Luke Ranker, Special to The Kansas City Star
In its second year, Johnson County Community College’s New Dance Partners has expanded from just two performances at the college to a month of events ranging from downtown Overland Park to the JCCC campus.
Emily Behrmann, general manager of the JCCC performing arts series, said the expanded event is designed to raise awareness about local arts while boosting the downtown economy. Throughout September, dance-related events will be held in downtown venues like the InterUrban ArtHouse, Overland Park Farmers’ Market and Local Life’s Third Fridays.
“(We) want to show people art is everywhere in the community,” she said.
Behrmann said the project would not have grown without the help of two grants. The Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission awarded New Dance Partners a grant for more than $36,000 and the National Endowment for the Arts gave another $10,000, which will be used to pay choreographers for their time and the rights to use the dance routines they teach.
The last fiscal year, which ended July 1, was the first year the arts commission awarded grants since the commission was defunded and restarted in 2012. Peter Jasso, director of the arts commission, said they gave out grants amounting to $917,639 to date, including $50,000 to the InterUrban ArtHouse. The William Inge Festival Foundation in Independence, Theatre Lawrence and the Tallgrass Film Association also received grants, among other recipients.
Jasso said after being re-established the commission had to create a strategic plan and standards for grant recipients. The commission received hundreds of applications with grants being awarded to projects that combine arts, a private business and an economic study.
“Dance is a discipline that doesn’t always get used for this purpose,” Jasso said.
Creating a connection between the arts and the economy is the commission’s primary goal, Jasso said. He said art adds to the quality of life in an area, which boosts the appeal to businesses.
Besides creating awareness for dance and other art in Overland Park,Behrmann said hosting events in the downtown area will hopefully give a boost to the local economy. As part of the project, students from JCCC will study whether downtown foot traffic increases as a result of the project.
“If we use arts to get people there and then they realize there’s a whole three blocks of businesses, that’s an even better outcome,” she said.
Nationally recognized choreographers Robert Moses, Penny Saunders and Amy Seiwert will work with Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance, Owen/Cox Dance Company and the Kansas City Ballet respectively for several weeks before performances on Sept. 26 and 27 at JCCC.
The choreographers will participate in a panel discussion on Sept. 10 at the InterUrban ArtHouse to focus on the business aspect of dance.
“Each of them is an entrepreneur and small business themselves,” Behrmann said.
The project will also benefit the dancers involved. Angel Mercier, arts education and program director at JCCC, said bringing in national choreographers gives dancers experience with a new teacher and new techniques. Working with new choreographers also gives dancers interested in a career outside the Kansas City area a chance to network.
“It gives them national exposure to companies that work all over the country and world,” Mercier said. “One (choreographer) might say, ‘I’ve got this piece and I need an extra dancer.’”
Art education will go beyond dance. On Sept. 24 and 25, area high school students are invited to sketch New Dance Partners at JCCC. Film students from JCCC will also document the rehearsals and performances for a documentary film about the creative process of dance. The film will be screened Dec. 7 at the Rio Theatre, 7204 W. 80th St.
Behrmann said she’s already begun talking to choreographers and dance companies about doing the project a third year and hopes New Dance Partners can continue to grow.
“Hopefully this will show the folks in Topeka that this is good investment in Kansas and in the people,” she said.
EventsSept. 13: Overland Park Farmers’ Market. Dancers from from Kansas City Ballet II, a program for emerging dance professionals, and dancers from a local swing dance studio, will perform. 10:30 a.m.
Sept. 19: HipHopCatwalk Aerial Plié: 7 p.m. The Strange Bedfellows of Dance. Performances at venders in the area of downtown Overland Park, including the Kansas School of Classical Ballet.
Sept. 26 and 27: Local dance studios will perform in the lobby of the Carlsen Center at 6:45 p.m., before the New Dance Partners Performing Art Series, 8 p.m., Yardley Hall, JCCC.
Dec. 7: Premiere screening, 7 p.m. at the Rio Theatre, 7204 W. 80th St., Overland Park, of a 30-minute film on the New Dance Partners’ choreography process, produced by JCCC media communications students and directed by Cara Myers of Vespera Films.
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