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Critical Consortium

Artists, looking for feedback, bare their souls and creations to a team of fellow artists each month.

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The music flows out of the CD player, and the dancers perform about a minute of movement. At the end, there is no clapping, just a quiet shifting of places so the next piece can be shown.

This is The Field — a series of 10 workshops that, according to a promotional postcard, are "designed for choreographers, theater artists, performance artists and composers to meet weekly with other artists, show their works-in-progress, and receive thoughtful, critical feedback."

In Richmond's version of The Field, Fieldwork, the workshop sessions that make up the series, is a group of seven dance and theater artists who gather at Orange Door Gallery on Sunday nights through April 13. They show their works in turn and then sit in a circle to discuss and give feedback on each piece. The series culminates in a performance of the completed works April 19.

Choreographer and performer Julie Mayo, who recently moved back to Richmond, participated in Fieldwork in Seattle and San Francisco. She brought the series to Richmond because it had "such a positive influence in my creative life." Getting outside perspectives on her choreography, Mayo would hear "unexpected reactions that [I] didn't necessarily intend." "It was rich," she says.

According to The Field Web site, the series in its current form emerged in New York City in 1986, when a group of artists began meeting regularly to "develop a structure to help each other improve their artwork and counter the isolation that often comes with an artistic career." The organization has grown and now boasts 14 affiliates nationwide, as well as one in Toronto and one in Tokyo. "Our priority is to create a climate where experimentation, risk-taking and originality are championed, and where the broadest range of voices are included," the site reads.

After spending some time in the Richmond arts scene, Mayo felt that Fieldwork could enrich the community by bringing together local performing artists of different backgrounds. Artists at all levels of development are encouraged to participate, whether they are affiliated with a company or performing group or not. Thus, Fieldwork provides a valuable performance opportunity for those unaffiliated artists who might not otherwise have a venue to perform their work. Another excellent by-product of the series is the creation of new artistic collaborations, as Mayo found in San Francisco when she formed a dance collective there with two fellow Field members.

During this first meeting Sunday, what stands out most is the courage of these artists to come together and show their work raw, unfinished and unmasked. No pretty lights, no costumes, no applause. (Fieldwork guidelines discourage applause as an indicator of a piece's merit.) Also according to the guidelines, "Artists don't speak directly about their own work. By not explaining the intentions at the core of our work or giving peripheral information … we receive clear responses to the piece as it reads on its own terms."

Thoughtful commentary follow the performances, ranging from technical notes on sightlines ("I couldn't see you dancing behind her") to conceptual responses about the imagery or emotion a viewer saw in the piece. Artists can use feedback at their own discretion, and are not required to respond to it on the spot. The entire process encourages both thoughtful art-making, and thoughtful art-viewing.

Mayo admits that "it's tricky combining critical feedback with a supportive environment," but these artists appear excited by both those aspects of Fieldwork. As actor Leah Lamb notes, "I was looking for a place where I could take risks — and learn from them."

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