Sleepy Hollow’s Rivertown Artists Workshop Brings Contemporary Dance To Westchester
The new arts group makes performances accessible to local audiences.
"We’re feeling like there’s more to Sleepy Hollow than, you know, Halloween,” says Naomi Vladeck, co-founder of the Rivertown Artists Workshop (RAW). Vladeck and co-founder Sara Levine are looking to make the village known beyond its spooky reputation by bringing emerging and mid-career dance pros to present their original works to local audiences. And it seems like they don’t have to look too far to find dancers and choreographers living and working here, eager to perform for a hometown crowd.
“Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow have become somewhat of an inadvertent hub for dance education in what was an otherwise limited landscape for dance in Westchester,” Vladeck says, noting that the critical mass of dance schools in the area have attracted professionals who’ve found outlets to teach to the K-through-12 crowd, but find themselves at a loss when it comes to finding a place to perform their own newer, contemporary work. RAW seeks to tap into that pool of talent.
Like most creative endeavors, RAW started small—with a few performances in Vladeck’s living room. They were informal, potluck, $20-at-the-door type of events, followed by Q&As with the choreographers and performers. “We followed what was a more established house-concert model that a lot of independent musicians use to tour work and to test new songs in an intimate environment,” she says.
The responses were enlightening, starting with the reaction to their very first show. “We had every kind of artist in that room,” she says. “We had architects, photographers, a violin-maker, theater artists—you name it. And even though these were some of the most highly educated artists that we could know, so many of them had never seen contemporary dance up close, or talked about dance process and making new work with the artist.”
Naomi Vladeck and Sarah Levine
From that series, Vladeck and Levine formed a nonprofit organization, put together a board, and started programming a full season—graduating from the living room and into real (if donated) performance spaces. The group’s first year is winding down, and highlights of the season include the Westchester debut of work by The Umbrella Co. (known as tucDance), which was created during a residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm in Brewster, New York; a collaboration between Limón Dance Company performer/choreographer Daniel Fetecua and Colombian composer Pablo Mayor; a performance by Joel Sherry, Cynthia Bueschel Svigals, and Kate Vincek, which sold out so quickly a second show had to be added (and also sold out); and an upcoming Latin dance festival on May 10, designed specifically to appeal to Sleepy Hollow’s diverse population.
April 5 sees the debut of RAW’s Small House series, aimed towards bringing dance to a family audience. “We’re basically doing audience development for people age zero to 100,” Vladeck says. “It won’t be all contemporary dance, either. We’ll have some music, some circus. We’re inviting two local artists to co-curate that series together: Jill Liflander and Kate Taylor. They’re both performing artists with mixed backgrounds. Jill is a choreographer and a puppet artist, and Kate is a dance artist and a Commedia dell’Arte-trained clown.”
Liflander says she jumped at the chance to be a part of RAW after working with Vladeck and Levine on the board of a local dance organization. “Naomi and Sara were a total force to be reckoned with,” she says. “They had incredibly visionary ideas, and very pragmatic solutions for everything we were dealing with.” She also knows what it’s like to work with them as a performer, having danced at one of those intimate first shows. “When I performed for them, I felt very nurtured,” she says. “I was given a stage and support, and I didn’t have to worry about anything else.”
Jessica Parks, co-artistic director of tucDance, agrees. “Sara and Naomi were welcoming and warm in every way,” she says. “The house was full of enthusiasm, and the question-and-answer session was really fun—oftentimes we receive little or no feedback from the audience. The conversation was as enjoyable as the performance.”
It’s this type of community interaction that RAW is trying to foster. “Contemporary dance is something that is often thought of as esoteric simply because the average person has little experience with it,” Parks says. “RAW is changing that by introducing this misunderstood art form to a larger audience, and making it approachable by allowing the audience and performers and creators to have open conversation.”
RAW is looking for a more permanent performance space where local artists can work without having to trek back and forth into the City. “That’ll happen,” Vladeck says. “I think creating a place where artists can come to do the business of their work, rehearse the work, present the work-in-process, and create community around it—that’s what stimulates the whole economy around arts in neighborhoods. It’s the whole creative ecology that we’re interested in.”