Putty Dance Project: Dance That Has Meaning

Interview with Lauren Putty White, recipient of the 2013 Ellen Forman Memorial Award for Choreography, creator of Putty Dance Project.

Among other ways to voice our concerns and opinions about the life and struggles of the Black community there are ways that touch your heart and soul. One of these ways is choreography.

Recent “iStand: Stories of an American Civil Struggle”, a new performance by Putty Dance Project, has made many hearts stop for a moment to fill with pleasure and inspiration. The show features a new body of work by Lauren Putty White, recipient of the 2013 Ellen Forman Memorial Award for Choreography.

Today I am lucky to talk to Lauren about the show, her project and her views on the civil rights movement.

blackmattersus.com
Hi Lauren, could you tell me more about you?
Lauren Putty White
So I am the Artistic Director and choreographer for Putty Dance Project, which means I’m responsible for all of the choreography for each evening-length production that we present.  Putty Dance Project produces new choreographed works that explore the topic of social consciousness.  We use live instrumentation, multimedia, and elements of theater to create a cinematic experience while responding to diverse issues that impact our country. 
blackmattersus.com
I am very impressed with your ideas and their execution. How does the process of creating a show happen?
Lauren Putty White
Usually I conceive the vision or concept for a show, discuss it with my husband, Brent White, who is also the Executive Director and composer, and our producing director Phil Sumpter.  Once we’re all on one accord with the show concept, we develop an outline for the structure of the production and start creating the music and choreography for different sections in the work.
blackmattersus.com
Who supports you most of all in your work?
Lauren Putty White
It is definitely Brent, my husband. He’s actually a professional jazz musician, he plays trombone.  He’s played for artists varying from John Legend to Sun Ra Arkestra and even The Roots.  So due to his extensive musical background he brings such diverse ideas that help shape the musical score for each show.  Though he does not have much input on the choreographic end, we both do work together in creating the sound for each section of the show and how it fits each dance scene.
blackmattersus.com
Can you tell me more about the last performance “iStand: Stories of an American Civil struggles”? What story did you base the show on?
Lauren Putty White
“iStand: Stories of an American Civil Struggle” actually first premiered last year in Philadelphia during Thanksgiving weekend.  It got great reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer but due to the timing of the holidays, not many people had the opportunity to see it. So once politics started getting heavy this year with the impending elections and more negative stories were appearing in the media about police brutality, it only seemed appropriate to remount the work and perform it again this year.  We purposely timed it to be towards the end of voter registration to kind of inspire that extra push for those who may have been on the fence about it.
The show is about investigating the position of morality when having to defend our American rights. The Pledge of Allegiance is the anchor of the show, as you get to see and hear different perspectives on what those words mean and if people today really stand by them. This is not only done through dance, but video interludes of interviews with diverse people sharing their honest opinions about the civil unrest in this country.
blackmattersus.com
Is it the positive story? What was the message you tried to convey?
Lauren Putty White
The iStand story is hopeful.  Our purpose in creating this work is to engage people and offer a creative platform for meaningful exchange. There is plenty of talk on TV, radio, and social media where people claim to have informed opinions about what’s going on, but rarely do we personally observe dialogue exchanges that explore and address solutions to the problems.  We use the art of dance to tell stories. In particular, iStand shares more than one perspective concerning the inner emotional struggle people are experiencing during this frustrating time in our nation.  It tries to convey the well-being of an individual in relation to the well-being of society as a whole. With this work, we hope to help foster a broader and more diversified sense of civic reality, and to give people hope to discover new possibilities. 
blackmattersus.com
I like marketing of the Putty Dance Project. You seem to be keeping up with the most recent trends. Do you support Black rights movement? Are you somehow involved in it?
Lauren Putty White
Thank you, we strive to first and foremost always produce high quality Art. With my background dancing in companies like Philadanco and Parsons, I understand the level and caliber it requires to establish a professional standard in these productions. As far as trends, the content is easy because it speaks to the community, it’s relevant, and people are interested in being entertained and challenged at the same time.
Our work is based off of the Liberation Theology, it’s based off of faith and God in a non-religious, non-denominational approach. Even the work of James H. Cone was Black Theology.  My husband and I happen to be very active in the church and so faith plays a big role in why we created this work. So if there is such a movement I support, it is the Art of Liberation.
blackmattersus.com
Who are among your audience? What is the demographics of your audience?
Lauren Putty White
You know, while seeking to measure who actually is in our audience, we actively target a cross-section of communities to participate. This includes reaching out to the regional arts community, the college community, faith-based communities as well as cultural specific communities. With iStand for example, we purposefully spent time targeting the African American community.
Each season we consider news angle relevance based on the themes of our production. We are grateful to have received significant coverage from a variety of news publications. Philadelphia Tribune has covered our productions each year but we’ve also targeted and received attention from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Magazine.  We’ve gotten press from regional dance publications, we’ve been featured on air during jazz radio segments.
Overall our audiences have been relatively mixed spanning a wide demographic.  Ironically kids and senior citizens alike seem to respond eagerly and passionately about our shows.  As a millennial myself, I originally thought to target my own age group. While the first work we created called Going, Wanting in the Age of the Selfie, had this in mind, the effort to draw this age group in will take more strategic thought. 
blackmattersus.com
Do you follow any traditions of choreography or theater? What actors, dancers of the past century inspire you, influence your style?
Lauren Putty White
My choreography inevitably has traditional influences, especially since I trained in many of the most legendary codified techniques like Horton and Graham.  Dancers/Choreographers that influence my style past and present are Carmen de Lavallade, Linda Denise Fisher Harrell, Camille Brown, Christopher Huggins, Jawole Zollar, Wiilliam Forsythe, and Paul Taylor.
blackmattersus.com
Have you ever faced issues related to racial profiling or underestimating of women?
Lauren Putty White
I must say I have never faced issues related to racial profiling, at least not overt enough for me to notice.  I have experienced being underestimated in professional settings before, but at the end of the day you just “do you” and the respect shortly follows after.
blackmattersus.com
Tell me about your plans. Are you having a tour performing across America? What is going to be your next project? What should we expect? Does Putty Dance Project have the potential to be developed further, or do you think you have achieved your objectives with the show “iStand”?
Lauren Putty White
We would love to take iStand on tour to expand its exposure to audiences beyond Philadelphia. We are in process of planning to present the work at Chesapeake Arts Center in Maryland next fall. The focus for next season will also be to perform iStand in schools and universities by adding educational based audience objectives to our presentation. Our new production for next year is still in the brainstorming stages, so it hasn’t been solidified yet.  Putty Dance is just getting started, this is only our third year producing shows and we really want this company to take flight!

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