A look at the world of dance through the lens of contemporary female choreographers working in very different styles: Pam Tanowitz, Ashley Bouder, and Camille A. Brown. Then a visit to Bush-Holley House in Greenwich, CT, guided by Debra Mecky, executive director of the Greenwich Historical Society.

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[upbeat music] - [Paula] Coming up on ''NYC-Arts'', a look at the world of dance through the lens of three distinctive female choreographers who have been stepping up to take the lead.

- When I'm working in my company, and we're generating movement, I align myself very much with what social dance is in terms of the structure and then the individual creativity.

So it's not just enough for me to have a phrase and teach it to them, the phrase has to come alive based on the choices of the individual.

- [Paula] And we'll visit the Bush-Holley House in Greenwich, Connecticut, the meeting place of the Cos Cob art colony which flourished here in the early 20th century.

- The Bush-Holley house today portrays two stories in its history.

The house began life as a home for prosperous merchants in the 18th century, and then gained recognition later as a boarding house for American artists and writers.

- [Announcer] Funding for ''NYC-Arts'' is made possible by Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Louis Sonny Turner Fund for Dance, Jody and John Arnhold, Rosalind P. Walter, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Charles and Valerie Diker, the Nancy Sidewater Foundation, Elroy and Terry Krumholz Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation and Ellen and James S Marcus.

This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by Members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Female Announcer] First Republic bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step, recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree: be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Announcer] And by Swan Auction Galleries.

- [Narrator] Swan Auction Galleries.

We have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941.

Working to combine knowledge with accessibility, whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer, or looking to sell information@swanngalleries.com.

[dramatic music] - Good evening and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn.

From it's beginnings over 100 years ago, American modern dance was greatly influenced by such notable women as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Martha Graham, pioneers whose works are still being performed today.

Their art was largely a rejection of the formal structure of ballet and its subject matter, which was and still is dominated by men.

Although live dance performances have been a rarity since the pandemic, tonight we'll look at the work of three contemporary female choreographers who have been taking the lead in this art form and whose work we hope to see on stage again soon.

Ashley Bouder, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, she recently formed her own company, the Ashley Bouder Project to give women and minorities a chance to create new works.

Pam Tanowitz is a postmodern choreographer whose journey from an emerging dance maker to internationally acclaimed artist was neither fast, nor easy.

The choreography of Camille A. Brown is based on social dance and has been seen on Broadway and on television.

But her concert dance is infused with activism and storytelling.

- I started choreographing my junior year at Ohio State University, and it was something that I sort of fell into in a class.

And I realized that I liked making things more than being in the things.

I loved performing, but there was something about solving problems that was interesting to me.

I worked in New York for over 20 years before I got any sort of recognition.

I'm actually thankful for the fact that I didn't get that much attention in the early chunk of my career, because I was able to concentrate on the actual making of dance instead of worrying about other things.

I always had a day job to have money for that purpose as well.

So I always worked full time and choreographed, up until just two years ago.

I've been lucky to have gotten a bunch of different grants in the past couple of years.

I got the Baryshnikov Art Center Cage Cunningham Awards.

That obviously was a huge help.

It's hard.

You have to be scrappy.

You have to be imaginative.

You have to be creative.

It's very hard to, you want to focus on your dance, but you also can't ignore that you have to put some time into the business aspect of it.

Dancers play a very dignified role in my work.

So when I work with a dancer, I have to fall in love with them basically.

It's not only about technique.

I also have to like them and love them as people because you spend way more time in the studio than you do performing.

And I don't really have auditions.

I've had one or two in my life, but I usually see a dancer at a show, and I'll fall in love with them.

You know, seeing them in another person's work or just meeting them.

I actually hired somebody who I just liked talking to.

I love collaborating with them.

I plan out a bunch of things, but the more planned you are, the more you can go off your plan.

I love accidents.

And I actually incorporate a lot of things that are mistakes that are way more interesting, I think, than what I originally thought of.

So I love to make space for all that.

Unison, shoulder steps.

That's what I'll call it.

And a lot of my work is my steps and my vision, but there's a lot of freedom in that, and they infuse it with themselves.

So a lot of times when you look at my dances, the dancers look different.

So the approach to the movement is the same, but the actual execution of it is different.

