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…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!).

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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…

Eric Luna and Georgia Ambarian were two of the bright spots in the TV debacle called Superstars of Dance. Hailing from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, they represented the US in the couples category.

I would love to take some partnering tips from these two; they make everything look so unique and effortless. Of course, if probably helps that she’s teeny tiny and he has enormous muscles, but I have a feeling that’s not really their secret. They manage to make all those lifts and tricks into something more than just pandering to the audience. There is something real and fluid behind it. They are calling this style cabaret; I’m not quite sure how cabaret is defined, but it certainly has a Cirque de Soleil feel to it, with more of a focus on shapes than on patterns and rhythm. According to their webpage, they are the three-time world champions in this style.

Here they are on Dancing With the Stars, with James Blunt:

I like this one less as it is more competition-y, but you can still appreciate what they do:

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

I had such high hopes for NBC’s new show, Superstars of Dance, but in the end it was a disappointment. There were a few nice moments, but ultimately, I turned the TV off before the show ended.

Superstars of Dance is billed as an international dance competition, with categories for solos, couples, and groups. It is hosted by Michael Flatley (aka The Lord of the Dance) and Miss USA Susie Castillo. The executive producer is Nigel Lythgoe, which explained why the whole thing felt like a sort of second-rate So You Think You Can Dance reunion.

Countries represented in the show are the USA, Russia, Argentina, China, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and India. There is a judge from each of those countries, who must sit out on the voting when their own country performs. I was frustrated that not all the judges were introduced. I would have liked to know what their dance background was. A friend mentioned this morning that it felt like they were trying to make the show into a faux Olympics, complete with the conversation with the dancer and the “coach” afterwards.

A lot of the dancing was sort of ho-hum. Some of it was spectacular but more for a “wow” factor than for artistic quality. For example, a modern/hip hop group from Australia had fantastic tricks and rhythm but it wasn’t anything close to a revelation– more like pandering to people whose ideals of dance are formed by MTV and SYTYCD. Robert Mourain, the one-trick pony we saw doing contortionistic popping and locking on SYTYCD was back representing the US in the solo category; why? Also, talk about perpetuating sterotypes…why are Riverdance-type dances the only ones representing Ireland. Could it be because of Michael Flatley’s role in the show? It was so cheezy.

The two high points for me were the couple representing the US (Eric Luna and Georgia Ambarian) whose partnering skills I really admired, and the Argentine tango. Despite the horrible camera work and mediocre production format, they managed to keep it together and show viewers a peek into their art.

The low points were pretty much all in the solos. In particular, China. The woman danced with such long scarves it was hard to see any body movement. It was supposed to be a traditional folk dance, but it was set to a euro dance beat. The “Zulu” dancer representing South Africa looked more like a Rockette with all the high kicks than any African dance I’ve ever seen (feel free to call out my ignorance here if I am totally off the mark).

Too bad that another dance show has come up short. I’m glad to see so much dance on TV now, but we definitely need a quality increase. Some new faces would be good too. Nigel Lythgoe changed the face of TV with American Idol and SYTYCD, but it’s time for some fresh ideas. On the upside, my Monday nights are still free so I can go to dance class.

What is a dance rockra, you ask? It is one part dance, one part opera, and all parts are totally rocked out. Here I am, in the swamps of Northern Virginia, wishing once again that I lived in Manhattan, our nation’s cultural capital. Luckily I have a consolation prize this year: I will be attending the inauguration without having to sublet out someone’s crappy studio apartment for two grand a night and could even bike down to the national mall if I wanted. Haha.

But I digress…

Later this week, Parsons Dance Company and the East Village Opera Company will debut their untitled collaboration, an evening-length work that strings together several of the EVOC’s re-imagined operatic works into a story line that will be danced out by the Parsons dancers. According to the press release, “untitled is a thoroughly modern re-telling of a classic story of a tragic love triangle. With contemporary dance, aerial dance, live and recorded music, video projections, complex digital lighting and visual effects, untitled is the most ambitious production created by Parsons Dance in its 22 year history.”

I discovered the East Village Opera Company about two years ago courtesy of Pandora. Their winning combination of opera greatest hits and Queen-esque power rock ballads (rockra, if you will) had me at hello. Be sure to check out the song that first captivated me, Au fond du temple saint, the well-loved Pearl Fishers duet, re-arranged into a power rock duet between a man and a woman. Here they are with their version of the Queen King of the Night aria from The Magic Flute.

