By Matt Cosper
January 9, 2019
Heading into its fifth year, RepCLT’s Ladyfest (previously Women’s Showcase) is one of the most exciting events in Charlotte’s dance scene. A micro-festival of contemporary dance curated by Sarah Ingel and Megan Payne, Ladyfest focuses on the choreographic talents of women from the Charlotte region. It’s a one-night-only affair and, while the work on display is rich in variety, the common thread is the cutting edge of dance and performance.
Started in January 2015 by Ingel and Durham-based choreographer Caitlyn Swett, the first Ladyfest was a seat-of-the-pants style takeover of NoDa’s Neighborhood Theatre, where Swett worked at the time. The event has been itinerant over the years, with performances at C3 Lab, Charlotte Ballet and the original Goodyear Arts. Payne came aboard in 2016 as a co-director of RepCLT, the organization that produces Ladyfest. The festival has been remarkable for consistently focusing and refining on its mission of providing space and resources for women who are leading the charge for vital and sophisticated dance work in the region.
Those inside of the sometimes hermetically sealed world of professional dance know that a vast majority of leadership positions are held by men, and that men are overrepresented when it comes to valuable residencies, grant awards and commissions. In a recent conversation, Payne and Ingel attributed this to a hold over to the old days of ballet, and to structural hierarchies that have held on even as the aesthetics of dance were progressing. Ladyfest exists in part to recalibrate that model.
In addition to working toward gender parity in the choreographic sphere, Ladyfest’s curators prioritize work that is engaged in what they term “embodied research.” Both Payne and Ingel studied at Hollins University in Virginia, where they were inculcated with a strong respect for process as a virtue in and of itself. Said Ingel of the Hollins ethic and RepCLT’s own ethos: “It’s about context, really wanting to place work in context and in conversation with the people who are viewing it…not just having it exist in a bubble.”
This focus on process and the insistence that the work serve as a catalyst for conversation fuels Ingel and Payne’s artistic and curatorial practices, leading them to program artists who share their values: creating dances that interrogate form and content in playful and rigorous ways. “We’re building shows with women who are trying to create in that same way, who aren’t afraid to fail,” Payne said.
The fearless creators of this year’s festival include Audrey Baran, Reba Owens, Sarah Council and Luisa Martinez. You can see their work at Ladyfest 2019 on Saturday, January 12 at Goodyear Arts.