modern dance community is polarized into two, basic camps – more “traditional” ballet of PNB and those dance works that were on the cutting edge, but nothing in between. I am inspired by artists like Mark Morris, Trisha Brown, Kylian and find my choreographic aesthetic somewhere in the middle of the classical and cutting edge.

In 2008, a free date was available at the Meydenbauer Theatre in Bellevue [Bellevue is a city east of Seattle, across Lake Washington], and initially said “no” to this opening but tossed it around for two or three days and finally said “yes” to presenting. I had a small pick-up company and started calling other artists whose work was not being seen on the Eastside and put on one Sunday show. I was thrilled that not only did we break even – I had promised my husband we would – we made a profit of $50! This was my first attempt at self-producing.

What are some of your objectives?

My point of view is that I’m less concerned with who is dancing and more about what is being danced. The general public has no idea what dancers and choreographers do within the creative stages of making dances or about the process. I designed Chop Shop to act as a window into modern dance for those who may only be familiar with dance as a presentation rather than a creative process.

I’m lucky to have found the perfect partnership with Stephen Elliot, Theater Manager at the Meydenbauer Center and Shelley Brittingham from the City of Bellevue. We came up with the Chop Shop formula: (1) present outstanding choreography (2) bring in new audiences to contemporary dance through education, experience and performance and (3) give local dancers/choreographers another way of seeing, presenting and participating in more stylistically inclusive festival rather than the polarized perspective.

The Eastside was ripe for the picking because there was no modern dance being shown there and I was excited to the chance to bring modern dance to an exciting, growing Eastside arts community.

I created a free series of community outreach programs called the “Experience Dance Project.” One of the programs is called “Reading Dance” where I break down the process of how to look at a dance work , how to cull the information from the printed program to the basics of what modern dance movement can mean to the viewer. Secondly, I offer free introductory modern dance classes to those who may have never stepped inside a studio before. Chop Shop also offers master classes by the artistic directors of the performing companies during the day. I enjoy bridging the gap between audiences and performers in a way that is unique, accessible and inclusive. I’m excited about the diverse group of artists for this year's program

How do you choose? I imagine you get a lot of DVDs tossed in your direction...

In the past, I put out a call to artists and started to get responses from a wide array of local, regional and international artists. I have decided, for the most part, to focus on local and regional artists (Canada included). I want strongly choreographed, well-crafted and accessible work. With a small but miraculous budget, it’s my opinion that the guest artists are not paid what they are worth, but it’s nice [for Seattle/regional choreographers] to get differing perspectives.

I’m curious about your own background.

As a kid, I danced around the house in Phoenix and listened to a lot of music. I spent two very unmonitored years ice skating. A wonderful teacher in high school was an Arizona State University graduate of dance and taught us choreography [not technique] and some basics such as positions of the feet and how to swing [a side-to-side movement through second position common to fundamental modern dance]. I really did not have a movement language or vocabulary – except what I self created. Never the less, I made up dances and, in my senior year, almost had a piece purchased by Desert Dance Theatre. This gave me confidence that I might have a choreographic gift.

I went to ASU and worked my tail off – through ballet and through some very smart instructors, and I began to grasp movement texture and dynamics. The program was really great, filled with many guest teachers and visiting artists from all over the world. I danced hard all four years including summers – I went to SUNY-Purchase, UC-Irvine, attended a choreographic workshop at Harvard – with David Gordon and Wendy Perron.

While very impressed with the many companies and dancers that I saw in the theater, such as Bejart’s and Paul Taylor’s companies, it wasn’t until I saw Mark Morris Dance Group that I “saw me” and finally felt included.

I spent some time in small companies in the Boston, MA area and Los Angeles, married an Englishman and lived in London for three years where I was very fortunate to complete an MA at the Laban Centre where I was exposed to European choreographers like Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and much of the European scene. It was a wonderful and very influential time period.

How would you like to see Chop Shop in the future? Plans?

I would like to take Chop Shop on tour – regionally to Edmonds, Tacoma, and Portland. One weekend per year is enough. Everything feels just right and I don’t need to have it be bigger.

One dream would be to have an evening where all of the Chop Shop artists are from one geographic location such as all from New York or Portland or Vancouver, B.C.

Concluding thoughts?

I want to continue to support Seattle/Eastside dance artists. I’m very grateful that Chop Shop is completely funded by King County 4 Culture, the NEA [via Washington State Arts Commission], and the Bellevue Arts Commission.

I love it!

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