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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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Google Labs keeps me entertained with its constant flow of new ideas. The newest one to catch my eye is Similar Images. It works like google images, but rather than relying on keywords to find what you need, once you find an image that approaches what you’re looking for, this app will find ones from around the internet that contain similar attributes.

This is what the front page looks like. Let’s try a search for my favorite subject, dance.

similar images front page

A variety of different results come up. Let’s say I’m looking for a dramatic photo of dancers mid-air against a stark background (as seems to be the fashion these days). We clock on the “similar images” link under that picture…

similar images dance search

Et voila`, lots of mid-air dancers on stark backgrounds.

similar images dance search refined

I can think of so many applications for this labs creation, particularly for bloggers like me who are looking for just the right image to accompany their posts. While the example I show above only resulted in dancers (though in one case it was not a photo but a drawing, which is neat too), I clicked through to other results that did not contain dancers but similar colors, backgrounds, and configurations of images. This could be a positive or a negative depending on what you’re looking for, but nonetheless it’s a new toy to play around with.

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.

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.

…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!).

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.

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.

iGoogle, the personalized homepage version of Google, has rolled out a dizzying array of artist themes with which to customize your web searching experience. There is everything from Jeff Koons, to Diane von Furstenberg, to the Wiggles. Imagine my delight when I found Mark Morris — the only dance company for the time being– among the options. Now every time I go to Google, I am greeted with a different image of my favorite dance company.

Here’s a screenshot of how it looks. Click for a larger version. There’s no mention on the Mark Morris dance company’s website about how this came to be, but what great exposure! I wonder if google plans to include more dancers in its artist lineup.

I’ve been hoping to get a little more insight on his work, so I was thrilled when Helanius Wilkins, Founder and Artistic Director of Edgeworks Dance Theater, the DC-based all male dance company, agreed to answer a few of my questions. He’s been busy preparing for this weekend’s performance at the American Dance Institute, so he took my questions via email.

Maria: Let’s get the cliched question out of the way: influences. In past conversation you’ve mentioned Horton, Ailey, Bill T Jones, and martial arts as either influences or training grounds. Have you been dancing all your life? What motivates and inspires you?

Helanius J. Wilkins: While I have not been dancing all of my life, dance has always been a part of me. I do not feel that I chose dance, it chose me. It is a calling – and my career is the result of something far deeper than simply making the choice to dance. Life motivates me to dance. What I do is about life experiences, observations, and a quest to know and understand more in order to contribute to the shaping of a more socially just world.

M: In Cold Case, you faced head-on some of the brutal realities of race and racism in America. Can we expect the same frank treatment of sexuality and spirituality in [your newest work,] the determining factor? Where does this honesty come from?

HJW: Absolutely, I have no issues with addressing some of today’s most difficult issues. I believe that we are in a national crisis on so many fronts. Unless we become proactive about confronting these issues, things will never change. … The honesty comes from not being afraid to take risks – not being afraid to ask questions.

M: Community involvement was part of the foundation for the determining factor. How did that part of the process go and did it take you in any unexpected places?

HJW: Yes, the determining factor is in part the result of community collaboration. This collaboration was very enlightening, humbling, and exciting all at the same time. I have walked away with so much…And the journey is just beginning. Yes, unexpected places were a constant in the process. This made for a truly moving and wisdom filled experience.

M: In addition to the acclaim you have received for your work as an artist, it seems that you have attracted recognition from funders as well (your website has a long list of funding, recognition, and honors), including your recent feature of the Catalog of Philanthropy. Nonprofit management skills are key to making the jump from artistic genius to recognition and success. How have you balanced your choreography, teaching, and management responsibilities? What advice would you give to nascent dance companies looking build themselves as an organization?

HJW: Keeping my art first, staying connected to my passion for what I do, and being strategic about everything has been/is the key to the balancing of my responsibilities. These very things are the things I would also share with an emerging organization/artist.

M: You’re about to make your NYC debut (as a headliner) and have already had success touring domestically and internationally. What do you feel sets EDT apart to garner the attention it has, and what do you want the world to know about your work and your dancing? What are your plans for the future?

HJW: There are many things that I believe sets EDT apart from other companies. From being DC’s 1st all male contemporary dance company of predominately Black men to being the second in the nation of its kind to being a company focused on the often misunderstood voice of the african-american male. As much as our work is serious and honest it is entertaining and it reflects the stories and feelings of real people – real lives. Plans for the future: One step at a time.

***

You can see Helanius Wilkins and Edgeworks Dance Theater in a preview performance of the determining factor this weekend, May 2-3 @ 8pm at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, MD.

For tickets, go to www.americandance.org

From Dance Metro/DC:

Dance/MetroDC is proud to present our second annual Dance Is The Answer event! During National Dance Week 2008, area nonprofit dance organizations have united to introduce, energize and excite the public to the benefits of dance. From April 25-May 4, 2008, over 120 free classes, performances, workshops and open rehearsals will be available from over 30 organizations to help you experience that Dance Is The Answer.

