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If you’ve always wanted to try a dance performance, but not sure what to see and on a budget, your time has come with VelocityDC.

On Friday and Saturday, October 2 and 3, for only $15, come sample six of the best dance companies from DC (and beyond) at the beautiful Sidney Harman Hall at 610 F Street NW, beginning at 7:30pm.

Ron K. Brown and Evidence

Ron K. Brown and Evidence

Featured are short pieces from Ron K. Brown and Evidence, The Washington Ballet, CityDance Ensemble, EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, Gesel Mason, Nejla Yatkin, Edwin Aparicio, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner presenting the outdoor piece “Bodies in Urban Spaces”. You’ll see modern, African, ballet, hip hop and many forms in between.

VelocityDC is designed for folks who may be new to dance, beginning with Gesel Mason’s performance of “How to Watch a Modern Dance”. Stay afterward at the bar to swap impressions, meet some dancers, and finally be able to ask them, up close and in person, how they do it all!

VelocityDC Late Night!

Night owls, stick around for VelocityDCLate Night! At 10pm on Saturday, October 3, a cabaret-style showcase of movement, music and mayhem featuring dancers, poets and musicians.

This late-night, 18+ cabaret promises an evening of music, movement and mayhem including appearances by Andile Ndlovu, Capital Movement Project, Contradiction Dance, Furia Flamenca, Gesel Mason, Gilded Lily Burlesque, Kentavius Jones, Komplex, Lucy Bowen McCauley Dance, Regie Cabico/Sol y Soul, and Urban Artistry.

In addition, relax and enjoy the Harman Center bars and lounges with DJ Ian Knight (Philadelphia) into the early morning hours.

The Washington Ballet performs Wunderland

The Washington Ballet performs Wunderland

Bodies in Urban Spaces

Street performances of Willi Dorner’s “Bodies in Urban Spaces” will take place both evenings free to the public. “Bodies” begins at5:30pm each night, beginning at the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro and winding its way throughout the Penn Quarter neighborhood.

Presented in partnership by Washington Performing Arts Society, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Dance/MetroDC with major artistic partners The Washington Ballet and CityDance Ensemble.

Visit www.velocityDC.org for more information.

Tickets are on sale now for $15 at the website or the Sidney Harman Hall box office, (202) 547- 1122 or toll-free (877) 487-8849.

CityDance Ensemble

CityDance Ensemble

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It was a sticky, humid day at the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, but this did not stop Puerto Rican bomba y plena musicians Viento de Agua from giving a dynamic performance that had the audience on its feet dancing.

Here is a video I made of Viento de Agua performing a plena. I did not catch the name of the song, so if anyone knows what it is, please comment. Plena is a traditional Puerto Rican style of music that we were told has its roots in the sound of a train. You can certainly here this underlying “chugging” sound in the music. Plena is one of the many caribbean styles that lends its rhythms and styles to salsa and merengue. It is characterized by the use of percussion instruments and vocal harmonies to form the rhythm and tune.

The second half of the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs July 1-9 on the National Mall. The three featured themes this year are:

  • Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture
  • Wales/Cymru

and my personal favorite…

  • Las Americas: Un Mundo Musical / Music in Latino Culture

Although the Wolf Trap is only a few miles from my home, save chaperoning a bunch of screaming kids at the International Children’s Festival, I am ashamed to say that I have never attended an even there. After spotting their summer ’09 calendar and the fabulous goodies on it (not limited to dance), that will hopefully all change. This summer’s dance lineup at Wolf Trap includes the following highlights:

  • Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance on June 16
  • Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on July 7
  • Merce Cunningham on July 14
  • 42nd Street runs July 17-19
  • Trey McIntire Project’s Face of America: Glacier National Park on August 19

This and much much more can be found on the Wolf Trap Site. The recession is not excuse– the lawn seats are the cheaper– and more relaxing– way to go. So grap a picnic basket, a blanket, and enjoy some arts under the stars this summer!

