“We just looked at each other and said, ‘We can do this.’”
Seated in a cozy cafe on a cold Rochester morning, N’Jelle Gage is talking about a moment in 2009 when she and co-founder Guy Thorne decided to launch FuturPointe Dance.
The collaborators had first considered opening a restaurant together. But in the end they let their years of dance experience lead the way.
“I think we also saw that the Rochester community was ready for this,” Gage says. “There was a nice little niche. This community is so very artsy.”
FuturPointe is a non-profit company that performs what it calls reggae ballet—contemporary dance that draws on urban and global influences. It is deeply rooted in traditional African and Afro-Caribbean movement.
Gage, 37, is president of FuturPointe. She takes the lead on the administrative side. Thorne, 33, is artistic director. Both are choreographers who grew up in Jamaica. They say the poverty of the West Indies—where working cooperatively is a way to overcome a scarcity of resources—taught them to seek novel approaches to solve problems. In such an environment, Thorne says, “your best asset is how creative you can be toward getting your goals achieved. It comes back to that ability to bob and weave.”
Gage and Thorne met when she was 21 and he was 17. Later they went on to study and perform together. Thorne began his dance career in tap dancing in Jamaica. He moved to the United States as a scholarship student at Dance Theater of Harlem in New York City before becoming a principal dancer with Garth Fagan Dance for seven years. He earned a BFA in dance from SUNY College at Brockport. And when he joined Garth Fagan, he invited Gage to join him in Rochester.
Gage danced classical ballet as a child. She got her start as a professional dancer at age 15, when she joined L’Acadco, an avant garde modern dance company led by L’Antoinette Stines. She earned an advanced degree in teaching and performance from the University of Arts of Cuba in 2000.
Both have performed around the world. Their first performance as FuturPointe was a duet at a birthday party. The audience was receptive but not necessarily dance-inclined. The best part of the experience, Gage says, was that it was received as art, not entertainment. Thorne calls these audience members “accidental viewers” who, almost by chance, take in a show—and become return clients.
The two bring their personal passions and interests outside the dance realm into FuturPointe. In so doing, they work with area creators to present unusual events. It is so important to them, in fact, that it has become the model for the company’s work.
The idea is to eschew the old ways of doing things—principally dance-only events—and to tap into more productive methods, Gage says. The company produces its own work and seeks collaborations with like-minded, non-dancing artists “with no idea how it will work out.”
For example, during a special dinner prepared by Good Luck chef Dan Martello, FuturPointe performed dances that paired with the flavor of each course. The company has performed during fashion shows, in front of the cameras of students in the Genesee Center for the Arts’ photo club and with youths at Hillside Children’s Center and ArtPeace.
“We’re using our other passions to … widen our audience,” Thorne says. “I love the power of intention, and people who are suited to collaborate with us started coming out of the woodwork.”
Even its rehearsal space is the result of a shared vision. The company’s home studio is in South Presbyterian Church, on Mt. Hope Avenue in the budding College Town area. FuturPointe serves as artists-in-residence at the church, which seeks connections to students from the University of Rochester nearby.
“We recognize we have similar goals: The church wanted to reach international students, and we are dying to connect with that,” Gage says.
FuturPointe’s performances are multisensory and flexible in format. They can be presented in a wide variety of settings, from stage to outdoors to gallery spaces and—unusual for dancers—even carpeted floors.
“That’s one of the ways we are keeping it very 21st-century,” Gage says.
Social media come into play; audience members are encouraged to snap a photo with their phones and post to Twitter and Facebook.
“We give audiences the way to feel they are participating,” Thorne says.
The company has a core of five dancers, including Gage and Thorne: Heather Roffe is a co-director and choreographer, and Melinda Phillips and Liam Knighten are founding dancers and teaching artists. The company also recently added three apprentices and a production assistant/apprentice.
Besides its local events, FuturPointe participates in festivals and workshops around the country. Coming up: MAD Festival at Nazareth College, Lougheed Festival of the Arts at SUNY College at Potsdam and Last Dance International Festival in Leicester, U.K. Festival presenters like FuturPointe’s broad experience with different dance styles.
“What they love about it is there are multiple forms of dance we can teach,” says Gage—traditional folkloric movement in the Afro-Caribbean and African traditions and urban dance, including hip-hop, reggae and vogueing.
Thorne and Gage aim to make FuturPointe a touring company. To that end, the team earlier this week made its first trip to the annual international conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. It is the largest global marketplace for performing arts. FuturPointe performed a remix of “Psychopomp & Pageantry,” which debuted to enthusiastic reviews at last year’s Rochester Fringe Festival. The multimedia work about a dream-like look at life’s changes incorporates local illusionist Nickel Van Wormer.
APAP gives artists a chance to expand their network of arts presenters and venue representatives. Gage says the conference can open up new performance venues and broaden FuturPointe’s reach—all with an eye toward bringing in more revenue and becoming sustainable.
The company raised $16,000 for the trip from friends, local foundations, patrons and other donors. Gage says the support shows how connected FuturPointe is with its audience—people who have become the dancers’ community.
“I get chills from that,” she says.
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A 21st-century dance company
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘We can do this.’”