And here is Parsons Dance, performing Nascimento Novo:


PARSONS DANCE
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street), NYC
January 6-18, 2009
Tue, Wed and Sun at 7:30pm; Thu, Fri and Sat at 8pm; and Sat and Sun at 2pm. Family matinee performance on Saturday, January 10 at 2pm. Tickets: $59, $35, $19 (Joyce Members $44, $26). JoyceCharge: 212-242-0800

Program A: Thu 1/8, Fri 1/9 and Sat 1/10 at 8pm; Sun 1/11 at 2pm and 7:30pm; Wed 1/14 at 7:30pm; Thu 1/15, Fri 1/16 and Sat 1/17 at 8pm; Sun 1/18 at 7:30pm. World Premiere of untitled featuring the music of EVOC: Overture, La Danza, Maria, Mari!, Habanera, Che Gelida Manina, Flower Duet, La Donna E Mobile, Ave Maria, O Mio Babbino Caro, Una Furtiva Lagrima, Un Del Di, Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana, When I Am Laid in Earth, Butterfly Duet

Program B: Tue 1/6 and Wed 1/7 at 7:30pm; Tue 1/13 at 7:30pm; Sat 1/17 and Sun 1/18 at 2pm. Family Matinee: Sat 1/10 at 2pm. Swing Shift, Ebben (an excerpt from Program A), My Sweet Lord, Fill the Woods with Light, Caught, and Shining Star

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.

Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day of colon cancer; she was 81. Known for her catlike voice, you may not know that she was a member of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company in the 1940s. She worked in theater until just last year.

Here she is in her catwomanly, humorous element:

It is time for our annual Christmas dance video, since I guess having one for two years in a row makes it annual. The end, in which we find out that it is actually a viral product ad, kind of spoiled it for me. That said, it’s a pretty neat exploration of movement by guys in Santa suits. Enjoy, and happy holidays to you and yours!

Archived videos from the Misnomer Dance Theater live broadcast of Being Together are up, and I am happy to report that Zipper, the piece that was obscured by a large youtube box for the entirety of its broadcast, is there in its unspoiled form. It will be up for the forseeable future.

As I said of the live broadcast, this is an excellent and rare opportunity to see high quality videography of an evening-length show by one of today’s leading modern dance companies.

Dance lovers across the world just participated in a “first.” That is, the first live webcast of an internationally-recognized dance company’s live premiere of a new, evening-length work, aptly titled “Being Together”.

Misnomer Dance Company used ustream.tv to broadcast last night’s show, which closed the premiere run of Being Together, a trio of new works by Chris Elam. Ustream has a live chat feature side by side with the video, and the excitement in the internet audience was palpable. According to the Misnomer blog, there were 1800 computers connected to the webcast, to the 74 members of the live audience in the Joyce SoHo in New York City.

In this age of multitasking we were somehow all able to watch the show while typing away and discussing things as they happened. Fellow bloggers Selly, Nichelle and Rob were there as well. It was truly a new experience for me and many others. I hope this medium will be employed more and more for those that may not have the time, the money, or the right location to see groups like Misnomer.

I loved the first two pieces. Too Late Tulip was my favorite in terms of aesthetics. It had a wonderful flow and a quality of movement that was at times floaty and eathereal. Rock. Paper. Flock. was a whimsical piece that wove commentary and improv into a larger, structured format. Wearing his “choreographer’s hat” (an old hat/goggle aviator combo), Elam gave assignments, and sometimes bossy commands and complaints to his dancers. Much of the movement in this one had an animallike quality that really showed Misnomer’s capacity for partnering.

Things went really well until after intermission. The final piece in the trilogy, Zipper was unfortunately blocked by a big youtube inset which covered about 1/3 of the screen. I have to say that I wasn’t able to pay too much attention to the piece with that in the way.

Still, it was agreed that we were happy to have been present at this first of what I hope is many webcasts of this kind, and that the technology of it will no doubt quickly evolve and improve. If you missed the webcast, check back at misnomer.org as they will shortly be sharing an archived video of the webcast for a limited time.

The video for John Legend’s Green Light has a delightful reference to our favorite large-scale Hollywood choreographer, the master of the synchronized fan dance, Busby Berkeley. I like how they appear in a woman’s martini glass, at about 3:25

Embedding is disabled for this video, but you can view it here.

And since we like to talk about dance around here, I must note how much I love this song. I can’t listen to it without dancing around the room!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dance video that was filmed in almost a single shot. Video choreography seems to cater so much to close-ups and rapid-fire angle and shot changes. I find the choreography in this video (Beyonce – Single Ladies) a little odd, but it is at least unabashedly so. It’s also quite refreshing not to have to watch yet another closeup of the singer mouthing the words to the song.

Kind of calls to mind this one…

I stumbled onto this video– featuring swing dancers named William and Maeva– and love it for several reasons.

First, it is really special to see the interaction between live musicians and dancers. We are sometimes able to witness this at live performances (if musicians are on stage and not in the pit) but the videography, though simple, does a great job of capturing it. I love how the piano player has his eyes on the dancers the whole time, and at one point, his whole head follows the woman down when she is dropped into a dip. He is also clearly getting a lot of pleasure out of the give and take.

The dancers are incredible at what they do. The first two times I watched the video, I thought they were tap dancing. I thought, “wow, why have I never heard of this before– tap dance swing– it makes somuch sense!” Upon the third viewing, I came to the conclusion that while tap dancing the swing would be completely awesome and immensely difficult, it was just the impeccable timing of the dancers matched with the tappy percussion.

Look at the man who is dancing. He reminds me of the roadrunner. You know, the cartoon character who when he runs, his upper body is static and his legs are just a whirring, blurred circle. Similarly, the dancer manages to keep his upper body completely controlled and almost immobile while his legs whirl in an impossibly fast blur.

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