Young choreographer and recent Columbia College grad Cristina Tadeo set out to make a duet this summer with no other objective than paying her dancers. Ironically, as the work started to come together it became more and more about the thing she set out to do.
I watched the fifteen minute piece last night – a trio, actually, for two women dancing and musician Nicholas Davio mixing the sound in real time from a homemade wall of cassette players. The movement is relatively simple and digestible – which is great since the interviews on the tapes are so compelling. I found moments that clearly lead me to consider both times when we artists lift and support one another and other times when we weigh each other down. Audience members hear snippets from several working artists about self-worth, the value of art, when to work for free, and how we can or cannot support our careers in the arts. Everything about this piece feels used, piecemeal, and cheap – from the 80’s style tape recorders to a breaking thrift store dining chair and an old pair of work boots – reinforcing the theme of the evening by using items with little to no production value (in a good way). It seems that Tadeo and Davio concentrated their funds on paying the performers instead of buying fancy props (again, in a good way).
In this studio showing, I watched the piece with fellow writer Jordan Reinwald, and then the really interesting part happened… a nearly 45 minute discussion about what we had seen and heard, and the reality that our careers don’t sustain us. I felt provoked by the work and really wanted to talk about it (something I don’t typically want to do before writing a preview). My biggest question:
“So, are YOU getting paid to do this, and would you have done it if you weren’t?”
Funding from a DCASE grant and smart sponsorships at Comfort Station meant that Tadeo could pay everybody this time (with the exception of herself because of the grant’s restrictions), but the dancers insisted they would have done it for free. And what about the next project? Do you wait until there’s enough money to mount a project respectfully, or recognize that it could take years for that to happen and go back to working for free? How do we pick our battles and navigate between the times when it’s worth it to work for free, and the times to say “No, thanks.”
These are the conversations that Tadeo and Davio relish, and ones that feed the continuation of the project. Audience members at the Comfort Station premiere this weekend will get to play with the installation, playing back the interviews they want to hear again and recording their own, if they wish. Bread & Butter is a little piece, based on a really big idea, but the implications and possibilities that could come out of this performance, and whatever follows it, are pretty mind-blowing.
Bread & Butter: An Effort to Redefine an Artist’s Worth premiers at Comfort Station (2579 N. Milwaukee) August 17 and 18. Saturday showings are at 7 and 9pm and Sunday showings at 4 and 6pm. All performances are free, and donations accepted will be donated to Comfort Station. Seating is limited and may be reserved in advance at cristinatadeo.net. Promo image by Katie Graves.