Starting a dance company is one thing; the Bay Area is home to hundreds. But few artists can keep a company alive, much less thriving, for a decade — that takes pluck, luck, and serious fundraising. Two nationally recognized East Bay companies, Walnut Creek's Company C Contemporary Ballet and Oakland's Paufve Dance, celebrate that milestone with shows this month. But creatively and financially, they arrived via very different routes.
"I had no idea that we'd be as successful as we have been," confessed Elizabeth Reed, Company C's executive director. Artistic Director Charles Anderson hits a sweet spot with three annual seasons of athletic modern ballet that Anderson creates, commissions from emerging artists, or stages from the repertoires of choreographers like Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor. This week, Company C performs duets and ensembles by Anderson and three others, with music by Tom Waits, Kronos Quartet, and Jack Hylton & His Orchestra.
To fund such high-caliber performance, plus salaries for thirteen dancers, Reed writes grant after grant. It's a task akin to blindfolded archery. "It changes all the time," she said. "Over the last ten years, sources of funding that started out strong have gradually been replaced; foundations have dropped off the map." But the audience gives as much as it gets, and individual donors have been as vital as grants, hard work, and talent in bringing the company to the cusp of its second decade.
Randee Paufve has her cart and horse in another order. "I start small, just myself in the studio. Once the idea starts to gel, I think, okay, I need to go after some money," she said. About two years later, she is ready to stage one of her intimate contemporary dances. Next week she premieres So I Married Abraham Lincoln, an evening-length theater-dance exploration of the fractured feminine self inspired by Mary Todd Lincoln, which she created in collaboration with Shotgun Players' Liz Lisle, composer Heather Heise, and others.
Paufve would love to expand and present more shows, but without a development staff, time spent raising funds is time stolen from creating. "How do I bridge that gap administratively, so that I can be the artist I want to be?" A loyal and generous audience has been equally essential to her, as has an artistic residency at Berkeley's Shawl-Anderson Dance Center.
The last ten years have seen a dot-com bust, a real-estate roller-coaster, and a Great Recession, but "I'm not convinced that it's actually worse now than it's ever been," Paufve said. "It's always been hard." Maybe so, but all the audience sees is the beauty of dance.
Company C performs its latest work on Friday, January 20, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, January 21, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Lesher Center for the Arts (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek). $23-$45. 925-943-7649 or CompanyCBallet.org.
Paufve Dance performs So I Married Abraham Lincoln on Friday and Saturday, January 27-28, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 29, at 7 p.m. at Dance Mission Theater (3316 24th St., San Francisco). $15-$18. 415-826-4441 or PaufveDance.org.