Charles Santos is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Texas dance presenter TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND, and the newest member of MMIAM’s International Advisory Board. Charles curates dance performances/companies from all over the world to bring to North Texas through TITAS, which was recently rebranded as TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND to reflect the original and progressive nature of their selected works.
Could you tell us about TITAS/Dance Unbound and your work there?
TITAS was originally founded as the Texas International Theatre Arts Society, but it has always been known as TITAS. For 28 years TITAS presented half music, half dance, and all left of center. TITAS is a freestanding presenter which means that we don’t produce our own shows or own a theater. Presenters curate and present artists for their audience according to their mandate. In the case of TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND, we curate lots of artists from around the globe which are not only contemporary but also ethnic-specific.
For the past ten years we have slowly eased away from music to focusing entirely on dance and that’s reflected in our recent rebranding as TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND.
My job is sort of a catch-all. As Executive Director and Artistic Director I raise money, produce shows, commission new work, and I curate our seasons, meaning I make the decisions regarding who we bring and why. Part of the job is being involved in the community, so I do a lot of adjudicating, I’m on a lot of boards, and I work with a lot of organizations, like Broadway Cares in New York where I used to work.
It’s really about producing. I’m producing art all the time and I’m a big believer in curation. It takes a lot of exploration and seeing lots of new work to know what to put out there. We have to ask ourselves “What are we trying to say in this season, and how far are we going to push the audience?” and answer those questions with the work we present to our audiences.
What has your career trajectory been like?
I’ve been involved in the arts my entire professional career in varying capacities. While still in university I took a couple of years off to tour with a touring show before coming back to finish. Then I got an offer to dance with Sharir Dance Company in Austin where I danced for nine years and got to work with a lot of great dancers/choreographers in the industry. During the height of the AIDS epidemic I started an AIDS benefit dance festival in Austin, and that was kind of my foray into the managing side of things. It was a huge success and grew from a one-day festival to four days by the second year. So I realized I had to choose one: either be a full-time dancer or dedicate myself to the management side of art.
I decided it was time to move to New York where I worked as the Development Director of an orchestra for two months before becoming the Managing Director for two years while continuing to produce the Austin festival. At first I wanted to be a development professional, so that was what I focused on but I realized I missed not getting to make artistic decisions. Though I could produce our concerts at Lincoln Center, I really couldn’t participate in making artistic suggestions or programming decisions for an orchestra, so I left and became the Producing Director of Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) with Broadway Cares. With Broadway Cares I was able to work in a more artistic capacity and we had the opportunity to work with just about anyone we wanted. I took the opportunity to expand the programming to be a lot more nation-wide rather than just focused on New York. I learned a lot and made great connections.
My last job in New York was Managing Director/Associate Producer at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council at the World Trade Center where I got my first real experience producing popular music and negotiating those contracts. Four days before 9/11, I announced I would be leaving for Dallas in November to work as the Executive Director/Artistic Director of TITAS where I’ve been for almost twenty years now. Clearly I made it out so I ended up starting a month earlier in October.
How does TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND innovate in the arts?
TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND has always presented work that is left of center, which means we don’t really do more traditional work like the Nutcracker unless it’s a new version that’s truly innovative. We like to balance our seasons with TITAS favorites and new discoveries that challenge the audience.
An example of our innovation is my recent drive to find a modern voice of Asian dance from a variety of national perspectives. I wanted a company based in traditional movement but presented with a modern aesthetic. A new perspective. This past year I made a trip to South Korea and China and saw 25 companies in each country. I was really impressed by some of the contemporary companies that are based in traditional movement and culture but had a modern aesthetic. This is what I’m looking for. It helps introduce a country’s culture to our audience, but presented in a new exciting way that they might not have expected.
In addition to curating new works from all around the world, part of our mandate is to commission new work, so TITAS commissions new pieces every year. Commissioning new work is great for us, the artist, and dance in general. It’s also really great because new work is being created with TITAS’ and Dallas’ name on it. It helps establish that our city is committed to the Arts and to fostering new work. It puts us on the global map in the dance world. Dallas is becoming more and more recognized around the world for dance, which is something that we are proud of and work towards every day.
Our next few years will be offering a lot of new stuff. Our 2019-2020 season is the first under our new brand TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND which reflects our commitment to bringing international, exciting, and innovative works to our audience. Our 2020-2021 season will have a lot of new additions, including a new series called TITAS Unfiltered with the tagline “If you’re easily offended, don’t come”. The series is committed to riskier works that might offend some people due to content or theme. It will be provocative and hopefully attract a younger crowd as well as providing Dallas the opportunity it deserves to see great challenging work. As I enter my 20th season with TITAS I am excited by what we have accomplished and what we are about to do.
What do you think will characterize the future of dance in general, and in North Texas in particular?
Dance is a part of every culture around the world. I think dance is very interesting right now because the divisions are being broken down. Ballet is being mixed with contemporary or tap, and all kinds of traditional dances are finding new ways to tell stories by expanding their vocabulary of movement. It’s exciting because you see this change on a world-wide scale. There are almost no more lines between genres and in the future there will be even less.
There’s so much happening in the North Texas dance world, and TITAS is a big part of that evolution. We’re trying to give people what they want and expand their horizons. Even if it’s not for you, we want people to be able to look at it and say “I understand why you’re doing it even if this piece isn’t for me”.
As a presenter dedicated to bringing our audience the best acts from around the world, we are also very invested in the Dallas community. We want to help create opportunities for our local artists and to make it a better place for dancers and dance community. We will be producing a new annual dance festival featuring local artists. This will allow them to be seen by a larger number of people and draw some outside attention to Dallas as a city that loves dance. We are also working to develop a more cohesive and collaborative arts community. With the AT&T Performing Arts Center, our partner, we are also working to develop things like affordable rehearsal space, and a “professionals’ class” to bring the dance community together.
What makes you excited to be in the arts and culture industry today?
As I said earlier, dance is a part of every culture. The arts and culture industry is extraordinary. It is expressive, sharing, and it helps break down barriers like nothing else. It sparks inspiration and dialogue. The world is so connected and it’s becoming more open to new ideas from different places which is very exciting to me as a presenter. As presenters we provide the opportunity of discovery and epiphany. Discovery is that inspirational moment when people experience something they would never have experienced if we hadn’t brought this great art to Dallas. This idea of discovery is very important. It helps people open themselves to new experiences, cultures, ideas and lifestyles. It helps people question things and to be inspired. This helps people to stop seeing us as multiple communities, but as one big community. Art really is the thing that’s connecting people here.
Do you have any advice for arts managers or students of arts management?
I would suggest to anyone starting out a career in the arts to get in the door and get the work done. Pick a company you’re interested in and prove yourself. Even if it’s not perfect, start working and show them that you’re serious. Put the energy out there. Ask questions. It’s fine if you don’t know something. Admit you don’t know and work towards finding the answer. Do research, ask for help. Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses. Knowing them is a strength. You can do it, you just have to get started and get serious about making the moves and things will start to happen!