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Community and Creativity at Chez Bushwick

Community and Creativity at Chez Bushwick

May 13, 2013

By Elyssa Goodman

“I could be working or I could be photographing ballerinas at Chez Bushwick!” Oriana Leckert laughed, when I interviewed her about her website Brooklyn Spaces last month. Her statement took me by surprise—what? Ballerinas? In Broo
Walking down Boerum Street, just off the Morgan stop on the L train, the eye is caught by a wealth of neon graffiti tagged onto the walls of a factory. This perfectly represents the transition between what Bushwick used to be (and in many parts still is), and what it is becoming. Chez Bushwick is a non-profit organization based, naturally, in the neighborhood after which it’s named, at 304 Boerum Street. It’s dedicated to “rehearsal and performance subsidies, arts advocacy, education, outreach, and community development,” offering performers an affordable space to rehearse and produce new works, and strengthening the presence and impact of contemporary performance within society.klyn? It was true—my Manhattan living had mentally confined my experience of ballet to Lincoln Center, and modern dance to, well, everywhere else. This was, of course, completely incorrect. So when Oriana mentioned Chez Bushwick, I knew I had to find out more.

As Christiana Lederman, studio manager at the space, wrote in an email, when the space opened “[Bushwick] was rough and industrial and didn’t have the natural food markets and coffee shops tucked into every corner.” A haven for young artists because of its affordable rent, Bushwick is slowly becoming a new kind of community, part of which is represented by Chez Bushwick.

“When it opened in 2003, the area boasted large spaces at affordable prices and this was very attractive to the founders,” Lederman says. “As young artists and performers on the scene [Chez Bushwick founders] Jonah [Bokaer] and crew pioneered an affordable and inclusive community space that encouraged choreographic experimentation and a healthy exchange of ideas, art forms, and knowledge while also creating a link to the surrounding community of Bushwick through arts education and awareness.”

On the second floor at 304 Boerum, around a sharply angled corner, are the Chez Bushwick offices and studio. The offices are lined with what I have come to know in my own time in the dance world as typical studio décor, like faded performance posters, awards and framed publications recognizing its artists, and massive calendars of events. Jonah Bokaer doesn’t so much shake my hand as hug it with his own hand, welcoming me to the space before dashing off to an appointment. He is tall, darkly featured with an olive complexion, and moves with an effortlessly graceful strength. The space is also a home to Bokaer’s personal work in dance, mixed media artwork and installation. Dancing with the famed choreographer Merce Cunningham from 2000 to 2007, Bokaer went on not only of course to found Chez Bushwick, but to have his works presented internationally, from Paris to Bangalore to Copenhagen, among many others.

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