Shifting Contexts

Ways of Thinking About Contemporary Performance

some sentences and paragraphs on rendering rooms in the form of books

Karinne Keithley Syers

I made notes for a long time, then chose three categories, three containers: survive, blazon, submit. BLAZON. I met this word as a verb while studying the plays of Christopher Marlowe. To blazon, poetically, is to extol the virtues and beauty of the subject of your writing. The gesture is heraldic, as if you, the author, can see the secret imprint of the soul of your cherished thing, can describe its face in the immutable terms of a coat of arms, something persisting through time that is also related to life blood, to energy, to presence.…

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About this project has always been a leading streaming platform for contemporary performance, offering unique performances films by living artists. Our initial goal was to bring contemporary performance to folks around the world, thereby making this ephemeral form more accessible; ten years on, we have realized that something being available is not the same as it being accessible, and what is needed now is sophisticated and varied contextualizing materials. Many of our audience members are educators who utilize the platform in classes on contemporary dance and performance; but we also draw curious individuals, fellow practitioners, and independent scholars. Given this range, we began thinking what we could do in-house to offer younger watchers ways into material that can at times be intimidating, while offering more seasoned watchers materials that might deepen their experience.

As we thought through how best to do this, we invited artist Michelle Ellsworth and writer Claudia La Rocco to be in collaboration with us. The initial result is this online project, Shifting Contexts, which was created and edited by La Rocco, in consultation with Ellsworth and a host of performance makers, writers, and scholars. Throughout the process, we conducted numerous conversations with university students, educators, and presenters from peer organizations, and artists in adjoining disciplines, in an effort to be responsive to the field’s needs.

Shifting Contexts offers a suite of new contextual and curricular materials surrounding performances we feature on In consultation with Beth Gill, Tere O’Connor, Ralph Lemon, Michelle Ellsworth, Heather Kravas, Charles Atlas, and Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, we’ve commissioned interviews, essays, videos, and other resources to accompany their performances; rather than present answers and explanations, we hope that these materials will exist in conversation with the recordings. It is our aim to provide broader information to audiences, artists, students, dance administrators, and supporters. Through this, we hope to create a deeper understanding of contemporary performance, build demand for the art form, and bring more audiences to live performance.

As always, please get in touch with us if you have feedback or questions. is constantly evolving to be a better resource for educators, artists, and audiences of contemporary performance. This is only the beginning, and we’d love to hear from you. Please email our Artistic Director Rachel Cook at with any comments, thoughts about this project, or feedback.


This project was made possible through funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation grant for Building Demand for the Arts.


Shifting Contexts was conceived by Claudia La Rocco with significant contributions from Michelle Ellsworth. Additional contributions from Bailey Anderson, Renée Archibald, Charles Atlas, Sima Belmar, Harmony Bench, Victoria Brooks, Ansje Burdick, Siobhan Burke, Chris Cameron, Maxe Crandall, Katy Dammers, Thomas F. DeFrantz, cecilia lisa eliceche, Jeffrey Gan, Beth Gill, Ryan Jenkins, Karinne Keithley Syers, Jennifer Krasinski, Heather Kravas, Thomas J. Lax, Ralph Lemon, Tonya Lockyer, Lodi McCellan, Megan Metcalf, Rashaun Mitchell, Tere O’Connor, Onye Ozuzu, Carla Peterson, Alexandra Pappas, Katherine Profeta, Silas Riener, Brian Rogers, Janice Ross, Rebecca Rossen, Jennifer Salk, Sydney Skybetter, Noémie Solomon, The Chocolate Factory Theater, EMPAC, The Kitchen, The Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida University, and The Museum of Modern Art.

This project had numerous contributions from On the Boards staff members including Erica Bower Reich, Betsey Brock, Monique Courcy, Lane Czaplinski, Beth Raas-Bergquist, and Sarah Wilke. The final iteration of the project was managed by Artistic Director, Rachel Cook with significant assistance from Curatorial Intern, Jordan Macintosh-Hougham.

Video Editing by Elliat Graney-Saucke | Elliat Creative

Copy Editing by Kiera O’Brien

Consultation by Surale Phillips

Web Design by Jayme Yen

Web Programming by Mark Burgess