A Nurturer and an Innovator At the Helm of Dance Umbrella

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN a modest office building shoehorned behind the Cambridge Police Station, Jeremy Alliger tilts his chair back and forth like a restless schoolboy. Framed posters cover the walls, and assorted toys perch at the edge of his desk. A friendly but soft-spoken man who covers his shyness with humor, Mr. Alliger nevertheless has built a modest empire as a producer of dance.

On Wednesday Alliger begins the 13th season of Dance Umbrella, a $1.6 million organization he founded to nurture and present high-caliber talent to New England audiences. Dance Umbrella draws top-flight choreographers, audience loyalty, and support from such sources as the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest fund.

Outreach programs figure prominently in Dance Umbrella's setup, partly because of Alliger's desire to reach all segments of the community, and partly because many grant applications mandate it. Artist residencies, workshops, school programs, and after-performance discussions allow dancers and audiences to interact.

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Alliger says that the outreach proves a point. ``The old models do not work anymore - having companies go to as many sites as possible, touring, doing one-nighters.... The companies are exhausted, they don't have any genuine roots planted in the community. We're trying to treat a company holistically.''

Dance Umbrella and Alliger have evolved over the years. When the organization began, Boston audiences saw touring companies and ballet troupes but not many programs of cutting-edge work. Alliger started by helping to produce local dance events and giving structure to the often conflicting performance schedules around town.

As Alliger's impresario abilities began to emerge, Dance Umbrella broadened to include national and international acts. But this evolution generated some feelings of abandonment among some companies. One local dance advocate, who did not wish to be named, suggests that Dance Umbrella as an organization did not clearly articulate the change in its mission to the dance community. The advocate adds, however, that this situation provided a positive catalyst for the local community to solve more of its own problems.

ALLIGER would counter that. While he is focused less on Boston-based dance groups these days, he is still mindful of them, and, in the case of the local African-American hip-hop and jazz-tap movements, he wants to give some groups an opportunity to tour nationally.

``We have the reputation of breaking in new artists. But we try to stay away from the flavor of the month. It's always a balance: bringing artists in who share our commitment to community, diversity, how the work is developed, and incorporating the local professional artistic community, including vocalists, musicians, dancers, and artists,'' he says.

Although he seems wary about discussing upcoming projects or his personal life, Alliger is ferocious about protecting artistic integrity. When Dance Umbrella commissions work from a choreographer, there are no hidden strings. But Alliger dismisses the idea that he's ever worried about a commission.

``I trust the artist,'' he says. ``We commission work and don't know what it will be until it gets here.... Controversy usually makes me more committed to making the production happen,'' he adds with a smile.

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