FOR ITS 20th anniversary, the New Orleans-based National Performance Network chose Los Angeles to mark its two decades of providing support for established and emerging artists. The non-profit organization, founded in 1984 as an offshoot of Dance Theatre Workshop, conducted meetings and workshops, highlighted by performances that featured dance, theater, spoken word, comedy, and performance art at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre in December.
Linking an eclectic group of presenters that range in size, location, and budget across the United States, NPN has continued to meet its goals over the years. Having grown into a network of 59 arts organizations (called "NPN Partners") in 36 cities, the association connects artists with communities. It helps artists to work in their own neighborhoods and to cross geographic and cultural divides. NPN seeks to increase the traffic of flesh, challenging material across the country.
NPN's director, M. K. Wegmann, believes it's a job well done. "We continue to target emerging and mid-career artists, and from the perspective of providing a valuable mechanism for artists working in isolation, we provide access to the national arena for artists working at the local level."
In 2002, Santa Monica's Highways Performance Space, an NPN Partner, was chosen as one of the few West Goast venues to present the Argentinean dance-theater company Krapp as part of Performing Americas. A consortium that links NPN with two other presenting organizations--L.A. Red (similar to NPN) and New York's Arts International--Performing Americas introduces cutting edge Latin American performing arts to the U.S. Wegmann, who takes pride in the success of that ongoing project, is also pleased with NPN's continuing commitment to diversity. "More than 40 percent of our partners are organizations of color. We have been successful in maintaining the diversity, that also extends to artists who have been supported."
L.A.-based Denise Uyehara is one such artist. Having toured with NPN support, she was on the Highways bill, performing a provocative movement/theater work, Big Head, which investigated Asian hate crimes. Also on the program and hoping to tour with NPN were Stephanie Gilliland's hyperphysical troupe, Tongue, plus three dancers performing Victoria Marks' Lester Horton Award winning work, Against Ending, and Hae Kyung Lee and Dancers. Now in its 16th season, Lee's company offered a beautiful, albeit stark vision of a wounded world in Confrontation, with original music by Steve Moshier. About the opportunity afforded by NPN, Hae Kyung Lee said, "Many people who may have heard of us but hadn't seen us before, got to see our work," says Lee. "We had a varied audience, as well as having presenters from different states see us."
Adding a frisson to the evening was emcee John Fleck, one of the legendary NEA Four whose 1990 grant was revoked because his work was deemed obscene. Says Wegmann: "We're not one of the organizations that grew more conservative or backed down from controversial work after the culture wars started. We have," she adds, "a long and important future."
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