I Love My Job: Randy Swartz
Randy Swartz is a city arts leader who’s been setting Philly’s dance calendar for 30 years. As the artistic director of NextMove Dance, a nonprofit dance presenter that presents eight dance shows every season at the Prince Theater, Swartz decides which national and international dance companies will spark Philadelphia’s interest. He’s brought classic artists like Martha Graham, Patrick Swayze, and Baryshnikov to the city, along with some edgier shows in recent history. In March, he’ll host Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a show described as “Swan Lake in drag.” He’s also president of the Philly-based company Stagestep Flooring, which makes and delivers dance floors nationwide. Swartz tells us what he thinks will happen to the arts this year and the best dance and theater shows he’s seen in the last decade. He also shares what he’s learned from being so deeply involved in the arts.
I grew up in … Woodbury, New York. When Suffolk County, Long Island, was all farmland.
I came to Philly to … attend the University of Pennsylvania.
This year the arts will … continue to be a leaky boat on troubled waters, especially in urban areas. I hope the new administration doesn’t sink us. People need the arts to create and express themselves.
The most memorable artist I’ve hosted here in Philly was … Martha Graham, one of the great artists of the 20th century. It was her 60th-anniversary event with her and her costume designer, Halston.
Something most people don’t know about the Prince Theater is … it’s renovated on the inside and old Prince on the outside. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and you can get to a seat without taking a step up or down. It’s on a level plane.
We’re starting off Philly’s February dance calendar with the Cuban Malpaso Dance Company because … Cuban dancers are extraordinary. No one else moves like them. They’re loosened up nationalistic control over the arts, and there are new and innovated companies making connections with us. When we saw the opportunity, we took advantage.
Working at the Walnut Street theater in the ’70s was … great and we had a lot of enthusiasm, but we were in a very naïve bubble. I was 26 when they hired me, and no one knew back then how to finance the arts and how to make them sustainable. We didn’t have a director of development, for example.
I studied English and journalism at Penn because … I thought I was going to go into journalism or the film industry. I was reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune in 1965 and 1966, and those years were extraordinary. That was Selma and Frank Rizzo. I also wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian when they covered the arts.
What keeps me going is … the connection I have with many of the artistic directors who tell me that they wouldn’t be able to do what they do without my engagement.
The best dance show I’ve seen in the last decade is … Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire. It’s impossible to not see it as a tribute to 9/11. You can’t look at it and not see the twin towers or feelings expressed about that horrific event.
The best theater I’ve seen recently is … Hamilton. And in second is Dear Evan Hansen, written by the same people who wrote the lyrics for La La Land.
To people looking to explore Philly arts, start with … the Philadelphia Orchestra. It’s a world-class institution that can appeal to anyone.
The most difficult part about what I do is … trying to put together a season. There are eight spots, and I start with about 20 to 30 companies. They’re all on tour, so you have to figure out how to fit things in. You don’t want to ring the same aesthetic twice in a row. It’s like a giant Rubik’s cube.
When I book dance companies for Philly, I typically look for … five things, and I ask my self five questions. 1. The quality of the choreographer and dancers. Are they the best in the genre? 2. The company’s motivation. Why do they do what they do? 3. Are they entertaining and engaging? 4. Are they inspirational? 5. Is it educational?
An art trend I’d like to see more of in Philly is … collaboration amongst different disciplines. We should figure out how we can work together to say something special. Like putting the incredible resources we have in accomplished singers, orchestras, and theater companies together. And dance departments at schools like the University of the Arts, Bryn Mawr, and Drexel, for example, can work with the artists we have coming in.
A Philly artist I’d like to see more from is … Brian Sanders, who’s brought his company JUNK to the PA Ballet.
I like to dance to … the Great American Songbook.
The best place to get coffee in Philly is … the Keurig in my bedroom. There’s nothing like waking up and hitting that on switch without having to get dressed.
In this business I’ve learned that … nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is a slam-dunk. You just have to keep plugging away and going with the flow. What matters is consistency.
Follow @fabiolacineas on Twitter.