BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT
Jessica Perino and Anne Bartlett are the artistic directors of 20 Moons Dance Theatre. Based in Durango, Colorado—a town of 17,000—the company offers a contemporary and explorative approach to dance-making. This interview is part of Where Dance Is, a series of interviews with dance artists working in rural places.
How did you come to live and work in Durango?
Jessica: Anne and I are both natives of Durango. After growing up here, we both went out into the world and lived in a variety of places. And then we both found ourselves back here. For me, I’m called to this magical landscape. I’m called to be here with my family and with my love, who stayed here while I went out and about.
When I performed and made work in larger cities, I started to notice the difference between creating and sharing work for strangers versus a community of people I’ve known my whole life. It’s such a wonderful experience to share your work with those you love. I feel like I’m crafting a gift for people who are dear to me.
Anne: It means a lot to me to live near my family and this specific environment and landscape. Working in a small town is rewarding because, like Jessica said, it’s nice to share your work with an audience you know, and also to create new networks. As we make our work, we’re making bonds and finding new intersections in our community. That makes our work very specific to this community and what informs the people who live here.
What is your current dance practice?
Jessica: I spend a lot of time teaching; I teach 10 to 20 dance classes a week at a local studio. Then, through 20 Moons, we offer something beyond traditional technique classes. We offer workshops that are more explorative and interpersonal, and include lots of improvisation.
We rehearse as a company when we have performances, which can be tricky with jobs and families. We’ve been doing one major production a year, in addition to smaller performances called the Outlet Series, which are site-inspired structured improvisations. Some are more formal and others casual, and these are sprinkled throughout the year.
Anne: After getting my MFA in dance, I certified in movement analysis through the Integrated Movement Studies program. Now, I primarily teach yoga with the influence of movement analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals. I also co-teach 20 Moons classes and workshops with Jessica, and on and off I do movement therapy in a private practice with clients.
20 Moons is a bridge between the worlds of dance, theater and somatic exploration. A lot of our work is both personal and universal. Our practice as a company revolves around how to get at the shared human story and make it something that can be performed and discussed.
How would you describe the general dance scene in Durango?
Anne: 20 Moons offers a unique niche here. There’s no other regional or local dance company right now, though there has been on and off. There are other groups that do performing arts, but we’re the only ones creating original evening-length dance-theater collaborations right now.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to practicing dance in Durango?
Jessica: While there are fewer resources here for performing artists, there’s also less competition for those resources, so I’m never quite sure if it’s an advantage or a disadvantage, because I think it all balances out. What we do have is our growing network; we are able to make very deep and lasting connections with people because we live in a smaller community. People are willing to show up because they have a personal relationship with us.
Anne: When I was growing up here, Durango was considered backwater in terms of what people were culturally exposed to. Even now, exposure to contemporary performance art is less common. Is that a drawback or a benefit? On the one hand, it requires a lot of education what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it. On the other hand, it’s awesome that we get to educate people on a performance art they might not otherwise experience.
Sometimes we’d like more peers to be able to share ideas with in a deeper way. And yet, when we look across disciplines and seek collaborations with visual artists, musicians and poets, we find peers who are experimenting and pushing their own edges. That’s exciting to have the opportunity to come together as a pool of artists.
How do you keep yourself fed artistically?
Jessica: I love to travel somewhere and take a workshop or watch a show, and then take what I gleaned from that experience and share it. I also spend a lot of time researching online. When I feel like I need inspiration and can’t travel, I scour the internet until I find some inspiration. I’m grateful to be alive right now because it makes making art in a small town less isolated.
Anne: When I really need to be fed, I look for some kind of experience. I trust my intuition when it’s needed and when it’s a distraction.
What do you perceive your influence has been on your local community?
Jessica: Our hope is to bring our audience and community into our world by offering them an experience they maybe hadn’t had before, and opening them up to ways of viewing they may not have considered. After most of our shows, we invite our audience to stay for a discussion. We hear a lot in the responses how audience members hadn’t considered a perspective in a certain way before. We’re so excited when that happens.
Anne: The only way we can have that answer is through the responses of our audience. We have audience members who come to every performance and can’t wait for the next show. They comment on how much it affects them personally to see what we do, and how it’s interesting and different than what they’ve seen before. That’s really gratifying.
We also have audience members who tell us our shows make them uncomfortable. But they keep coming back because they recognize it’s important, even if it’s not always comfortable. If we can have a relationship with an audience where we invite them to explore their edges without scaring them off, that’s all I could ever ask for.
Any other thoughts?
Jessica: Art is art wherever you make it. It’s viable whether it’s being presented in a big city or on a mountain top. I do believe art, and dance, is wherever you make it.
To learn more, visit www.20moons.com.