Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC) was founded in 2005 by the amazingly gifted dancer, choreographer, entrepreneur and now owner of Stomping Ground L.A., Kate Hutter Mason. For many years, Mason was the Artistic Director of LACDC, creating numerous dance works for the company, and per the company’s bylaws, Mason stepped down after her 10 year tenure as Artistic Director and the position was taken over by another incredible woman and artist, Genevieve Carson. Deciding to move on to other pursuits after five years, Carson stepped down and LACDC’s Board of Directors elected founding company member Jamila Glass as the new Artistic Director of one of LA’s leading contemporary dance companies.
Glass was known to many for her powerful dancing, stage presence, film work and choreography, but many of us knew little about her background. So, when the news was announced on December 1, 2020, I contacted Glass to arrange an interview. She is an extremely busy person working across two mediums, film and concert dance, but agreed to spend time with me over the phone.
Raised in Houston, Texas, Glass began dancing in church. When she shifted to a local dance studio, she was very quickly moved up to higher levels. She wanted to continue her dance training, but she had three sisters and her parents had to make choices on dividing up their time and travels between their four busy children. This meant, however, the end of Glass’ intense dance training.
Fortunately, Glass was also extremely interested in music and filmmaking. She attended the multi-Grammy award-winning High School for the Performing and Visual as a vocal music major before relocating to Los Angeles. She went on to earn a BA in Film and Video Production at the University of Southern California in the School of Cinema-Television with a minor in Advertising. Wanting to continue her interests in dance, Glass joined the USC Repertory Dance Company which was where she first met Kate Hutter (Mason). “It was essentially a student organization that put on two shows a year,” Glass said. “and Kate was one of the highly sought after choreographers that students wanted to work with.”
In 2006, a year after graduating from USC, Glass founded The Cutting Room because she wanted to work on more projects than she had at her current job as a Production Assistant at Mark Woollen & Associates a motion picture advertising agency that creates movie trailers. She was only given a few opportunities to do edit, but “What was great about that job was that it was a small agency,” she said. “so, I really got to see the inner workings of everything.”
Glass actually began video editing in high school back in Houston, getting experience editing for local productions, and want to do more. “The Cutting Room was born out of the need to continue to edit on my own.” Glass soon began freelancing as an editor for everything from radio spots to television pilots and commercials, eventually landing a job as lead editor for an online network.
“Under The Cutting Room,” Glass added. “I began directing and producing my own dance films in 2012.” Glass said that she wanted to find out exactly who she was as a director, and this was a ‘low stakes’ method toward accomplishing that goal. She had access to dancers in the commercial world and through her connection to LACDC. To date, she has created 13 short dance films. “It’s been really nice to have that extra outlet to flex my directorial muscles,” She said. “They all have been a challenge, but what is interesting about it is that a lot of the films in my portfolio have led to other jobs. That was unexpected.”
In the fall of 2019, Glass attended a two day workshop headed by the commercial industry legend Galen Hooks, and from that workshop received a much needed positive boost in how she felt about herself and her career path. When the pandemic hit, Hooks and colleague Amanda Balen created a way to stay connected to the alumni network of Hooks’ workshops by creating the Galen Hook Music Awards (GHMAs), a mock of the MTV Video Music Awards that were taking place at the same time. Though she was not expecting to win Glass was selected as one of the three Creative Directors who had to produce a live performance that was recorded on video in just 4 short days.
Glass also appears three times in the New York Times best seller Dancers Among Us: : A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday which Barnes & Noble called one of the best books of 2012. It is a photo book by photographer Jordan Matter that features over 150 dancers in 240 full-color pages. Each chapter has an introductory essay and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the making of each photograph. It is a beautiful book and the photography is straight forward – no gimmicks.
I next asked Glass how she found her way from film school at USC to becoming a founding member of LACDC.
“It was very interesting,” Glass said. “because Kate was a year older than me, graduating a year ahead of me, but before she left USC, she said that she wanted to start a dance company.” This was around 2004. “In my mind I thought that that would happen in 5 to 10 years.” She admitted that at that time she had no idea what forming a dance company entailed. Hutter left LA to begin her master’s degree at SUNY Purchase, and during a visit back home, once again stated her desire to start a company.
Hutter indeed held an audition for LACDC the day after Glass graduated from USC. Despite believing that a person normally has to have a dance degree or have danced their whole lives in order to become a professional dancer, Glass decided to attend the audition anyway. Being the talented dancer that she is, Glass was selected to join the company and has been performing with the company for the past 15 years.
Glass has appeared in numerous works choreographed by Hutter, Carson and other nationally known choreographers, and she has choreographed 5 works for the company. Her first LACDC work appeared at The Music Center’s annual Holiday Celebration that occurs on Christmas Eve at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (and broadcast on PBS), and her latest was this fall choreographing a solo for LACDC member Nicole Hagen. This was one way that outgoing Artist Director Carson kept the dancers actively creating and working during the pandemic.
“These are not out yet,” Glass said. “The solos are going to come together as a film in 2021.”
My next question for Glass was what challenges she found working as a choreographer who constantly moves back and forth between the commercial industry and the concert dance scene.