Tonight I took a master class with a dancer from the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center has started offering these master classes just this year and it is really a wonderful opportunity to learn technique from some of the most influential dancers today.

The ticket said the class would take place in the rehearsal hall, where I had never been before. As I entered the Kennedy Center from the shuttle bus area, there was a small table set up with a woman taking tickets. We were instructed to wait there until we were escorted up to the rehearsal hall. We were taken through a back hallway and up several floors in a freight elevator. Then we wound our way through a warren of cramped, windowless cubicles (the idea of working at the KC doesn’t seem that cool anymore after seeing the working conditions), before coming upon a moderate sized dance studio. It was interesting to get a chance to see the bowels of the KC.

The class was taught by a woman named Leah from the company. We started out with a floor sequence before moving on to standing warmup combinations and finishing with some choreography from a new piece the company is working on. As with any new instructor or style, I had to constantly remind myself during the course of the class to keep and open mind and be patient with myself. It can be frustrating to move in a way that is not familiar or to memorize new combinations when it does not feel natural. In the end, things did click for me and I came away from the class with some new insights.

Leah talked about Jones’ approach as task based movement. It took me the whole class, plus a conversation with Leah after class to fully grasp what this means. Essentially, task based movement is about fully describing a movement, rather than just showing it or giving it a shorthand name. This allows the dancer to embody and put thought into each moment of the movement. The word precisionwas used quite a bit, but in the context of task based movement, this means more how you do something than exactly how it should look. One example of this was the directive to swing the right leg up and make contact at three points– each hand with the ankle. How high the leg was or the line of the leg was of less consequence than the sequence of movement, where you’re going, and what you have to do to get there. As we repeated the combination, we were constantly exhorted to thing about the process of completing each movement task. After many repetitions, the list of tasks became less of a burden and more of a guide. Another “script” we were given was to sing during one of the standing warmups (a tendu/degage sequence). We were to make up our own rhythmic tune to hum as we went through the sequence. This did help me get out of my head and feel more at one with the pattern.

I am able to see applications of task based movement for my own dancing as a tool for picking up choreography (something I am not very good at) more quickly. Creating a running narrative, rather than relying on muscle memory or my mediocre knowledge of ballet vocabulary, creates an additional script to guide the reproduction of a sequence.

The choreography itself was enjoyable to do. The quality of the movement felt natural, employing a lot of the momentum and catch/release we do in Helanius’ class.

Attention all DC dance peeps:  I was ever so pleased to read in today’s Joy of Motion email newsletter that they have set up an on-line scheduler. They’re using the Mind Body Online platform, which is something I’m familiar with from my yoga studio. It appears that at this time, you can only sign up for enrollment and performance classes online. The full drop-in schedule is there, and I find it quite user-friendly compared to their old webpage, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to sign up for a drop-in yet. They have promised further updates to the website so I am hopeful.

When you purchase a multi-class card at JOM (which is so worth it because of the discount and speed of sign in), they give you a flimsy little paper card. I am always in terror that my 30 class card, which I paid almost $400 for. will flutter out of my wallet at any moment. Yes, they have a replacement system, but you have to remember which of the five studios you bought it at and they deduct a class per week that you’ve had it, which could work in your favor if you average more than one class per week, or against you if you go less frequently.

I hope the day is close at hand when a computer network at all locations keeps track of my classes for me.

You can visit the scheduler here. Big kudos to JOM for finally taking this step!!

Everyone’s doing it. So I present to you 25 things– not about me– but about Alvin Ailey’s 50th Anniversary performance at the Kennedy Center on February 4. It took me a while to get it up, but I promised I would!

