The Stairway to Dance Innovation
Sometimes the inspiration for a sensational idea can be as simple as looking out your window and seeing a city on the rise. For Bobby Wesner, co-founder and artistic director of NEOS Dance Theatre, the city of Akron, Ohio, and its upward trajectory served as seed for his highly imaginative concept: “Akron Ascending, an Identity in Dance.”
Preparing site-specific works on iconic staircases throughout downtown Akron to develop an ongoing public conversation between artists, dancers, and space was so out-of-the-box inventive, it earned him a win from the Knight Arts Challenge in September 2019.
“Akron Ascending” is one of 16 final winners chosen from 36 finalist of projects that the Knight Foundation reports “share stories from Akron’s diverse communities, help artists reach broader audiences, and bring innovative arts experiences to the city.”
With a prize of $30,000, Wesner plans to turn his idea into reality by hiring dancers, researching interesting and appropriate staircases, and running social media and advertising campaigns to invite the public.
“In Akron, there are so many incredible staircases, both outdoors and indoors,” says Wesner. “My initiative celebrates the connections made on staircases. The concept is both a figurative and literal symbol of rising hope that comes along with an energized, repopulated city. With the recent spike in development and construction taking place throughout the downtown community, the idea of stairs resonates with me as a city that’s ascending into new territory.”
He says that dancers spend the bulk of their time in closed studios, rehearsing, sweating, collaborating—and that “Akron Ascending” is his vision for broadening their outlook, making a connection between the artist and the community.
“The architecture of a staircase represents all aspects of artists’ lives, from ascension to descent, design and utility,” he says. “We hope to develop an experiential working process and encourage a conversation among participants and audience about how artists live and create within Akron, for Akron, and by Akron. And for me as a dancer and choreographer, as well as other local dancers—there’s nothing quite as delightful as the prospect of dancing on a staircase, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did back in the 1930s.”
Wesner envisions the performances will kick off in late winter or early spring 2020, with a premiere probably upon a well-known indoor staircase in one of Akron’s historic buildings.
To get the word out about where and when the performances will take place, he plans to partner with the Knight Foundation and the City of Akron, as well as utilize the social media resources of his own NEOS Dance Theatre.
“There is no finite end to the possibilities in a collaboration like this,” he says.