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EXCHANGE Choreography Festival, the longest-running dance festival in Oklahoma, has always focused on bringing artists together to discuss, learn, network and grow creatively from interacting with each other. But, just like so many other events, EXCHANGE has been affected by COVID-19. This year, July 23-26, the festival will move to an online platform in order to stay connected and safe.

The Bell House, a collaborative dance and art cooperative, created the EXCHANGE Choreography Festival in 2009 with the intent to explore the artistic process behind creating dance and much more.

“Exchange is also a rare opportunity for local audiences to check out the wider world of modern dance, including work by up-and-coming artists in the field,” says Alicia Chesser, curator of the EXCHANGE Choreography Festival.

Thirty-two choreographers from 13 different countries will virtually descend on Tulsa to connect through dance on the Bell House’s website thebellhouse.info. The festival is free and open to the public and will continue to showcase new and veteran artists’ choreographic works, host discussions about those works, networking events, workshops, talks and performances.

“Right away in mid-March we affirmed our commitment to pursuing our mission, which is to connect people through the art of dance. We just had to figure out how to do that connecting online rather than in person,” Chesser says. “There have been wonderful surprises, like being able to receive submissions and include artists from anywhere in the world.”

The disruption of COVID-19 is felt in the festival and in all of our lives, and what better way to show that disturbance than through dance? The festival includes a program of original dance and documentary “COVID-inspired and -interrupted” followed by a Q&A. Attendees can also tune into filmed live performances, improv sessions, coaching and living room master classes without ever leaving home.

The Bell House hopes to raise funds through the festival to help keep their cooperative alive and growing in professional development and the creation of new local, regional and national dance works. The festival is free, but donations are encouraged. The nonprofit Bell House is a place where artists can come together to share, learn, exchange ideas and showcase contemporary dance forms to the Tulsa community. But they need donations to keep doing that work.

“Typically, funds from festival event tickets are (The Bell House’s) main source of income. This year, we decided to make everything donation-based; it just felt like the right thing to do,” Chesser says.

Events you can tune into from the living room include a guided improvisation via Zoom with live music by Matt Magerkurth; a master class with Alexandra Beller live from New York City; an exclusive interview with Peter Chu of Kidd Pivot, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and chuthis. on creating embodied movement experiences in virtual space.

“Particularly this year, having the festival online and featuring so many diverse and beautiful dance films, it's really something special to see artists from all over the world dancing out their isolation, their celebration, their kooky ways of getting through the days, their dreams and visions,” Chesser says. “These films really take you into the physical experience of another person, their real embodied life. For me, it feels good to feel with them.”

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