And that's interesting to me.

Modern dance was founded by women.

You know, it's Isadora.

It's Martha.

It's Doris Humphrey, and ballet, it's always been men in charge, like Balanchine.

You don't just get a choreographer.

Like you don't just get a Justin Peck or Christopher Wheeldon.

They were cultivated.

They had chances to experiment, you know?

And so what happens sometimes I think is that when people say, where are the women ballet choreographers?

Where, and then they go, then they hire a bunch, and then the work is not as deep or as, or for, you know, but it was that choreographer's like second dance.

How is it gonna be?

[upbeat music] The Goldberg Variations had to be all about the music.

So the piano had to be in the middle of stage because that's what the whole piece was going to be about.

I knew the piano could not be like every other piano ballet, downstage right or downstage left.

Jerry Robins did that.

I don't need to do that.

What am I going to say that's different?

In the Goldberg Variations, the dancers not only relate to each other, but they relate to Simona.

She's there, and in rehearsal, thought it was weird if they didn't look at her.

They had to acknowledge her.

So I tried to figure out sort of nuanced, subtle ways for them to acknowledge her in the beginning.

And then there is one point where a dancer sits next to her.

It's really all about making the work.

If you really want to make a good dance, that's what you have to do is focus on the work and what you want to say.

And it's hard to make something from nothing.

So you have to be really hell bent on doing it because it's hard.

- In 2015, New York City Ballet had a fall gala.

And our fall gala always has several new choreographers on the program, and they put a poster out on the front of our theater, a black and white poster of the head shots of all the choreographers.

And they looked identical.

They were all white men.

And up until that point, I hadn't really thought about that.

But there, it was literally staring you in the face.

All these white men, making new ballets, not one of them didn't deserve to be there, but at the same time, I thought, where are the women?

This is a world issue.

But as I thought about it and thought about the world of ballet and the world in general, I thought there was a statement that I could make with my project, something that meant something to me and could be more meaningful in the ballet world.

And that is promoting women and inclusion in my choices.

So I started hiring a bunch of female choreographers, only female composers, and went from there.

For 'Symphony Space,' I wanted to first create my own ballet, and I wanted to choreograph.

You do just want to play diagonal if you start back.

Like on that line.

I used all New York City Ballet dancers for 'In Pursuit of,' and I take company class every day.

So basically I looked around class and, you know, everybody has their favorite dancers, and the people they think are talented.

And I approached the people that I wanted to work with.

[upbeat music] The ballet was in four movements, and each one was based on a different kind of nationality and national dance.

So the first movement was called 'Warrior' and was based on Maasai jumping dances.

The second movement was based on the Polish Mazurka.

So we incorporated a skirt that when they turned, it didn't flare out at the ends.

It was kind of like a teacup and the third movement was Sufi dancing, which is whirling dervishes.

We tried to never have them stop turning in the Pas de Deux, which was kind of fun to do for eight minutes.

And then the fourth movement was called 'Freedom,' and it's based on, you know, American contemporary dance.

I wanted to be choreographed on also and wanted to step out of my comfort zone.

So I chose to approach the modern choreographer, Liz Gerring, who has her own company and asked her if she would do a duet for me with a friend, Sara Mearns.

Sara and I have been dressing roommates for many years now at New York City Ballet, and we rarely ever share the stage.

At first, Sara and I really, we just were laughing in rehearsal because we couldn't get grounded like a modern dancer.

We couldn't stop pointing our toes or take our focus down.

And we had a lot of, a lot of laughs with Liz because she, she kept telling us, you're performing to the balcony.

She said in modern dance, we don't dance for houses that big.

And we did have sore quad muscles for the first few weeks working on that.

But the challenge of doing that, I found awesome.

To step outside of my pointe shoes and tutus and really get down in the ground and feel a different form of dance.

Because, you know, as a ballet dancer, you kind of get this snobby attitude of, well, this is the most difficult type of dance, you know, not everybody can do ballet, and yeah, that's true.

Not everybody can do ballet, but I found it extremely difficult to do modern.

And I don't think everybody can do that either.

For any choreographer, it's important to be cultivated by many sources, to have a mentor, to have the opportunity to succeed and to fail.

- Well, I believe social dance is an art form.

