In the Moment: ‘Kitchen Sink Fest’ at Dance Place Part 1: An Interview with Ben Levine

This summer’s Kitchen Sink Fest at Dance Place is showcasing a curated, meant-to-provoke on-lookers, dance and theater technical design elements collaboration. From Kitchen Sink Fest producer Ben Levine, I learned that nearly two dozen of “DC’s most daring dance makers will combine the elements of design, technology and dance.”

Kitchen Sink Fest. Phoot by Ben Levine.
Kitchen Sink Fest. Photo by Ben Levine.

It is meant not to be just an encounter for DC area dance scene “insiders,” but for everyone seeking an fascinating encounter with dance and movement.

One more thing, a most rare feature. The dances will be one-minute in length. I thought I had misheard him. I did a double-take. But, nope that will be one of the more uncommon elements of this year’s Kitchen Sink Fest. The length of time for each dance is to be one-minute. There will be “50 fast-paced, one-minute pieces, juxtaposed with 10 meditative installation works.”

The program will feature works by Erica Rebollar, Tia Nina, ReVision Dance Company, and many other of DC’s “most daring dance-makers.”

Each of the Kitchen Sink Fest choreographers was to “distill longer works into their most essential, interesting, exciting, surprising and memorable moments.” And with theatrical technical aspects such as lighting, sound, scenic and multimedia adding their own pop, there will be several “dances without dancers.” As I understood these particular “performances” will not have fully visible performers.

For those unfamiliar with Dance Place, it was founded in 1980 and is located in the Brookland/Edgewood neighborhood in Washington, DC., not far from Catholic University.

This In the Moment column is Part #1 of a two part series  Part #1 focuses on the producer of the 2016 summer Kitchen Sink Fest, Ben Levine. Levine is the technical director/theater manager at Dance Place. This Washington City Paper link about Levine provides more; “the best up-for-anything tech director.”

Part #2 will concentrate on interviews with many of the choreographers and dancers performing at the Fest.

David: Why did you decide to have 1-minute performances for this year’s Kitchen Sink Fest?

Ben: A lot can be communicated in 1-minute. The length of a performance is not proportional to the depth of the exploration of a theme.

This project is a response to the current Youtube/Twitter generation and our relationship to time and technology. Kitchen Sink will encourage audiences and collaborators alike to consider the pace at which they live their lives, from the fast-paced 1-minute dances to the free-form time-based installations.

Additionally, the project responds to a serious problem within the dance community, in particular: lack of editing. While in the theater world, there is a codified process by which plays reach full realization, dance works are often presented as completed without an opportunity to workshop.  Kitchen Sink’s collaborative distilling process and methodology encourage use of feedback. I am especially inspired by Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process which asks audiences “What was stimulating, surprising, evocative, memorable, touching, unique, compelling, meaningful for you?” This project aims to concentrate works to just these moments, to make a concise but meaty statement.

Why did you decide to give technical aspects their turn?

Rather than seeing lighting design, in particular, as an art form of its own, it is seen as a mundane, support element. I strive to push the boundaries of what is possible with theater equipment to the point that theatrical design elements have their “own legs.” I have heard the comment that a dance with a fully realized lighting design is a “duet between the live dancer and the lighting.” Many Kitchen Sink works take this a step further making the lighting the primary “dancer” and the live performer secondary. Additionally, the Kitchen Sink features some “dances without dancers” where the design elements perform without the support of bodies.

Ben Levine on Kitchen Sink Fest set pieces. Photo by Sarah Chapin.
Ben Levine on Kitchen Sink Fest set pieces. Photo by Sarah Chapin.

Throughout my career in the wonderful world of dance, I’ve struggled with the differences between dance and theater. In many ways, the dance community is behind the theater community in terms of understanding the process of working with designers and stage managers, especially with incorporating scenic elements into their work. Conversely, contemporary dance, in its goal to do something that has never been done before, constantly turns towards using new technology, especially projection design and motion tracking, in a way that tends to be more advanced than technology used in the traditional theater world.

Why do you think dance matters to audiences?

Dance matters to diverse audiences because it has the ability to be a cultural artifact that preserves knowledge of cultural patterns and traditions and also communicates ideas of emotion and physicality in a way that this unique to the art form of dance. Regardless of age, all audience members identify as human, and will have his or her own experience of human ideas. Dance makes meaning and welcomes a variety of perspectives, young and old.

Now to whet your appetite a bit more, here are some comments from several choreographers participating in the Kitchen Sink Fest. I asked them why audiences should check out the Fest at Dance Place.

Ilana Silverstein (Tia Nina):This show is unlike anything you have ever experienced. Come and escape preconceived notions about time, dance, performance, and media.”

Erica Rebollar: “Constant quick, entertaining sets with endless creativity. You will see many interpretations of an idea not more than 60 seconds each; a tasting menu of experimental dance using props. Fun stuff, without a doubt.”

Claire Alrich: “It isn’t just a dance show, it is a unique theatrical experience that will engage you and get you out of your seat.

Adrienne Clancy: “This show is a great way to get introduced to 22 bold choreographic voices in the DC area in a festival that honors their uniqueness yet offers a cohesive evening!

Hayley Cutler:Kitchen Sink Fest is such a wonderful microcosm of our bustling (and always hustling) community that you’ll never look at DC the same way again.”

Sarah Chapin: “There is no time for boredom and no space left unexplored; we’ll both take you on a roller coaster and let you choose your own adventure. It’s serious, it’s funny, it’s daring, it’s one-of-a-kind. It’s everything but the kitchen sink.

And especially for new audiences, this from Hayley Cutler (darlingdance company): “To new audiences, I would say, “If you want the best, most distilled, aesthetically diverse and rapid-fire education of what dance in DC is, you absolutely cannot miss Kitchen Sink Fest.” So many people in DC are shocked that there is a thriving, beautifully diverse, sometimes bizarre, sometimes classic, always busy dance community in their city, and that there are so many dance artists who call Washington home. Kitchen Sink Fest is such a wonderful microcosm of our bustling (and always hustling) community that you’ll never look at DC the same way again.”

Dance Place.
Dance Place.

Kitchen Sink Fest to be performed on July 30th at 8 p.m. and July 31, 2016 at 7 p.m. at Dance Place – 3225 8th Street NE, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets online.

DCMTA’s Lisa Traiger reviewed the Dance Place 35 Year Reunion.



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