Skye Schmidt. Photograph by Aaron Cota

Finding Sanctuary

Haven, a global sanctuary for dance

Lillian Barbeito is a dancer, first and foremost. But beyond that, she’s a mover. Perhaps this is why when she has an idea, she can’t sit still. And when she devotes herself to bringing these ideas to life, she doesn’t do it halfway.

Barbeito’s latest endeavor is no different. When Bodytraffic, the Los-Angeles-based dance company she co-founded with Tina Finkelman Berkett, was forced to suspend operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Barbeito didn’t bide her time for long. With dancers and choreographers out of work for the foreseeable future and arts spaces worldwide forced to close their doors and cancel their performance seasons, it was clear to Barbeito that the dance world was devastated. Her community needed her. And when protests following the death of George Floyd broke out across the U.S., she began to consider her role in making dance a more equitable space for all. Seeing these areas of need, she got to work using her skills to fill them. Enter: the Haven Global Sanctuary for Dance.

“I started to really reflect on how I was showing up in the world and how I was making a difference,” Barbeito says. “I knew that whatever my next endeavor was going to be, it had to be something that was going to help the next wave of performing arts develop with a kinder, more open-minded conscientiousness.”

I started to really reflect on how I was showing up in the world and how I was making a difference

Lillian Barbeito

A project inspired by and necessitated by the times, Haven has manifested a bit differently than traditional dance workshops and master classes. Yes, like most events these days, it is hosted virtually. But beyond that, the programming itself takes on an alternative structure, one that Barbeito describes as “organic and alive.”

“We’re sort of building the plane and flying it at the same time,” she says. “The culture and climate of Haven is fluidity. The world is so unpredictable right now, so we have to be really understanding and compassionate with each other.”

Summed up, Haven is a mentorship program for dancers and choreographers. It pairs up-and-coming talent with industry professionals like Barak Marshall and David Maurice, offering online programming including one-on-one training and an array of workshops. But beyond all the traditional trappings, Haven uses dance as a jumping off point to allow creatives to explore fields outside of movement as well.

“When I started to build the team for Haven, I wanted it to be people that had skills that they were either curious about or aspects of themselves that they had always wanted to explore but hadn’t yet had the vehicles or the time to do so” Barbeito says. “Every single thing at Haven is born out of a conversation with someone, and it’s a true partnership.”

Among those assembled for Haven’s team: recent dance graduate and aspiring web designer Rachel Walton, dancer and photographer Skye Schmidt, dance activist Brianna Mims, and former Hofesh Shechter company member Chris Evans.

Rachel Walton. Photograph by Lindsay Rosenberg

Before Covid derailed her plans, Walton was developing an enviable career for herself as a freelance dancer in Los Angeles. A 2019 graduate of the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Walton had already worked with industry luminaries like William Forsythe and Saleemah E. Knight. But with the arrival of the stay-at-home orders necessitated by the outbreak, Walton’s work all but ground to a stop.

It was then that she was able to turn to an interest she had placed on the backburner: web design. Barbeito reached out to Walton, who she had met through Bodytraffic, to offer the recent graduate a paid gig designing Haven’s website. For Walton, the experience of coding the website from scratch and later pivoting to a web design platform to complete the project was both a learning experience and an opportunity to build confidence in a new area of expertise.

“Going into a new field with computer science and programming, I don’t have the same inner confidence as I do with dance because web design is newer to me,” Walton says. “I’m extremely grateful that Lillian went out on a limb for me.”

By providing Walton with that notoriously difficult-to-nail-down first job, Haven also gave the aspiring developer a way to establish relationships with new freelance clients. And she has. As of now, Walton is building up her freelance portfolio with several other custom website commissions.

Haven’s provision of jobs for those who have lost work during the pandemic is another example of the program’s signature fluidity and response to the times. While there is certainly no shortage of webinars and online networking opportunities, jobs themselves are in very short supply. At Haven, though, creating opportunity doesn’t just apply to the establishment of programming and educational opportunities, but the way this programming can give back to the dance community in the form of paid jobs.

Skye Schmidt. Photograph by J D Renes

For Skye Schmidt, joining Haven didn’t represent a full career pivot, but rather a continuation of the work she had been pursuing pre-pandemic. In addition to her careers as both a dancer and a photographer, Schmidt had a previously established working relationship with Barbeito as Bodytraffic’s administrative assistant. At Haven, she is employed in a similar capacity, though she admits that her new position “gives her more leadership opportunities.”

Haven has provided her with other types of opportunities, too. Schmidt has participated in Haven as both a dance and choreography mentee, which has allowed her to explore in ways, if not for Haven, she says she might never have.

“I had never dug into choreography prior to the choreography mentorship program,” she says. “Now I just wish I did it sooner, although this program was so unique that it’s almost like it literally couldn’t have happened any sooner.”

Brianna Mims. Photograph by Benett Perez

In addition to providing funding for dancers in the form of paid jobs, Haven is also helping creatives to fund their own personal artistic explorations and passion projects. Brianna Mims, a dancer, activist, and 2019 graduate of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, is partnering with Haven to produce a coffee table book that will unpack the symbolism of the suit as it relates to ideas of professionalism, capitalism, and politics.

The project, which Mims says she has been “sitting on for a while,” includes elements of photography, writing, and costume design. Mims says that without the support from Haven—and the extra time afforded by the stay-at-home orders—it would have been much more difficult to begin a project of this caliber.

“I don’t think I would have had the time to marinate on [the project] and to dive as deep into the content,” Mims says. “It would have probably taken a lot longer to get off the ground.”

Haven has been a beacon of exploration for those who are more established in their careers as well. Veteran dancer Chris Evans was able to simultaneously provide mentorship and explore his own interests through the creation of his dance and creative writing course.

“I’m curious about so many things and [Haven is] an environment where someone is nudging me and saying: ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got this opportunity and it could be whatever you want, but you’d better just decide what it is because it’s going to happen’” he says.

Chris Evans. Photograph by Benedict Johnson

But while Haven is offering so much to participants and employees now, the ever-present question of ‘What next?’ remains. Ostensibly, the pandemic will end and everyone will be eager to leave Zoom in the past. This might seem daunting to most online-only platforms that have flourished during the pandemic, but because Haven was built on fluidity and adaptability, Barbeito has a plan.

When safety permits, Haven plans to proceed as a hydrid in-person/online platform. Participants will be given the option to take part in a physical class, a virtual class, or purchase a downloadable link to take the courses at their leisure.

Haven’s first hybrid experience, a dance-a-thon fundraiser, is planned for May 1. According to Barbeito, the event will feature participants who are sponsored to dance, in addition to live performances every 45 minutes as a treat for the viewers—and a break for the participants. The event will take place online and in-person in downtown L.A.

“We are calling it a ‘sustainable fundraiser.’ It’s another way to provide work, but the money that is raised and left over after paying the performers will go towards producing new art,” Barbeito says.

Even the idea for the fundraiser came from a Haven participant, Madison Tanguay, a mentee in the dance program.

“I asked her: ‘What are your biggest concerns as a dancer’,” Barbeito recalls. “And she said, ‘just that there is no funding, especially in this country. I wish that there was a way it could be cyclical.”

In many ways, the entire curriculum at Haven, not just the fundraiser, is cyclical. Making art through education funds jobs, and jobs lead to the exploration and creation of new art. Though Haven is certainly borne of the times, the program’s signature adaptability all but secures a spot in dance’s future.

More Stories
Paul Taylor
Ham and Eggs