about big dance

Founded in 1991, Big Dance Theater is known for its inspired use of dance, music, text and visual design. The company often works with wildly incongruent source material, weaving and braiding disparate strands into multi-dimensional performance. Led by Artistic Director Annie-B Parson, Big Dance has delved into the literary work of such authors as Twain, Tanizaki, Wellman, Euripides and Flaubert, and dance is used as both frame and metaphor to theatricalize these writings.

“A boldly arranged marriage of dance and theater that is equal parts classical and contemporary text, deft music-theater composition, gifted ensemble and inspired design. A constantly startling body of work.”
– 2002 Bessie Award

For more than 25 years, Big Dance Theater has worked to create over 20 dance/theater works, generating each piece over months of collaboration with its associate artists, a long-standing, ever-evolving group of actors, dancers, composers and designers. Big Dance Theater received New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards in 2002 and 2010; the company was awarded an OBIE in 2000 and BDT company members have received 5 other “Bessie” Awards and an OBIE award for their work with Big Dance. In 2007 the company received the first-ever Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award.

Big Dance Theater has been presented around the world including France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Brazil and Germany and in the USA in venues including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theater Workshop, The Kitchen, City Center, The Performing Garage, New York Live Arts, The Chocolate Factory, Classic Stage Company, Japan Society, Under the Radar, American Realness, PS122’s COIL Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Walker Art Center, Yerba Buena, On the Boards, UCLA Live, ICA Boston, American Dance Institute (ADI), Fusebox Festival/Austin, CounterCurrent Festival/Houston, and Spoleto Festival USA. Recent commissions have been from Les Subsistances in Lyon, Chaillot Theatre National in Paris, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Walker Art Center, Carolina Performing Arts, and the Old Vic/London.

Additionally, in 2013-2014, the artistic directors and design team were invited to create a commission featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, and under the Big Dance Theater creative umbrella in partnership with Baryshnikov Productions, Man in a Case toured nationally to Hartford Stage, Shakespeare Theater in D.C., Berkeley Repertory Theater, the Broad Stage in L.A., ArtsEmerson/Boston, and the MCA/Chicago.

values statement

“Your declarations don’t really mean anything to me.” Resmaa Menakem

Big Dance is engaged in a period of deep reflection in order to find ways to de-center our whiteness and actively involve ourselves as a company in anti-racist work. We recognize that from our inception, we have benefited by being a largely white-run institution in a structurally racist world. We recognize that we have benefitted by simply being white our whole lives. 

 Our internal working group is facing this full-on; we are asking a multitude of questions. We want this up-ending to be dynamic and inquiry-based, and to have the depth and sustained rigor of an artistic practice. And like an artistic inquiry, we don’t know the answers or outcome going into it; we know almost nothing. We do know we will make mistakes; error is part of the process that we understand best. But our perceptual attention is wide and open, limited by our own biases, but interrogating these biases as honestly as we can, with help and training from outside sources. 

Our practice in dance-making works to continually challenge orthodoxies in dance and theater. We have studied, embraced, reimagined, and thrown over predominant narratives in the dance and theater culture. And from the administrative side, we have rejected the capitalist notion that bigger is better, holding onto a small model, intentionally limiting our growth, while working to equitably raise artist fees.  But now we see that we had always operated within this given of a white model of success, only rejecting what we could perceive as morally unfair within a limited scope. We are belatedly learning how we have added to and benefited from this structural unfairness and suffering. We have operated in a culture of scarcity rather than generosity. We have competed in an uneven playing field where white opportunity hoarding is rife and blind. We will experiment with ways to create lasting change within our purview, using what we have learned in our artistic practice as we find our own way. It doesn’t exist yet.

Along with reading and engaging in training, there are clues from materials we have worked with in the past that may help to guide us. We look back at some of the decades-long experiments we have done that have related to class issues, privilege and fairness for inspiration. Such as Antigone: about the right to oppose the law when the law fails the basic rules of humanity—which mirrors the murderous police actions today deemed “lawful.” Or, we look to a text by Euripides that uncovers grief so deeply that the text itself drips with tears; which helps us to understand the profound lineage of grief of people of color in America. Or, Pasternak’s compelling and complex arguments on the subject of revolution. Or a text by Twain that looks at spiritual hopelessness in the face of the vast history of human suffering. And, the diaries of a self-professed 17c rapist in a time that it was tacitly acceptable to rape your servants. Presently, we are looking at a text from the 1980s that ironically shows the disfiguring privilege and enduring power of the white greed of Reaganism. All these texts provide small shards of insight into the crucible of this moment in our culture. 

And still, every one of these authorial voices is white. This has been our framework. 

Rip up the diversity statements! All the equal opportunity crap was useless. These need to be rewritten with serious intentionality. Like in our work with text, we see language as impactful and dimensional and we want to use it with purpose, imagination, and power. 

As a feminist organization, we do not back down from our activism around the rights of women to receive the same wages and opportunities as men, as well as the long struggle for the right to abortion. But the intersectionality of racism and feminism will be a part of our anti-racism actions. The additional burdens on black and POC women from sexism are heavy and often deadly. 

We are all called on right now to challenge racial inequities on multi-level platforms: on our stage, in rehearsal, in our relationships, as well as with the sharing of materials, funds, knowledge, and labor to change the culture of racism. We recognize that we have internalized and normalized racist ideas and institutions and as we face our implicit bias head-on, we are looking at how we can share our practices and resources with dance-artists of color in a way that is authentic and not just mea culpa-flag waving- virtue signaling- bullshit. And through our actions, study, listening, conversations, and mistakes, we hope to learn better ways to attack our own bias. 

We strive to live nobly in the incarnation we have been brought here in. We are all called on to nudge the world in the right direction. We are learning it is not enough to believe something, or to believe you believe something, but instead it’s imperative to ACT to create change from whatever power that particular incarnation has freely given to you.

“*Tikkun Olan”:  To repair the world. 

Annie-B Parson
Artistic Director
June 2020 

* a Jewish concept from the Mishnaic period (ca. 10-220 CE)

awards

2018 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Outstanding Performance: Elizabeth DeMent in 17c
2015 Olivier Award nominee (London) for Best Theatre Choreographer: Annie-B Parson (Here Lies Love)
2014 Prelude Festival’s FRANKY Award: Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar
2014 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award: Annie-B Parson
2014 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award: Annie-B Parson
2013 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship: Annie-B Parson
2012 United States Artists Fellowship: Annie-B Parson
2010 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Outstanding Production: Comme Toujours Here I Stand
2007 Inaugural Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award: Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar
2007 Guggenheim Fellowship: Annie-B Parson
2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship: Annie-B Parson
2005 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Performance (body of work): Molly Hickok
2002 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Sustained Achievement: Big Dance Theater
2001 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Composer, Another Telepathic Thing: Cynthia Hopkins
2000 OBIE Award: Big Dance Theater
2000 OBIE Award for Performance, Another Telepathic Thing: Cynthia Hopkins
2000 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Performance, Another Telepathic Thing: Stacy Dawson
2000 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship: Annie-B Parson