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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.

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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.

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.

Seriously, the cha cha is so easy:

You go, Barack step back, cha cha cha, Barack step front, cha cha cha

If it’s too hard at first, just Biden’ your time, it will get easier!

This is one of the sillier photoshopped images of the politicians going around. It is nice to have some levity, not to mention some dancing in this ever more intense and dirty campaign season.

Early voting has started in many states. Here in Virginia, it began on the 15th. I cast my vote for Obama today, and it feels so good! If you need information about voting and early voting, go to Vote for Change and they’ll tell you when and where you can vote in your state.

Speaking of dancing with the candidates, I leave you with this now-classic clip of Barack Obama on Ellen:

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news…

I am just back from the New Kids on the Block reunion concert at the Verizon Center in DC. It was quite an experience and one I’m glad I didn’t miss. It was the ultimate nostalgic experience for me, plus, bonus– the ‘Kids have aged quite well. Jonathan Knight was always my favorite and after last night, I love him even more (with apologies to Mr. P). Since Jon was in our nation’s capital he decided to make a political statement. He was wearing an Obama tshirt!

By the way, this was the part where they came off the main stage and appeared on this little revolving platform in the middle of the crowd. Sooo exciting!

Here’s the extreme closeup:

The Tony Award nominees were announced today and the cat in the front was so excited he threw his feather headdress in the air and made some purrfect jazz hands. The black cat in the background is all like, “Fosse is sooo two decades ago, it’s all about salsa and hip hop on Broadway now. Let me see you shake your caderas.

In the Heights, a musical featuring some amazing salsa and hip hop dancing (at least from the youtube clips I’ve seen) that has broken the mold for Tony nominees, leading the pack with 13 nominations. I’ve been so excited to see it and now these accolades will ensure that I’ll have to wait even longer to snag tickets. Dear Producers, let it be known that I will shamelessly promote your musical on this blog if you comp me tickets to In the Heights. I would like to see Celia as well.

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 haven’t done a Dance on the Web in a really long time. I’ve been pretty out of touch with the blogosphere over the last month or so for various reasons, so this is me attempting to get caught up with what’s out there, including exploring some new dance blogs. A lot of them seem to have popped up recently.

Why is the whole Step It Up and Dance cast wearing circle necklaces? Or in the case of Tovah, also circle earrings. It can’t just be a coincidence. Maybe they have all joined a secret cult or society involving circle worship.

you are what you eat…who’d have thought how much what you eat for breakfast says about you?

egghead

from jonhuck.com, courtesy of stumbleupon

Peeps are no good for eating (unless they are toasted over a campfire and sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate), but they are ideal for a plethora of silly activities.

Namely, the Washington Post’s Peeps Show contest, wherein enterprising entrants put together and photographed dioramas featuring peeps. The results are absolutely delightful. Take for example this recreation of the mass Thriller dance put on by the prisoners in the Phillipines.

 peep thriller from the washington post’s peep show II contest

The only thing that sucks about this is that I didn’t know about it.  I have grand plans for next year– Peep Lake, anyone? Or how about Peeptrouchka, The Peepcracker, or Peep Side Story? The pink bunny ears would make excellent pointe shoes.

In more DC Peeper Madness, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority put out the most hilarious (and low-budget) PSA you will ever see. They are building a new stadium for our baseball team, the Nationals, and Metro is trying to get people to take public transit rather than drive for opening day.  If this video won’t convince you to metro it, I don’t know what will…

LOVELY!

Danciti, did you take this picture?

patrick swayze dancingThose first actors a girl gets a crush on early in life will always have a special place in her heart. Thanks to his amazing role in Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze was one of my first silver screen loves, and may have contributed to my preference for bad boy types. Thus, the news that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer saddens me.

The vast majority of my traffic over the past week or two has been generated by people looking for pictures and news of Patrick (via this post)– so to all my new readers that found their way here thanks to him, and of course, for Johnny Castle himself, here is a little compilation of some of his finest dance moments.

One Last Dance: I haven’t seen this one but it looks like it’s got some great dance scenes in it, and of course, Patrick…

Patrick’s cameo in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights. His dance partner, Joann Jansen is also making a cameo– she is actually the film’s choreographer and the story line was based on her own life.

I could only find a crappy quality one but I could not omit the Silvia and Mickey scene from Dirty Dancing.

And of course, the Dirty Dancing finale, the scene we’ll never forget…

Finally, no dancing here, but I had to end with the most deliciously crappy scene in the history of cinema, co-starring Patrick and the stupidest, most beautiful man on earth (and my other first love, ever since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Keanu Reeves. I give you the final scene from Point Break

Vaya con dios, Patrick; may you get well soon!

I have not really had time to read much of my blogroll lately. Here are a few things that have gotten my attention as I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading:

[UPDATE: This post is new and improved. I have added some captions but I don’t know many of the people’s names. Those who told me their names I promptly forgot. Please please if you know who they are, leave a comment or email me to ID them so I can give credit where credit is due.]

I wanted to get these up quickly… captions and a recap of the event to come.

I apologize for the crappy cell phone pics. Next time I’ll remember to bring my camera!

echo park opening

Cedric Tillman and Kenneth Rascher, with Kelly Mayfield snoozing through their remarks under a table. Cedric is the founder of Echo Park, Kenneth is his partner in crime and interior designer who told me that less than a month ago, there were lowered ceilings, walls, tiled floors, and all other sorts of stuff, that he managed to flip into a beautiful, high-ceilinged, light filled space with an urban/shabby/chic/homey/artistic sort of vibe. Kelly wasn’t really sleeping, just preparing a nice segue into her company Contradiction Dance’s performance after the welcoming remarks. I really enjoyed the reception and thought the remarks and entertainment flowed together really nicely.

echo park opening

A magician warms up the crowd (last name was London…can’t remember the first). Enoch Chan photography adorns the walls.

bad boys of dance at echo park opening

OMG. Three of the Bad Boys of Dance y’all. Unfortunately, Rasta Thomas was sick. Also unfortunately, I had to leave for my own dance rehearsal before they performed. If you saw them, please let me know how they were in the comments section.

echo park opening

Kenneth and Kelly. It was great to meet Kelly, one of my dance blogosphere friends (of kk’s world and Contradiction Dance) in person.

echo park opening

Part of the lounge area. I think it has a nice homey feel to it. Critic George Jackson is in this photo. I had a nice conversation with him about writing about dance. There was a great turnout to the opening and a good cross section of folks from the dance and arts communities, as well as from Takoma Park. I met a nice journalist from the local paper named Julie (who was taking pictures) and a member of the city council who stopped by.

echo park opening

Band that played during the reception. If anyone knows who these guys are let me know so I can give them credit.

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