SPOTLIGHT ON THE TANK

New York is full of special finds—the perfect cup of coffee, vintage clothing steal, or niche bookstore is often tucked into some unsuspecting nook in the city. One of my favorite examples is The Tank. Located right down the street from some of the biggest Broadway sensations, The Tank is home to two small theaters that showcase a mind-bending assortment of live performance and multimedia work from emerging artists, and nurtures a vibrant, creative community. It’s become one of my favorite places to see dance, and with the average ticket price at $7, it’s one of the most affordable destinations in midtown.

cakeface performing at the Tank. Photo by Florence Baratay.

The Tank, on 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, feels a lot like Brooklyn once you get inside. Its houses remind me of the many music venues dotting our outer borough, crossing barbès’s tiny, intimate space with the old Northsix’s dark open one. Like those stages, live musicians are often on the bill, even for events listed as theater, dance, or puppetry (Puppet Playlist, a series partnering puppeteers and musicians, has become one of the most popular of The Tank’s repeating events). The vibe is arty and relaxed, not pretentious. Because there is usually more than one show per night, you may end up clustered in the lobby pre-performance, but you can buy a beer while you wait. Proceeds from the bar (and the ticket sales) are split evenly between the artists and the house.

Formed in April 2003 by nine recent college graduates committed to providing a platform for young artists in the heart of the city, The Tank was originally housed on 42nd Street.  Each of the founding members curated a different discipline, and the organization was run by volunteers. Since then, The Tank has moved around a bit, including a stint in Tribeca, but now is back in the Theater District, hosting about 350 events per year, with two curators per discipline, all of whom are under the age of 30.

These young curators are given total creative freedom, while co-founder and current President Justin Krebs keeps The Tank’s vision alive by offering support and endless enthusiasm. In turn, the artists invited to present work are given minimal direction from the curators, though shows featuring multiple artists often revolve around a theme.

Former dance curator Tatyana Tenenbaum, who studied composition at Oberlin College, started The Raw and The Cooked, an improvisation series in which dancers and other artists worked from open scores (the series concluded in December). Jeso O’Neil, a current dance curator, organizes a works-in-progress event called p.art.ies, in which she encourages artists to focus on the material rather than staging choices. She reinforces this premise by seating the audience onstage.

Significantly, every artist presenting work at The Tank is invited by a curator. This system acts as a quality check for audiences, but also has important benefits for the artists. They are never charged a fee to rent the space, and because of the sales-splitting model, even shows with low attendance will provide a small sum for the performers. The success of The Tank’s more popular programs keeps this practice sustainable. Additionally, the curating system reinforces relationships between the theater and the artists. Many of the choreographers chosen for the New Works at The Tank series have previously appeared in Tennenbaum’s or O’Neil’s series.

Much of the programming at The Tank focuses on collaborative, or at least multi-disciplinary, work. Previous events have included a movement piece in which performers imitated the paint in Jackson Pollock’s work, dancetheater performances blending text and movement, dance film screenings, and of course, collaborations between choreographers and musicians. Two of the most popular recurring programs, Puppet Playlist and the Bent Festival (a showcase for electronic music and art), embrace this genre-bending aesthetic. For the 2010 season, dance offerings will include premieres from theater artist Chris Masullo, a collaboration between choreographer Lydia Bell and visual artist Lindsay Benedict, and Karl Cronin—an artist whose work “blends somatic practice with scientific research for social change.”

Alexandra Albrecht, new to The Tank in 2010, has initiated a new dance series for this spring. Spurred by the short life of most contemporary dance works, which are often shown at a handful of performances and then permanently discarded, she is inviting choreographers to show encores of work originally presented in other venues. Lizzie Karr and Ben Asriel, both recent graduates of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, will inaugurate the series.

In my conversations with past and present curators, I was impressed by their passion and dedication to the field. Each was excited by the opportunity to develop the dance community in her own way, engaging performers and audiences. In a crowded landscape where young people struggle to be seen, the empowering presence of The Tank is an alternative to burnout. Further, while these young curators had all invited friends and colleagues whose work they felt deserved more attention, they were at least as excited to discover unfamiliar artists, often making intuitive programming decisions based on the uniqueness of a proposal or an artist’s confident vision.

At press time, not all performance dates for the upcoming season had been set. Visit www.thetanknyc.org for listings and updates.

Contributor

Mary Love Hodges

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