Dance Is The Answer to achieving and maintaining good health
Dance Is The Answer to reaching weight management goals
Dance Is The Answer to finding an inspiring creative outlet
Dance Is The Answer to enriching your social life
Dance Is The Answer to deepening your connection to community


For listings of Free Classes and Workshops, click here.
For listings of Free Performances and Open Rehearsals, click
here.


A special thank you to all our participating organizations:

American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD
AVAdance, Washington, DC
Bowen McCauley Dance, Arlington, VA
BlackRock Center for the Arts,
Germantown, MD
Capitol Movement Inc., Washington, DC
CityDance Ensemble,
Washington, DC and N. Bethesda, MD
ClancyWorks Dance Company, Silver Spring, MD
Capitol Region Educators of Dance Organization,
Washington, DC
Dance Place,
Washington, DC

DC Dance Collective, Washington, DC
Dhoonya Dance, Arlington, VA
Expressions Dance Theatre,
Clinton, MD
Dream in Color Dance Studio,
Alexandria, VA
Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, DC
Indian Dance Educators Association,
Washington, DC
Jane Franklin Dance,
Arlington, VA

Joe’s Movement Emporium, Mt. Rainier, MD
Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD

Kathy Harty Gray Dance Theatre, Alexandria, VA
Knock on Wood Tap Studio,
Silver Spring, MD
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Takoma Park, MD
Maryland Youth Ballet, Silver Spring, MD
Mason/Rhynes Productions, Washington, DC
Momentum Dance Theatre, Washington, DC
National Dance Educators Organization,
Washington, DC
Publick Playhouse,
Cheverly, MD

Sitar Arts Center, Washington, DC
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
The Washington Ballet, Washington, DC

This ad from Glade scented candles has some nice dancing in it.

But what message is this device (i.e., carefree dancing among flowers) really sending? We all know that marketing is a carefully honed science in which advertising content is carefully designed based on psychology, surveys and focus groups to target a particular market.

It seems that dance is often used in advertising to show a brand as something that will make you feel carefree and happy. The ads I compiled in a previous post on dance in advertising almost all give us this feeling.

When I saw the glade ad my first thought was how the movement was an effective metaphor for the scent spreading quickly around the room (which is the advertised benefit of this product). The dancers use their full range of motion, surrounded by swirling flowers that traces their movement. However, this pointed commentary from momblog speaks to the ads subliminal message– that this product will somehow make the modern woman’s housekeeping (cause let’s just assume it’s the woman who has to do it) more fancy free:

“In a day and age when more kids are raised by daycare, fast food is a mealtime staple, the family calendar is an impossible attempt to coordinate schedules and people can’t go anywhere without a Bluetooth stuck to their head; how do we get the insult and idiocy of a marketing campaign which reduces a modern woman’s day into the struggle to find the right scent? And then dance about it?”

I was finally able to catch Bravo’s new dance show, Step It Up and Dance, tonight during its first showing. The nice thing about Bravo is that they rerun shows a lot, so I’ve been able to watch the first two episodes as well.

This show is definitely starting to grow on me and I really enjoyed this third episode.

SIUAD (as I shall hereafter call it…pretty ugly acronym if you ask me but the whole title is too long to type) follows the tried and true Bravo reality competition show formula that started with Project Runway. The host is a model/actress type, there is a middle-aged male mentor, and several judges– 2 fixed the others rotating. There is generally some sort of fast challenge in the first part of the show which will determine things such as teams and immunity for the second, longer elimination challenge. Someone is eliminated each week, but not before the show’s proprietary goodbye catchphrase and final instructions by the hostess. Project Runway and Top Chef have pretty utilitarian final instructions to the effect of “now go pack up your shit (i.e., knives/sewing supplies) and leave.” SIUAD’s is the painfully contrived, “It’s time for your last dance.”

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN EPISODE THREE AND DO NOT WISH TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED OR WHO WAS ELIMINATED

Read the rest of this entry »

Do not miss the following performances by two wonderful DC-based companies.:

  • EDGEWORKS Dance Theater at the American Dance Insitute, May 2-3 (tickets)
  • El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea de El Salvador at the GALA Theater at Tivoli Square, May 3-4 (tickets)

Of course, I am a little biased. EDT’s artistic director is Hilanius Wilkins, and El Teatro’s is Miya Hisaka. Both of these individuals are my teachers and I have an enormous amount of respect for them and their work.

I haven’t seen El Teatro before, but we have had the privilege of learning some of the company’s repertory in class. Classical ballet and modern technique combine to form beautiful lines and emotional storytelling. 

EDT will be premiering a preview of their new work, the determining factor. Wilkins is known for his use of multimedia, community collaboration, and unflinching confrontation of important peronal,  social and political issues. Combined with the sensitive yet athletic dancing of this all-male troupe, watching EDT is an explosive and profound experience.

New Yorkers, save the date of June 17, when EDT will have their NYC premiere on a double bill with Ron Brown/EVIDENCE at the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center.

 

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