Red Novae is not just the youthful new Sunnyside-based “movement group” directed by Kristin Schifferdecker and Anthony Whitehurst. It also aims to be a resource for dancers throughout Queens, bringing them together for what the duo calls “enrichment gatherings.”
“We offer a number of artist’s services to the community,” said Whitehurst. “One of the things we try to do is not make work separate from the community, but find the ways we can help our own community of dance artists.”
Services include Choreographic Opportunities, a continuously updated listing of work for dancers in the area, to which 100 people have already signed on. Another service is the Communication Workshop, a free event where a limited number of choreographers meet and workshop Red Novae’s materials.
“Other groups are funded through large organizations, most of which cost money - but [Red Novae is] created by the community, supported by the community, and is about the community,” explained Whitehurst. “We don’t try to tailor to one specific style of dance, but our ideas, the way our ideas manifest, is all over the place.”
For example, Schifferdecker is currently working on a series of “dance portraits,” or biographical stories expressed through dance, about members of the local dance community. Besides the diversity of Sunnyside, she found that artists ranged widely in age and other artistic pursuits. She hoped to “discover what other things besides dance interest the dance community” and found that Queens dancers were publishing magazines, making jewelry, drawing and more. She uses not only dance, but video and props.
“What I’m doing with that is finding out what being them is like,” she said, “so that all the works will give a better scope of what the dance community really is. “She added that this fulfills both aspects of Red Novae’s mission by providing artistic opportunities as well as creating new work.
Schifferdecker and Whitehurst first met at the American Dance Festival in the summer of 2006, where they found “love and the luck of shared plans to move to NYC that fall.” The two decided to collaborate on a project of Whitehurst’s and held an open showing of their work. While Schifferdecker had been taking tap, jazz, ballet and baton twirling since childhood, Anthony started improvising within contemporary styles as a teenager.
“I did various styles of street dance, from hopping, to breaking, to liquid dancing,” he said, before trying contact improvisation and a modern Japanese dance called Butoh. “Starting ballet as an adult was a very difficult thing to do.”
Although the primary goal of creating new dance opportunities is a concrete one, the projects themselves often strive to express straightforward topics in abstract ways. According to Whitehurst, movement can be important to the expression of any idea. A graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the artist choreographed a dance about Hurricane Katrina that spans the subjects of “politics, the specific culture of New Orleans, the human aspect of [the hurricane], how we’re all interconnected.” Schifferdecker, who minored in American Studies at the University of Iowa, also believes that the abstract can be communicated via physicality. “You create a focus for it, you see what comes out of the body, and you analyze and make decisions to find out more about what’s come out. What often creates an overall experience for the dance is how you reach the abstract idea,” she said, while Whitehurst added that dance is, by default, abstract because “you’re not working with a codified language.”
With that in mind, both artists have tackled themes of social justice and activism in their work and enjoy the experience of living and working in the most diverse neighborhood in the world.
“What’s great about that is, in a group of artists, a lot of cultural influences seep into the work.,” Whitehurst said. “People don’t act, dance and talk the same way, but they have a great acceptance of each other.”
“Being in a very diverse borough is very inspirational,” Kristen said. “As an artist, it’s really fulfilling to have that sense of reaching out and connecting to our community.”