  1. I prefer Ailey as a repertory company. It was educational to see an all-Ailey choreographed program, but there are only so many torso contractions and grande plies in second one can watch in an evening.
  2. It is incredible how Revelations stays fresh after so many performances. Among many highlights, it was the highlight of the evening.
  3. I think one of their secrets is mixing up the dancers’ roles in Revelations each season.
  4. Torso contractions and grande plies in second never feel tired in Revelations.
  5. Revelations’ Wade in the Water is like a hot summer evening and deliciously refreshing on a cold winter night.
  6. If I’m only allowed to see one more thing before I die, it will be Revelations’ Sinner Man. What an amazing explosion of movement. I don’t know of anything that explores the range and ability of the human body while combining musicality and passion that just explode on stage so much as this.
  7. I could have done without the lady on my left’s strong perfume and the sounds and smells of the lady to my right’s munching on peanuts throughout the show.
  8. They packed in a lot of different excerpts of pieces into this program– lots of short excerpts, and the transitions were way too fast. Often, one dancer would be starting in on the next piece while the other was finishing up the previous one. It was too jarring and left no time to absorb what I just saw. If time was the issue, I would have preferred fewer, longer excerpts, with longer pauses in between to allow the audience to catch its breath.
  9. Linda Celeste Sims in The Lark Ascending was some of the most pure, delicious dancing I’ve ever seen. At the end, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time.
  10. I have said delicious twice in this list.
  11. I’ll tell you what else is delicious– the entire Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre company. Such beautiful bodies; such beautiful dancers.
  12. I’m glad I went to the gym right before the show. It made me feel just a little bit better about my, er, succulent body.
  13. I’ll tell you wo else was eye candy: Kirven Boyd and Matthew Rushing in Streams.
  14. One of the longer excerpts of the evening was Movement II from Night Creature. It was absolutely delightful.
  15. Night Creature  is all about the party (literally, the piece depicts a nighttime bash) as a whole, each member as part of the party, and how they become one and separate. It ius a corps de ballet piece where each member’s personality and style shine through rather than the cookie cutter corps we typically think of. I don’t think Ailey could do it any other way.
  16. I’m not a fan of pretending to play a musical instrument, particularly when you don’t know how to play the instrument. This, unfortunately, is the premise of A Night in Tunisia from For “Bird” With Love, in which male dancers pretend to be members of a jazz combo in a nightclub.
  17. Fortunately, the “musicians” break free of their miming in short order and dance to the sound the instrument makes in the music.
  18. No dancer better embodied his instrument that Guillermo Asca as the bass player. He danced just the way a bass sounds with a sublime quality of movement. I didn’t even know a bass sound danced that way, but I know now.
  19. Opus McShann— the excerpt was Jumpin’ the Blues— was a straight up swing dance set with lots of shines. It was what numbers at a salsa (or swing) congress could be if they were really good. Not saying that there aren’t really good numbers at a salsa congress, but they are few and far between.
  20. There was some sort of motorcade outside and I got excited hoping it would be a senator or cabinet member (the President was ruled out as the motorcade did not contain an ambulance). Disappointingly, it was no one I recognized. Probably a diplomat with an importance complex.
  21. The audience gave a standing ovation for probably at least ten minutes. They knew if they kept at it long enough they would get an encore, and we did.
  22. After an evening of many many pieces performed to recorded music, I appreciate live music even more. Amazing as the dancing was, something was taken away by the all-recorded soundtrack.
  23. Big thank you to my parents without whose give of a Kennedy Center gift certificate last year would not have gotten me such an amazing close-up seat.
  24. Readers, what do you think of dance review in 25-things format? Or is this just bad?
  25. The end.

As the news media have widely reported, Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama all attended last night’s sold-out performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

While the time-out from stimulus package dealings got a little flack, the President’s dancer in chief (and chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel seemed to have things under control. But here’s why I’m giddy with excitement– the President and his family have announced their commitment to being an active part of the DC community and in showcasing the best our culture has to offer. Now they are making good on that promise. Am I getting ahead of myself dreaming that the ‘Obama effect’ will extend to increased patronization of the arts?