So the definition or my definition is basically something that happens in a community where people are social.

So when I'm teaching, I usually break up the phrase social dance, and I ask people, well, what does it mean to be social?

Oh, it means to interact with each other, and then you put dance.

So you're working so the individuals come together and they create a community.

But if you look, everyone has their own individual take on that.

And that's what social dance is.

It places us in a moment.

It helps us express ourselves, resist in a lot of cases.

And to communicate when words can't be said or words aren't enough.

So when I'm working in my company, and we're generating movement, it is very much, I align myself very much with what social dance is in terms of a structure and then the individual creativity.

So it's not just enough for me to have a phrase and teach it to them.

The phrase has to come alive based on the choices of the individual.

And it's organic.

And a lot of times when I'm coming in the studio, I have an idea, but I'm also letting myself be okay with not always knowing and discovering.

And I think that's for me, even though it's challenging, and it's scary, in my process, the unknown, there's a danger, but that's how you find your material.

My work is for everyone, but it's for the Black community.

And there are things that happen within the Black community that people outside of the community don't necessarily understand.

And I'm okay with that.

'Black Girl,' I had a duality kind of going on.

I wanted it to be culturally specific, but I also wanted to talk about universal themes.

So anyone who was not Black or not a girl could look and go, oh, I see my childhood or, okay, I had a sister.

I'm a mother.

I can connect.

I was watching one of the live musicals and going, wow, it would really be great to choreograph for that.

That's not going to happen anytime soon.

I don't have that experience.

And I freaked out.

In the beginning when I got the call, they were basically offering me the job.

David Lowe, who is the Director for 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' he had a very powerful, real, raw vision.

He wanted a deconstructed kind of version of taking a table apart.

And one of the things I thought was, well, what if the tables and the chairs just started moving and spinning and going different ways.

We were saying that it's bolts of energy that have to pierce through the screen because this is different.

Whereas where in live theater, you're feeling it.

You're feeling the emotion.

Sometimes you're getting the sweat in your eye.

You know, I mean, it's right there with you, but because it's television, we have to be aware that our presence needs to be more expansive than ever.

What's next is I am trying to figure out how to balance a career in concert dance and also musical theater.

I'm also interested in directing and choreographing in musical theater.

So we're going to lift that up into the space and hopefully that comes down with some opportunities for that.

For me, it's about the opportunities, definitely, but it's also about the growth.

And if I'm growing, I can't ask for anything else.

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[upbeat music] Now we'll travel to the Bush-Holley House in Greenwich, Connecticut, about an hour north of New York city.

This stately colonial building is only one of a few remaining in Greenwich from the early decades of the 18th century.

This historic site is the centerpiece of the Greenwich Historical Society, which has documented the town's passage from a colonial new England settlement into an affluent suburb.

In maintaining the house for visitors, the society has preserved the meeting place of the Cos Cob Art Colony which flourished here in the early 20th century.

You can enjoy a tour of the house by advance appointment.

[upbeat piano music] - The Bush-Holley House today portrays two stories in its history.

The house began life as a home for prosperous merchants in the 18th century, and then gained recognition later as a boarding house for American artists and writers.

Today, it's a national historic landmark and one of 18 sites on the Connecticut art trail.

Since acquiring Bush-Holley House in 1957, the historical society expanded the site by building an archive and research library to house some wonderful collections of Greenwich history, and then transformed a barn into an education center.

The storehouse and post office, which sits next door, was adopted as the exhibition gallery for changing exhibitions on history and art.

The Bush story begins with David Bush, who came here with his wife to build a tide-operated gristmill.

He also improved the Harbor so that ships could come right up to the docks.

And this made the lower landing, a really wonderful commercial enterprise for him.

He was a very wealthy man.

And I think you can see that in Bush-Holley House.

A scrap of the wallpaper has the British tax stamp on the back and reminds us of one of the causes of the American revolution.

One sign of David's extraordinary wealth was the enslaved people who lived here, the African Americans, and there's one room in the house that portrays the kind of ways in which slaves lived in the 18th century, particularly in new England, where they tended to be housed in attics and cellars of the main mansion houses.

The story of the Holleys begins in many ways with the railroad coming to Greenwich in 1848.

