NEA Arts Magazine

Team Work

The Bebe Miller Company's Collaborative Effort for Necessary Beauty

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Six women, two seated, four behind, in dramatic pose

Six women of all ages dance in Bebe Miller's Necessary Beauty: Yen-Fang Yu, Bebe Miller, Cynthia Oliver, and Kathleen Hermesdorf, standing; and Kristina Isabelle and Angie Hauser, sitting. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The NEA has a long history of supporting work by choreographer Bebe Miller; during the 1980s, she received four NEA Choreographers Fellowships. Over the years, the Bebe Miller Company has received grants to create new repertoire, while presenters nationwide have received support to bring the choreographer's work to new audiences. In 2007, the NEA joined five dance presenters in supporting the commission of Miller's latest endeavor, Necessary Beauty. Although the piece premiered Oct. 1, 2008, at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, during the two-year development, arts centers in Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, and Montana all helped bring Necessary Beauty to fruition.

Necessary Beauty is a 90-minute, multimedia dance piece about the unexpected, artful moments of daily life. Five dancers of varying ages and body types join Miller onstage, but the offstage action is just as important. The creative team included a dramaturge, playwright, video artist, digital artist, and composer/musician Albert Mathias, who played a live score. "I really have to stress the whole teamwork of [producing this piece]," Miller said. "It is a different way of making work than I think many choreographers do. It's a strategy. I've spent a lot of time with the collaborators, and that whole total picture is my work."

Her strategy works. Writing in the Columbus Dispatch, Barbara Zuck deemed Necessary Beauty the most flawlessly constructed of the five Miller pieces Ohio State has presented since Miller joined the university faculty. The choreographer traded her New York apartment for a house in Columbus nine years ago, when her alma mater offered her a full-time job. She has a house, a garden, and an enviable working environment at Ohio State that encourages collaboration. Video and digital artists created their Necessary Beauty footage at the university's Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design. Charles Helm, director of performing arts, was particularly pleased to see Miller make use of the center. At a major university like Ohio State, it's important that artists "join forces with academic partners" to fulfill the university's research mission, Helm said.

Two other campuses also played key roles in developing Necessary Beauty. In July of 2007, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois hosted Miller's company for a creative residency, and a few weeks later, she gave a "performance in progress" at the Bates (College) Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine. After the Ohio State premiere, Necessary Beauty toured to New York, the Krannert Center, and the Myrna Loy Center in Helena, Montana. Reviewing Necessary Beauty in the New York Times, Roslyn Suclas noted that Miller "effected one of those magical theatrical transformations when what has felt random is unexpectedly filled with allusive mystery."