“I feel like this is the beginning of the new MoMing,” says Chicago choreographer Jan Erkert, who has called the MoMing Dance & Arts Center her artistic home for the past ten years. “It’s very exciting.” Amy Osgood, another Chicago choreographer who has performed and taught at MoMing for many years, adds: “There is so much nurturing of creativity in that building right now. I just want to be there.”

MoMing has been a cherished space in the Chicago dance community for 15 years, but the arrival of Peter Tumbelston, MoMing’s new producing director, has sparked some new excitement. “Peter is tapping into a wonderful energy,” Osgood says. “Every day I get new people in my classes. Some of them are just passing through town, and they’ve heard that they have to take a class at MoMing.”

Tumbelston began his career by pursuing a dance degree, first at Temple University and then at SUNY-Purchase. Once he realized that, as he says, he was not going to “shake up the world” with his choreography, he turned to arts management. In 1987, after a year there, he became the associate general manager of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, arguably the most important progressive venue for contemporary performance in the country.

Tumbelston believes that the key to running a successful performance space, especially one catering to a form as ambiguous and misunderstood as modern dance, is making sure that the audience feels taken care of and respected. “I think that so much is asked of an audience in seeing a performance here,” he says. “They come here, see an artist whom they may never have heard of before, and in two hours they’re supposed to be able to understand what that artist is trying to say. I’ve got to give them something back. I’ve got to involve them in the creative process, to give them a chance to engage in conversation with the artist.”

Tumbelston has initiated open-mike sessions after some performances, in which audience members are encouraged to discuss their responses with the artists. He has also been presenting some brief video documentaries–perhaps interviews, rehearsals, or performances–of choreographers and dance companies; these have been screened in MoMing’s lobby before performances and during intermissions. “People are fascinated by the videos,” he says. “It gives them a unique perspective, makes the choreographer a little more accessible and human.”

Tumbelston’s first major undertaking at MoMing has been to preside over the awarding of what is hoped to be the first of many annual MoMing Commissions, grants made to two Chicago artists. Last December MoMing held auditions juried by regional choreographers, teachers, and artistic directors, and Erkert and Osgood were chosen. Each artist receives an unheard-of $2,000 toward the creation of new work, as well fully produced concerts over two weekends at MoMing.

The program was the idea of Jackie Radis, one of MoMing’s founders and former artistic director. Tumbelston was responsible for bringing it to fruition. “Basically I see the commissions as the top rung of the ladder in terms of the training and nurturing of Chicago-area artists,” he says. “Not only are these artists encouraged to create new work, but area dancers get an opportunity to perform in pieces by established artists, thereby giving them workweeks as well.”

Tumbelston remarks on the difference in Erkert’s and Osgood’s styles: “Jan’s work comes from a very theatrical background. I am particularly interested in her images and what she is saying by putting her choreography in a theatrical setting. Amy’s work has an emphasis on a particular style of movement, a particular aesthetic, which to me is just fascinating. She’s a craftsperson in terms of movement sequences and phrases.

“It’s interesting, though,” he continues, “because Amy does create little stories and dramatic vignettes, and yet as you watch them, perhaps what you think is going on is not going on at all. The piece can mean something different to every individual. And isn’t that how dance should be?”

Erkert’s commissioned work, tentatively titled Journal: Chicago 1989, is something of a dance diary. She went into the studio every day, and whatever came out of a three-hour session became that day’s entry for the piece. She then put all the entries in sequential order to create Journal.

“I feel like this is a new way of working, and yet it feels very old to me,” Erkert explains. “I’ve been teaching for probably 20 years now, and every day of my life I go into a studio and an hour later I have to have movement for a class. I’ve never figured out how to capture the spontaneity that I find in teaching in the choreographic process. Creating Journal has been the first time that I’ve felt that I’ve made peace with those two elements of my life.”

Osgood’s new works are Allegro, Allegro, Allegro, Allegro, exploring four allegro movements by Vivaldi and Telemann, and The Other Comes to Be Light, which she describes as “an abstract reflection on the stages of a relationship.”

Tumbelston would like to expand the MoMing Commissions, both by arranging a tour of the Osgood/Erkert pieces sometime next year by making sure the MoMing Commissions are an annual event. “It’s one of the goals that artists can work up to,” he concludes, “to finally have someone actually pay them to do a piece of work.”

Osgood and Erkert will present their work May 11-13 and 19-21 at MoMing, 1034 W. Barry. Performances will be 7:30 Thursdays and Sundays, 8:30 Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is $10, $8 for senior citizens and students. Call 472-9894 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Art Wise.