The ‘Obama effect’ I refer to is that the President’s cache` is so great that many people want to be a part of what he is a part of. I can just imagine more shows selling out around town in the hopes the President (or other luminaries such as mother in law Marian Robinson or Second Lady Dr.  Jill Biden, who attended Ailey a few evening earlier) will be there too. And in the process maybe some folks will get an appreciation for experiencing the arts.

There’s no word yet on how this sudden elevation of the arts in Washington might translate to policy. The idea of a Secretary of Arts has been thrown around (see related discussion, including my thoughts on the matter at Dancing Perfectly Free). Increased funding for arts in education, museums, and artists is always something being pushed for. Personally, I’d love to see a WPA-type creation of jobs for artists in the economic stimulus.

Policies aside, let’s celebrate the fine example the White House is setting as a patron of the arts. The Obamas also demonstrate that exposing your kids to the arts at a young age is appropriate and beneficial.

…this evening at the Kennedy Center. It was fantastic. Tonight was all excerps from many different Ailey-choreographed workds and all of Revelations. I don’t know how they manage to keep Revelations to fresh after so many performances (I think they perform it at every single show), but it is always amazing.

It is always a pleasure to watch the Ailey dancers, and not only for the quality of their movement!

More thoughts to come (I promise– it’s written out on paper, I just have to type it up!).

We dancers know that dancing is a good way to forget your troubles for a time; but what about dancing making you forget to catch your cross-country bus home? According to the AP, 83-year-old Mussa Muhammad was so elated after attending the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., that after becoming separated from his group, he “‘just danced and danced with a couple of young women he met along the way.” His fellow travelers waited for him for five hours before heading back to South Bend, Indiana. Luckily, the resourceful Muhammad found his way back on a Greyhound bus, ” still wearing the black-and-white suit with red dots that he wore to the inauguration.”

Speaking of forgetting stuff… The other day, the song Just Dance by Lady Gaga came on the radio and for the first time I really listened to the lyrics. The bouncy tune and cheerful refrain belie the disturbing lyrics about a girl who is so wasted that she has no idea who she’s with, where she is, or where her personal belongings and clothes went. Then the different guys who sing at the bridges want to take advantage of her disorientation by having their way with her. This song is definitely good evidence against binge drinking in clubs. Then again, I’d never seen the video, either…

Thanks to Clinton Yates over at the DC Express Blog Log for featuring my post on Superstars of Dance in both the online and print version. It was so cool to open up my free daily paper on my morning commute and see my words in print. If you’ve come over from Express, welcome!

This is actually the second time Express has linked to me, the first time was on November 20, for my post on Rahm Emanuel’s ballet background. This is the kind of stuff that makes this unpaid writing pasttime so rewarding.

While we’re on the subject of Superstars of Dance, did anyone watch the second installment last night? Did it get any better? Any particular dances we should check out on YouTube?

I haven’t posted any salsa videos in a while. This was a performance I saw Saturday at the Resolution Jam in the Salsa Room (Cecilia’s Nightclub, Arlington, VA). The dancers are Darlin Garcia and Vera Rowe. I enjoyed watching them a great deal; their energy and musicality were amazing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Darlin Gacia and Vera Rowe“, posted with vodpod

west_side_story_logo

When Joshua Buscher speaks of Arthur Laurents, which he does frequently during our brief interview, it is with the reverent tone of a student quoting the teachers of a master. Which is exactly what Laurents is. At 90, he is very much the hands-on director of the legendary icon of American theater– West Side Story— the show he wrote over 50 years ago.

Since July, I have been trying to line up an interview with someone from the production of West Side Story’s revival. By now the play’s publicist and I have become virtual pen pals. After reading that the play would open for its pre-Broadway run right here in Washington D.C. (in the National Theater, the same venue it first opened at in 1957), I was determined to get the inside scoop on it. Through auditions, the New York rehearsals, and finally DC rehearsals, we continued our correspondence. Finally, just days before the opening of the first preview performance in mid-December, I am on the phone with cast member Buscher, who is enthusiastically describing his experience preparing for this historic revival.