It began to bring residents up from New York for summertime activities.

So the Holleys saw an opportunity to take on Bush-Holley house as a boarding house.

It was known as the old house.

The artists and writers who came here self-identified as the Cos Cub Art Colony.

This was Connecticut's first art colony, particularly known for its innovative and experimental style.

That tone was set by John Henry Twachtman, the American impressionist artist who was the first to come here and teach summer classes in 1892.

He was followed by J. Alden Weir and Theodore Robinson who had known Claude Monet.

They came here really helping to translate French impressionism into an American idiom.

The life of the artists was to go out during the daytime and do their paintings, and then gather back in the late afternoon.

Twachtman would often say, 'Don't paint what you see, paint, what you feel.'

Another of the artists that came here was Childe Hassam who stayed here off and on over a 20-year period.

Now the room's in Bush-Holley house cost from $8 to $20 to rent for the week.

And the best bedroom was the $20 room, the one where Childe Hassam would stay with his wife Maude.

You can see handing there an etching that he made of the federal mantelpiece with a woman clad in kimono.

Some of the most extraordinary things that you can see in Bush-Holley house today are a set of etchings that he made, almost 30 of them, when he was here in 1915.

One of them, 'In the Dutch Door' shows a woman standing in front of the Dutch doors at Bush-Holley house, and you can feel almost a sense of the summer inviting you out into the outside.

I'm standing in a room, which was an art studio.

It became the permanent studio of Elmer McCray.

He was a young student who came here in 1896.

He fell in love with the Holley's daughter, Constant, and married her in 1900.

He would often give exhibitions in this studio that attracted hundreds of people and his exhibitions would be critiqued in the New York papers.

McCray painted the extraordinary picture of his twin daughter, Constant, feeding the ducks, which hangs in the hallway of Bush-Holley house.

1912, when that painting was done is kind of an important year because at the same time, Elmer McCray was one of the early organizers of the international exhibition of art in New York in 1913, known as the Armory Show.

That show was significant in that it introduced European modernists to the vast American public for the first time.

It also had a huge impact on the Cos Cop artists.

And you can see that in a painting hanging in McCray's studio of Gateshead on Martha's vineyard, which shows him really trying to understand a new way to translate into sea landscape.

He began creating more decorative works of art, such as the painting of the irises.

One of the paintings hanging in the hallway is of Clarissa.

She was painted in 1912 by Childe Hassam.

The bookcase is still there as well as the hallway and a stair.

Bush-Holley house is a wonderful 18th century house.

It has so much character that comes from its early history in the 1830s, but what's probably most extraordinary is to come here and see the art on the wall from the artists at the turn of the 20th century, who fell in love with this house and this village.

[upbeat piano music] [upbeat music] - I hope you've enjoyed our program this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn.

Thank you so much for watching.

Have a good night [upbeat classical music] - Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

- I love being here with you too, Paula.

- Where are we?

- We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

- Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

- Classical and modern dance are extremely different.

And I have so much more to learn before I can really articulate the differences - And when I listened to Yip Harburg's lyrics in that, I suddenly thought that's what I want to do with my life.

- My pictures reside in very intimate, very private moments.

- My primary way of playing the piano is by improvising.

- You are in some respects on sacred ground.

- A woman came to see me perform and said, how would you like to play Billy Holiday?

- I think one of the essential things that we learned is that Matisse used pens to compose his work.

- You always are surprised when you're in opera, and you're doing a piece that's a hundred years ago, and you think, oh my gosh, this could be now.

- The cardboard guitar is the very first, of that moment of realization.

- And suddenly you've come and present something, and you get applause, great, you know?

[upbeat classical music] [upbeat music] - [Announcer] Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Lewis Sonny Turner Fund for Dance, Jody and John Arnhold, Rosalind P. Walter, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Charles and Valerie Diker, the Nancy Sidewater Foundation, Elroy and Terry Krumholz Foundation, the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, and Ellen and James S Marcus.

This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by Members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Female Announcer] First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority.

the clients who walk through our doors, the first step, recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree, be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Announcer] And by Swan Auction Galleries.

- [Female Announcer] Swan Auction Galleries, we have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941.

Working to combine knowledge with accessibility, whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer, or looking to sell, information@swanngalleries.com.