“Whittle is extremely inventive, and has the ability all great choreographers must have to convey through motion the visions that the audience will find most intriguing and evocative.” -reveiw of Occupied (2009) by Marion C. Stewart (former critic for Kohler Arts Center)
Rocket Grants propel artistic innovation
By THERESA BEMBNISTER
Special to The Star (in the art section on the Kansas City Star Newspaper)
Sunday, Jan. 02, 2011
Leralee Whittle mimicked the motion of cardio exercise, jerking her arms and torso back and forth. Dumbbells hanging in a sling formed by her stretchy workout clothing echoed her body’s movements. Whittle was in a gym, but she was not exercising. She was performing in front of an audience, moving her body in an exaggerated way to satirize our culture’s obsession with sports. Whittle and her collaborator, musician and composer Paul Sprawl, chose an unexpected venue — the gym of the Westport-Roanoke Community Center — for the November premiere of their performance, “WorkArtOut.”
Integrating live dance and video projections, WorkArtOut critiqued sports culture through movement, music, costume and a healthy sense of the absurd. Performers donned clown wigs, batting helmets and protective padding . Dancers posed and gyrated on yoga mats, breathing heavily while making come-hither glances toward the audience, calling attention to the conflation of fitness and sexuality.
A $4,000 Rocket Grant helped Whittle realize “WorkArtOut.” Funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the program aims to boost artistic innovation by awarding small grants to artist-driven projects.
The Rocket Grants program also funded “WorkArtOut,” a performance by Leralee Whittle and collaborators satirizing our culture’s obsession with sports. The piece was presented in November at the Roanoke Community Center, in keeping with the program’s aim to fund projects outside traditional arts institutions.
Viewers are more likely to encounter Rocket Grant-funded work in a gym, bar or
store than in an art gallery. The program exclusively funds projects outside traditional institutions such as galleries and museums. Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence administer the grants locally. Last spring, a panel of artists and curators with local ties selected proposals for awards totaling $40,000. Twenty-eight area artists received funds for projects including installations, publications, performances and educational programming for children and adults. “Collaboration, connection and exchange help to build the kind of ‘hybrid vigor’ that fuels innovation, and this is an important focus of the Rocket Grants,” Julia Cole, program coordinator, said.
Collaboration was key to the innovation of “WorkArtOut.” Whittle recruited performers with little experience in contemporary dance, introducing a new audience to the genre and encouraging others to think — and move — creatively.“It was a big challenge for me to draw the performer out of each of them and to convince them to think like an artist who communicates many states of mind, each translated in the body,” she said.
Rocket number three – Tom King of Review (on-line magazine)
One of the 2010 Rocket Grants was awarded to the team of performance artist Leralee Whittle and musician Paul Sprawl for WorkArtOut, which Whittle describes as “a contemporary dance performance featuring video, dance and live music, and offering some creative alternatives to the funny, strange ways people act when they enter sports work-out facilities.” They are one of three artist teams to earn this award in its initial round. (Applications for the second round are in progress now.)
In 3 in White, says Whittle, “The combination of white hooded sweatsuits and Paul Sprawl’s haunting music brought out the cultish quality of being part of a sports team or team affiliation as a fan.”
Whittle and Sprawl journey to the Texas desert next month to work on Stranger Friend, an exploration of human relationships and the tentative boundaries between dreams and waking life.