During the pandemic, she was actually faced with the situation of working during the week in the commercial arena while rehearsing with Nicole Hagen on the weekends. “Sometimes there’s a specificity in commercial dance,” Glass began. “that is at times challenging, and at other times helpful because you know exactly what lane to go down in terms of creating things.” She explained that the challenge is coming from a job in the commercial world into the more abstract way of thinking that takes place in creating work for concert dance.
“It was a good challenge though,” Glass said. Carson wanted to give the dancers the freedom to create what they wanted without the outside pressure of knowing the solos were going to be performed in some huge professional venue. “I tried to use that as a way to allow myself to accept all the bumps in the road with going back and forth (between the two mediums), and I think that Nicole and I were able to come up with something nice.”
On the Netflix project, Glass’ relationship with the director is unusual in that he respects her as a filmmaker in her own right, and actually trusts her instincts to provide excellent cinematic input during the filming process. Once she realized this about him, she decided to lean in a bit more and take this opportunity to use her eye as a filmmaker to suggest bold ways the camera could capture her movement. Glass has been excited by the way this director is shooting dance, using non-traditional angles. “It has helped me to think more creatively and push myself to think about what shot would excite the director enough to want to shoot it in this way.”
Getting around to Glass soon becoming the new Artistic Director of LACDC, I asked her what she envisioned for the company considering what the pandemic has brought down upon the dance business. How did she see getting through this period while planning for the future?
“Genevieve has already started that process with our fall commissions,” Glass said. In the past LACDC had not thought of their media commissions as part of the company’s season, but this year is different. ““Our fall season this year has been comprised of photography, sculpting, design, and film commissions. To have those as the focus for our season is new and exciting for us. Those commissions can always be developed into work for the stage – when performances are safe to be held inside again.” The three artist that were commissioned by LACDC were Mimi Haddon (photographer & costume/sculpture designer), Lee Gumbs (photographer), and Sara Silkin (choreographer & dance filmmaker).
“In pivoting to make work safely during the pandemic, we focused more on multi-media projects that we were able to produce wile socially distancing and simultaneously creating content that we can share with our audiences digitally,” Wrote Caron in an email to me.
LACDC will release one of its films this week with the remainder being released in 2021. “Our collaborator pool has always been quite strong,” she said. “the stage is what will help us continue to be creative during this time.”
I asked Glass to name who her mentors were in dance and in film. After listening to her talk during our interview, I was not surprised when she answered that she considered Kate Hutter Mason as her mentor in dance. “I just really admired her,” Glass said. “I remember when I joined the dance company at USC, the juxtaposition of her being so talented and so down to earth was something that I was really drawn to. With my training off and on, I felt like I was always catching up, but Kate never treated me any differently.” Hutter allowed Glass to assist with the social media side of LACDC which led to her becoming Media Director for the company. It was also Hutter’s inviting Glass to assist with a summer intensive that led to her becoming the director for their Summer and Winter programs. “I have always felt seen by her,” Glass added.
Glass added that she has also been influenced professionally by Kenya born choreographer Adam Parsons and artist, dancer, choreographer, and educator Mecca Vazie Andrews, both Black choreographers who were commissioned to set work on LACDC. Glass also trained with these two dance artists at LA’s EDGE studios. Glass said that she is also influenced by choreographer Ryan Huffington, an artist she has been fortunate enough to work with numerous times. As a mentor in film, “Probably my dad.” Glass said. Her father is Dr. Charles Glass who used to produce local television in Houston and taught his young daughter how to edit film.
Glass admitted that people around her have sometimes lightly (or more aggressively) suggested that she cho0se between being a dancer and a filmmaker. Her answer to them? “I am a better dancer because I am a filmmaker, and a better filmmaker because I am a dancer. I am happy that I have allowed those two to coexist.”
Everyone at LACDC has expressed great support for Glass and we all eagerly look forward to seeing where her leadership takes the company.
“Jamila is pragmatic but mischievous, and curious about the world around her. She unlocks ideas by asking questions and listening deeply. She is present and nurturing as a mother and an artist, and will do incredible things to support our artists and foster great things in the community. I can’t wait to see where she takes LACDC in this next chapter fueled by the amazing work of Genevieve, Napoleon, and our beautiful company members.” – Kate Hutter Mason, Co-founder and Board President
“Jamila has developed authentic, meaningful relationships with all of our stakeholders. She is rooted in the organization’s history, and she understands the importance of honoring our history while continuing to push boundaries and innovate inside of the work we do. She has demonstrated great leadership, communication, artistry and professionalism in her many roles during her time in the company as dancer, Media Director and Intensives Director. Jamila is driven and strategic in everything she does, and I think these traits are imperative in the AD role. I believe Jamila’s background in film will also take us on new, exciting paths in the future – paths that are appropriate and necessary to explore within the limitations (or opportunities!) of the pandemic. She offers a new artistic perspective and background, and I am excited to see how this influences our future work.” – Genevieve Carson, Current Artistic Director (2015 – 2020)
To learn more about Jamila Glass please visit her website HERE.
To visit the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company website, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Jamila Glass in “Blank” by Kate Hutter Mason – Photo by Taso Papadakis, courtesy of Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company.