Joshua Buscher

Joshua Buscher

What makes this revival of West Side Story so unique is language. Laurents’ late partner, Tom Hatcher, had seen the play staged entirely in Spanish in Colombia and found that it totally changed the dynamics– the Sharks became the heroes and the Jets the villains. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the two gangs somehow,” Laurents told the New York Times earlier this year, by having characters speaking amongst themselves in their native language.

Adding the Spanish into the show 100 percent makes it work,” says Buscher, “It helps so much with the energy of the show– what it does is makes that barrier of the Americans versus the Puerto Ricans even wider. Some of our audience can’t speak Spanish, so they get frustrated,” adding to the tension the audience will feel between the Sharks and the Jets. In case you’re one of those non-Spanish-speaking audience memeers, don’t worry– there will be supertitles. Although some scenes, such as the one preceding America, are mostly in Spanish, he is confident that the acting and dancing will transcend language.

Josefina Scaglione and Matt CavenaughOne thing I was dying to know was if Robbins’ choreography would be altered at all for greater cultural authenticity. Would the Puerto Ricans be adding some bomba or plena sabor to the dance numbers? Then again, no reason mess with a good thing (no, make that an amazing thing — West Side Story is in my book, hands down, the best dance musical ever, and the best music musical, for that matter). So what if the choreography of America is more flamenco than salsa? Joey McKneely, the reproduction choreographer did change some of the blocking and spacing in the piece to underscore the culturally adversarial give and take between the homesick girls and the girls that are trying to become Americanized (which explains why Anita will at times break into English even with her compatriots). It will be more about that interaction than an “and now folks, here’s the big dance number” performance to the audience; but Robbins’ choreography will remain intact.

This will be Buscher’s Broadway debut. He is Diesel, the “meathead” of the Jets– a surprise not only to me– going by his angelic headshot and cheery voice– but also to his family and friends. “It was kind of a process for me to get into that because I’m not really a meathead,” says Buscher. “But he’s come to life and it’s great. When we do the rumble scene it’s awesome. It’s very empowering for me to jump on stage and be able to protect the guys that are behind me.” Late bloomers, take heart. Although Buscher was a gymnast in his youth, he didn’t start dancing until he got to college, realizing it was important to his development as an actor. The audition process for West Side Story, which was six months long, really improved his technique. That plus an hour-long barre class before each day’s practice and the encouragement of McKneely and his assistant. “It helps that [Diesel] is a fighter because he’s not the most balletic boy; they did a nice job of casting if I do say so myself,” he says with a laugh.

West Side Story Rehearsal (with Cody Green)It is a young company, with many making their Broadway debut– with so much of the cast being made up of teenage gang members, that is a necessity. There are some seasoned veterans, of course, including Karen Olivo (Anita) who was most recently seen in In the Heights. Here’s another familiar face: Step It Up and Dance fans will recognize Cody Green in the role of Riff.

Six-month audition process aside, I want to know the nuts and bolts of getting a Broadway dance musical from studio to stage. “The first week of rehearsals was just dance, that’s all we did,” says Buscher. After a brief meeting with Laurents and the creative team, “literally an hour later we were on the floor learning Dance at the Gym.” Nary a libretto was cracked open for the first full week of practice as the dancers learned all the dance numbers. This allowed the choreography to become second nature so the dancers could focus on acting. Additionally, as lines, songs, acting and blocking were layered on, the choreography gained depth along with the process of character development.

Rehearsals started in New York City, going about six hours a day, six days a week for five weeks. The whole cast moved to DC for the final two weeks of rehearsal. After the dances were learned, important acting moments were added in, and vocal rehearsals. “The way Arthur and Joey McKneely work is they fill it up right in the beginning so you have time to grow,” says Buscher. Additional character development occurred after hours, as The Jets hung out together socially to get to know each other and figure out their relationships in the gang. Quoting Laurents again, he says, “He wants this to be an acting show. He says the dance number’s kind of nowhere if you’re not acting from somewhere.”

