Legs folded, seated on a riser in a small black box theater at Triskelion Arts in Williamsburg, choreographer Sarah Capua directs two dancers, “Every relationship with the ground is important. Like you’re walking on sacred ground.” She unfolds her legs to model the delicate footsteps she describes. 

Capua runs a start-up dance company alongside her long-time friend and collaborator Audrey Ellis, called A+S Works (after their first names).

They are working on their upcoming performance, Dakota, which is influenced by poet Kathleen Norris’ first work of nonfiction, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, 2001. Both their choreography and the book explore how people relate to landscape. “We’re interested in how we imagine landscape,” says Ellis. “We inhabit these landscapes, perhaps places that we’ve never been before, and discuss what that imagined place provides.”

Both choreographers have lived and worked in Bushwick for a few years. When Ellis first moved to Bushwick in 2009, her first apartment building was pretty bad, complete with drug-addled flat-mates. “Each apartment had about 4 or 5 people living in it,” Ellis explains, “One guy lived in a closet that he converted to a bedroom.” Since, she has upgraded to a two-bedroom on Troutman Street.

Capua works in Bushwick teaching yoga at Green Fitness Gym on Varet Street. Capua used to dance professionally, but began teaching yoga after she tore her hamstring during a rehearsal. After a two-year hiaitus, she can now can only perform in a small range of motion to prevent further injury.

I met with the girls for dinner to talk about their struggles with running a dance company, and staying relevant in 2011. Capua and Ellis are already snacking on some asparagus and sipping beer at a table in a low lit garden patio.

After watching colleagues and collaborators apply and perform in a few benchmark festivals, the girls realized they wanted to garner success in an alternative way. The performance circuit requires a lot of money (often in the form of fees) just to gain access to a very limited audience of other dancers. “It’s not that we haven’t played the game,” says Ellis, “but the reach is so short.” Capua cuts in, “We’re interested in the ‘new’ audience.”

With the help of a grant from the Area Arts Council, the Capua and Ellis were able to start a dance retreat and festival called On The Farm in Hornell, a tiny town in upstate New York, which is Ellis’ hometown. The festival recruits a small selection of artists from around the country to conceive and produce a performance to be shown at the end of the three day festival.

This year, Ellis and Capua showcase their current project, Dakota. In a addition to performances, the company also invites Hornell locals to dance through a series of workshops open to the public. Their goal is two-fold: to make dance and performance art accessible to the general public, and to expose young dancers to non-traditional dance methods. “There’s a void to fill [In Hornell],” says Ellis.

However, a void doesn’t make finding an audience any easier. “Only fifty people came out for the final performance last year,” says Capua. Still, Capua and Ellis find gaining even this small audience to be more a mark of success. The choreographers are looking forward to doing the project again.

“We’re looking for a sense of relevance,” says Ellis, “at a time when artists are really having to defend what it is that their art can do. Fiscally, socially, and even culturally, contemporary dance is having to defend its own place in the arts.”

On The Farm ran from August 5 – 8, 2011 in Hornell, NY. Be on the look out for their Fall performance at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side.