Curtain Call: Ann Law ready for 3rd decade of keeping Chattanooga on the move

Curtain Call: Ann Law ready for 3rd decade of keeping Chattanooga on the move

April 12th, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Ann Law dances during her "Passion Flower" performance at Barking Legs Theater. The show, which included monologues, dances and a short film, chronicled Law's journey through breast cancer. Staff file photo


Hometown: Santa Paula, Calif.

Age: 55.

Education: Mills College, degree in dance.

Vocation: Co-owner (with husband Bruce Kaplan) Barking Legs Theater, dancer/instructor/presenter.


Movie: Wim Wenders "Pina" (documentary).

Book: Carolyn Brown "Chance and Circumstance: Twenty years with Cage and Cunningham."

Song: "Anything by Marc Ribot and Los Cubanos Postizos."

Actors/Performers: Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan.

Quotations: "You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it." - Wendell Berry.

When Ann Law's husband, neurologist Bruce Kaplan, was offered a job here in Chattanooga in 1993, it helped that the couple knew Bob Stagner and Dennis Palmer, co-founders of the Shaking Ray Levi Society.

The four artists shared similar philosophies on art. Still, for Law, who grew up in California, studied dance in San Francisco and worked professionally in Philadelphia and was then living and dancing in New York, coming to Chattanooga was a big move.

"We decided to give it a try, and we decided to commit to it," she said. "The last thing we wanted to do was move here and then to someplace else and then some other place. As an artist, a home base is extremely important to me."

What she found upon arriving here was that the market for the type of performances she created, which could be described as avant garde, was relatively small and the number of venues available for hosting such shows was even smaller.

So she and Kaplan opened a venue near his office on Dodds Avenue, and Barking Legs Theater was born. The theater, with a capacity of around 90, has become known as an intimidate venue to see anything from dance performances to poetry readings to concerts by such renowned musicians as Sam Bush and Beppe Gambetta.

Q: What was the goal when you opened Barking Legs?

A: The goal was to present Chattanooga with an alternative performance base. When I got here, you had the Tivoli, but that was about it. My first performance was at Nancy Lane Wright's studio, which could fit maybe 40 people.

For my real coming-out into the community, I had to talk to [Ted] Strictland about getting into the Circle (Theatre). It was always booked up.

We needed an alternative venue.

Q: Do you remember a conversation we had about 12 years ago when you decided to do less performing and focus on teaching?

A: I never stopped performing. I couldn't teach if I didn't perform.

Q: Sorry. Maybe it was presenting. You had decided to do less presenting.

A: Oh, yes. That is true. When we got down here we felt like the community needed stimulation. One role, which we had no desire to do originally, was to present artists from other communities. We brought people from all over and presented some really good pieces.

Then my daughter came along, and I figured out I could either present full time or parent full time.

We presented for about 10 years, and then Bruce took over and has been presenting music and done a tremendous job. So for the first decade we presented performance artists, and for the last 10 we did music. For the next decade, we feel like there is starting to be a really nice balance.

Q: When you told me you were going to do less presenting, do you remember saying that it wasn't really about Chattanooga not being ready or interested in performance art, but that we were very much into the outdoors and that is why people came here.

A: This is a beautiful place. I love it. It's part of what keeps our hands in the dirt, and I mean that in so many ways. Whether we are outside planting in the garden, climbing a rock, walking in the woods, whatever.

When I first moved here, it took six months to get the New York City dances out of me. I'd be lying to say this place didn't affect me. This place grounds me.

Q: What are you working on?

A: Do you know Angela Sweet? She and her husband John run Neidlov's (Breadworks). Angela is a beautiful dancer, and she has created Wide Open Floor. It's where artists gather and just share. I'm not kidding when I say it has been the highlight of my last 10 years.

Dancers, musicians, poets, writers -- it's all about sharing. She's created this incredible thing. We have the Association for Visual Arts, but we don't have an Association for Performance Arts.

It meets on the first Friday night of every month. It's kind of an open mike for performers.

And I've very excited about Cagefest. We thought, let's get six composers and six choreographers and through chance put them together with stories and create pieces without talking or working together. On April 20, we will see for the first time the result. It breaks all the rules.