Q & A with Robert Bettmann: A look into Post 9/11 Security through Dance and Community

By Kelsey King, Pinkline Project

The Pink Line Project sat down with choreographer and artistic director of Bettmann Dances, Robert Bettmann, to discuss the intentions behind his current project Quis Custodiet and the interesting ways he involved the community in its formation. Join Bettmann for the premier of his yearlong exploration of security on September 2, 2011, and ask yourself – 10 years after 9/11 are we safe?

Pink Line Project (PLP): What is Quis Custodiet?

Robert Bettmann (RB): Quis is a dance project, the second project of my company, Bettmann Dances. Quis is a dance about security. Art can be fun to watch and abstract, and it can be fun to watch and narrative… in this case I’m creating little narrative arcs, and not all of the narratives occur in order. Some times you see a character at one point in time and then later you see them in something like a ‘flashback.’

PLP: What is the role of storytelling in your work?

RB: What’s fun about art, and dance, is that it’s not preachy, and hopefully doesn’t try to tell you what to think…. It’s fun, and entertaining. If you’ve got something to say, and you don’t want to tell people what to think, you find a way to tell stories. With Quis we’re telling several stories, including a story about Eve, and a story about Cain, related to the stories you may already know about those characters in the bible.

PLP: This project has been in the works for more than a year, what have you been up to in that time?

RB: Quis is a community exploration of security, culminating in a dance performance. We have not only been working to develop the dance, but have also been creating programs and conversations within the community to help us inform the dance and to generate a thoughtful consideration of the ideas behind the dance amongst the DC population. We have done this through a community blog and a series of dialogues with security related professionals.

PLP: What inspired you to involve the community so deeply in your project?

RB: If you have one smart person in the room you get some smart answers. You get two smart people in the room you get more smart answers. This project involves a lot of research, sourcing, reading, talking, because that’s what the project requires. I’m asking not only myself, but also everyone to help the company consider the topic of security. And from that research we’re creating a work of art.

PLP: What do you hope to achieve by involving the community in your project?

RB: I picked the topic of security because it means something to me, and I think I have something of value to say about it. Within the American Dream, there is a parallel promise of security. As one example: we have a safety net that includes food stamps, social security, etc. How low to the ground should that safety net be set? Through my work with DC Advocates for the Arts I’ve met some folks who serve the least safe in DC, and I’m fascinated by the disconnect between national security dialogue, and community security dialogue. They way we define and pursue security creates policy outcomes. Looking back on 9/11 from a decade away we’ve got a chance to not just put that tragedy behind us, but prepare a little better for the future.

PLP: Can we get any spoilers before the Quis Premiere? What should we expect on stage?

RB: We’ll start posting some videos on to the project site pretty soon. The project site — http://quis.bettmanndances.com — is fun even now. We’ve got resources for teachers, ways for people to submit their own stories, and lots of readings on security. I’d love for your readers to share their own thoughts on Security, or their own experience of 9.11. And of course: come see the show! The dance is very entertaining, and I’m incredibly grateful to be working with an immensely talented group of people.

Original Publication URL: http://pinklineproject.com/article/q-robert-bettmann-look-post-911-security-through-dance-and-community

Rob Bettman Has Some New Ideas

by Ellyn Weiss for Pinkline Project

This is a story about a guy who does a whole lot of things and does them all well and about his newest project to create an evening-length dance in and of the community.

To begin: if you are an artist or a lover of art, Rob Bettmann has been working for you and it’s quite likely that you don’t know it. As Chair of DC Advocates for the Arts, Rob is the guy who pays attention to the arcana of legislation-speak that makes most of us feverish, and  spreads the news when the DC Council (or the U.S. Congress, for that matter) is considering something that is good or, in mist cases, bad for artists. He is the one – sometimes the only one – who shows up at the council hearings to speak for all of us. When the city was considering last year’s Healthy Schools Act he was there trying to make sure that dance was included as a P.E. offering for DCPS students, and when the Development Committee is discussing job training programs he is the one in the meetings arguing that arts administration training should be included.

Rob’s heart begins in the dance world; his pedigree includes the Alvin Ailey School, an MFA in dance from AU and two Young Emerging Artist grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He has danced with companies around the country and in 2009, he founded Bettmann Dances as a vehicle to develop his ideas in our community with local dancers. The company’s first full-length work, All Good Men, produced in 2009, was nominated for an award from the DC Commission.

In 2005, Rob started the arts magazine Bourgeon, now BourgeonOnline, www.bourgeononline.com, a journal that has carved a niche for artists in all kinds of visual and performing media to speak to each other and the public.

Now Rob is trying something new, or several somethings new at the same time. First, he has conceived an idea to develop an evening-length dance based on the theme of security in our post-9/11, post-Wall Street collapse world. The project is called Quis Custodiet – who will watch the watchers? (You may note that Rob has a penchant for meaningful but somewhat opaque titles.) Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Day Eight, the new non-profit set up to oversee both Bettman Dances and Bourgeon)

Security is a concept that one rarely considered even a decade ago, in those innocent days before the creation of the colossal Homeland Security Department. Now, particularly in this city where even the most insignificant federal installation features visible armed guards, the issue is unavoidable. Quis custodiet will look at questions like: who decides what security requires, what does it actually mean in our personal lives, what does it cost us and other communities?

Second, the dance will be developed through free community workshops and one member of the community will be selected to join the group performing the dance in a number of East Coast cities. Tim Tate (no introduction needed) and Chanan Delivuk, a GW professor and multi-media artist, are doing video and set design for the project.

Third, Rob is trying to raise the funds needed to pull this off through Kickstarter, an Internet site established to bring creative and ambitious ideas to the online marketplace. If selected (and Quis Custodiet has been), the artist sets a goal – in this case, $4700, and a timeline for reaching it. If the goal is reached or exceeded, the online pledges are called and the money goes to the artist; if not, the money is never collected from the donors. The “all or nothing” aspect of Kickstarter is unique and, as you can imagine, quite anxiety-inducing. The deadline is Sunday, September 26. Stay tuned for results.

by Ellyn Weiss

Original Publication URL: http://pinklineproject.com/article/rob-bettman-has-some-new-ideas

Fearless: Time Keeps on Slipping

Avatar_Wallpaper_Vol_6_by_kigents_webIf all goes well – and the DC Metro is running tomorrow – I will have the first rehearsal for my company’s next evening length show tomorrow evening. I went with F to a dinner party last night, and talked briefly with one of the guests about this: I don’t know the subject of the dance I’m starting to make. (Happy Birthday, K, and thanks for having us over.) I don’t think composers of music struggle with this issue. Even though I create “modern” work, I consider it my job to harness my dancer’s human ability toward a particular illusion. Last time I entered the studio I was working from a very narrative place.

It’s pretty easy to create compelling single images. Our world is awash with them. The craft I’m trying to embrace is the way that a moment reflects on another moment to create improbable meaning. Great story-tellers help the audience to commit to a story’s eccentricities. I’m working on my craft of – for lack of better terminology and in honor of Super Bowl Sunday – time-clock management.

Here is an excerpt – and possibly a demonstration – from the movie Fearless. In this scene the character played by Rosie Perez is about to realize that the death of her baby in a plane crash was not her fault. (She won an actor for her work in this role.) In isolation I still find the clip incredibly moving, but maybe only because I remember the prior hour of the movie.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio… I think I have some solid exercises prepared to get us started on the new work.