When John Byrne arrived in town last year to assume his duties as artistic director for Fort Wayne Dance Collective, his first appearance came as the collective hosted its annual fundraiser last September. This year's event, which helps cover costs of on-site offerings and their busy outreach program, is Byrne's first opportunity to put his own stamp on the event, and in doing so he continues to build connections in the city and within the arts community.
Hosted at Wunderkammer Company, the evening, dubbed Art Moves, will provide a new context for the art on exhibit at Wunderkammer while providing a unique setting for dance.
"The concept is to have a party to celebrate what we do in an intimate setting, enjoy some food and drinks and be surrounded by dance installations," says Byrne. "I'm inspired by visual art, and we can pull inspiration when we're creating dance. I was anxious to see how our choreographers would interpret the great works of art. In the past what we've done is an immersive experience, which I think is brilliant, but I wanted to mix it up a little bit."
Byrne is also continuing to make connections with others in Fort Wayne arts community. Recently cast in the production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Civic Theatre, he sees hosting this fundraiser at Wunderkammer as another way to build bridges between the Dance Collective and other arts organizations and venues.
"Another way this is different is the collaboration with Wunderkammer. I thought the gallery was the perfect, intimate setting for a really special experience. And there will be great food from Club Soda while we socialize with our community in a great end of summer party."
The announcement for the September 8 event includes a vivid description for the evening, promising that guests will "experience iconic art works come to life through a series of pop up performances. Choreographers represented include Ashley Benninghoff, Allison Brandgard, Byrne, Vicki Gallagher, Corinne Hobbs, Mandie Kolkman, Liz Monnier, Sydney Pacula and Savannah Serban. The works of Magritte, Van Gogh, Koons and O'Keefe are just some of the artists whose work will come to life! Dance installations will feature dancers from Fort Wayne Dance Collective's on-site school and Dance for Education programs and are designed to inspire conversation and ignite the imagination!"
The evening is not only a way to raise money to continue the Fort Wayne Dance Collective mission, but also continue to spread the word about the work they do both in their studios and in the community.
"We want to put a spotlight on who we are and why what we're doing is so important for Fort Wayne," says Byrne. "We do a lot that people don't know about, and it's cool to be doing work anonymously. But as a non-profit, we need support to keep these programs alive."
Among their outreach partnerships, Dance Collective works with the YMCA, McMillen Center and Turnstone, along with visiting public and private schools and the VA hospital. Byrne says in the past year they've served 43,000 in the community, and he hopes to see more growth in the future. He's already happy with the growth he's seen in Fort Wayne in his first year as a resident.
"I've seen the city grow so much in the last 12 months, especially the way the downtown area has been revitalized. There's so much dance and theater and music, and I'm proud of that and proud that Fort Wayne Dance Collective has been on the forefront of that progress. Besides our outreach numbers, we're also offering a record-breaking 42 classes a week this year. I'm also proud of our performances."
During his debut year with FWDC, Byrne has continued to work with some fairly big names and continues to do choreography around the country and world. He's worked with Britney Spears on several occasions ("She's a cool girl") and was recently in London to do some work. Having that kind of high-profile choreographer coming to the city does suggest that there might be some new developments at the Dance Collective, and Byrne does share a couple of those upcoming events.
"On August 23, we're beginning our Modern Academy, offering daily conservatory modern dance classes Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. We're also partnering with the Shruti Foundation to bring Indian dance to the city in April of next year, and Battery Dance Company is coming to town for a six-day residency starting on March 27."
Byrne credits the help and support of the FWDC staff, board of directors and the local arts community for helping him make changes while remaining true to the Collective's original vision.
"We have a new, young board president, Savannah Robinson, who has really helped to elevate the organization in the last two years," he says. "I'm really humbled by the support I've received since I came here. It's really a dream job to be able to mentor students of all ages and collaborate with so many artists I have so much respect for."
Having enjoyed one full cycle of all that Dance Collective offers - from classes to outreach, from student performances to professional residencies, workshops and productions - Byrne has happily settled into his new role and seems to be enjoying it.
"I'm having a blast," he says. "It's a challenging role, but anything worthwhile is going to be a challenge. I'm just really having a great time."
He's also proud of how much Fort Wayne Dance Collective brings to the city and surrounding area, especially now that he's seen it in action.
"It's really amazing how many people we touch. I don't think there's a person in town who doesn't have a friend, family member, coworker or neighbor who isn't somehow connected to the Dance Collective."