Arthur Laurents addresses the cast of West Side Story

By the time the cast got to Washington they felt comfortable enough with what they had to do to start taking more artistic risks. The hard work “pays off when you get the show at a place where you’re allowed to try new things on stage because you’re so comfortable with what you’re doing. That is where a show should be.”

With just hours remaining before his big Broadway show debut, I ask Buscher what we can expect. I’ve been able to tell from the tone of his voice during our conversation that there is a great deal of excitement and satisfaction with the process and anticipation for what is to come.” There’s a very high bar for this show and all of this are taking it on with full force. We are young we are energized and we’re dancing the crap out of this show.”


West Side Story runs through January 17, 2009 at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Tickets are on sale through Telecharge (800) 447-7400, www.telecharge.com) or at the National Theatre Box Office (202-628-6161 www.nationaltheatre.org. It will open on Broadway on February 23.

These are just too cool:

barack

They are 2″ x 2″ with a clear image of President-Elect Barack Obama as he appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show dancing.

The caption reads: “Dance Yes We Can”

On the back: “Dance Yes We Can AND Will; http://www.dancemetrodc.org”

We intend to flood the city by the time of the inauguration with these great reminders to our new friends in this new administration that Dance and all the arts are a part of the dialogue!

Pre-inauguration prices:

$6 for one button

$10 for two buttons

Proceeds to benefit Dance/MetroDC’s Dance is the Answer programming

To order your buttons, please email your name, address, phone #, and how many buttons you would like to order to info@dancemetrodc.org

Today’s photo (credit: M.V. Jantzen) shows the US Capitol with the Christmas tree lit up and the stands for the inauguration being set up in the background. WordPress has turned on the snow, which adds a festive feel to the photo, don’t you think?

  • Deborah Friedes went to her first contact improvisation (CI) jam. In her post, she provides some history and context for the medium, and describes her experience. As someone who has never tried CI I found the post to be very informative.
  • Selly reflects on different iterations of the Nutcracker and on its status as the one ballet most Americans know: “it’s almost sad the the only impression most of the American public has of ballet is such a trippy ballet that’s based on a quite creepy story and that every dancer hates. You perform the same roles to the same music year. After year. After year. Not that we don’t have fun along the way.” (Dance Outlook)
  • Teresa Wiltz, former Ailey student, reflects on 50 years of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (The Root).
  • As Danciti reports, Move the Frame has left Great Dance, and can now be found here. Danciti limits its commentary to a snarky comment about the layout (how is that relevant to the content? particularly as most of us read blogs through a feed reader, anyway), but I just want to comment that this is the end of an era. Doug Fox was the original dance blogger. He encouraged many people, myself included, to get into blogging and helped make us known by linking to our posts. Relatively recently, he expanded Great Dance into a multi-blog platform. Move the Frame’s Anna Brady Nuse was one of the most interesting and prolific of the Great Dance bloggers. It is understandable that she has moved to her own site, as she was the only one still blogging on Great Dance.

While my salsaholic days are long over (going out dancing at least 2-3 times a week), and I am lucky if I make it out once a month, salsa is still an important part of my life.

Salsa is an old, familiar friend to me. Going out on a week night, I just have to grab my shoes, make sure I look halfway presentable, and go to the club. Salsa doesn’t even really require a warm up. The walk from the car to the door will do it.

Salsa is one of the few things in my life where I’m able to be truly present in the moment. I don’t have to think about anything other than being right there in the moment with my partner. Just like riding a bike, no matter how long my absence has been, the steps come automatically to me, as do the minute weight shifts and flourishes. It’s fun and I can bring whatever style or attitude to the table that I brought with me that night.

Salsa will always put a smile on my face. Sometimes it makes me feel fun, flirty, sensual, and sassy. Sometimes it makes me feel light and graceful. Sometimes it just feels as nice as hanging out with an old friend. It’s thanks to her I really fell in love with dancing in the first place. By now, I know I will always have salsa; and salsa will always have me.

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