Interview with Keith Saunders, Ballet Master of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Keith Saunders

by Julie Gervais

Dancepanorama had the opportunity to talk with Keith Saunders, Dance Theatre of Harlem Ballet Master, in advance of the Company’s arrival in Detroit for performances at the Detroit Opera House Feb 1, 2, and 3.

 

DP: It was shortly after the company’s visit to Detroit in 2004 that Dance Theatre of Harlem went on hiatus, suspending operations of the professional performing company. When dancers get injured, and rehabilitate, and then return to work, it’s an exciting time but a dancer is also changed by that process. Does the company feel something like that?

KS: It’s an interesting analogy – yes – we are changed by that process; we are strengthened by that process. There’s a renewal. We feel very much alive and excited to return to the national and international landscape. And the new Dance Theatre of Harlem is not the company of 2004. Almost all of the dancers are new, of course because eight years is almost an entire generation in the life of a ballet company. And there are other differences: one of the biggest being that the size of the company has gone from 44 dancers to 18, now. These dancers have been hand-picked from our second company, the DTH Ensemble, which has been touring nationally since 2009 [and visited Detroit during that time]. Some dancers have also been brought into the company from our national auditions.

DP: How many of your current 18 dancers remain from the pre-hiatus days?

KS: There are a couple of dancers on the current roster who were with us before, including one of our leading dancers, Ashley Murphy, who was an apprentice with DTH in 2004.

Ashley Murphy. Photo (c) Rachel Neville.

And Taurean Green was with us in 2004. He danced with other companies in the intervening years and now he’s back with us.

DP: What changes in repertory have resulted from the decreased size of the Company?

KS: Our Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson, did a very smart thing. Over the last three years, as we worked toward the return of the Company, and we’ve known for a while now that we were planning to go with 18 dancers, Virginia instituted a choreographic development program that she called ‘Harlem DanceWorks 2.0’. She invited choreographers in to develop, working with dancers we hired, new works that would form part of the rep of the new company. We are bringing one of the ballets that came out of this project to Detroit. It’s called ‘Far But Close’. It’s a narrative ballet, a contemporary love story of two people who meet in Harlem. Some of the other ballets we’ll be performing in Detroit have been developed just this season – world premiere ballets specifically for the company, or company premieres. We will be performing Alvin Ailey’s ‘The Lark Ascending’ – the first time any company other than the Ailey company will perform it – and this is the first time it’s being performed on pointe. We’re bringing two Balanchine ballets, his masterwork Agon [which was in Dance Theatre’s rep prior to hiatus], plus a lesser-known work: Glinka Pas de Trois, which dates from the 1950s and is a small gem of a work. We’re also bringing a Donald Byrd ballet called ‘Contested Space’, which was made on our second company last season and has been brought forward. Obviously right now we won’t do Giselle, or Serenade, or Four Temperaments…some of those bigger ballets that were staples of the former company, the size difference means we’re unable to do those now. So what Virginia has done is to develop ballets for this company at this size. We do retain some ballets from our previous repertoire.

‘Return’

‘Return’, by Robert Garland is one of these that we’ll be bringing to Detroit. It’s very popular and set to songs by James Brown and Aretha Franklin.

We’ll also be bringing the world premiere that Robert choreographed for us for this season, called ‘Gloria’ – a full-company ballet set to Francis Poulenc’s Gloria.

‘Gloria’ Photo (c) Matthew Murphy.

It was the first ballet seen when the company returned to the stage in October. We’re also bring the Swan Lake Act 3 Pas de Deux. So it’s a carefully selected balance; there are two complete programs. There are original ballets made on these dancers, there is repertoire from the former company, and there are company premieres. This is the Dance Theatre of the 21st century. We’re interested in continuing to grow and develop our dancers of course, but also interested in exploring the idea of what ballet in the 21st century means.

DP: In a recent interview, Virginia Johnson discussed the ongoing disparity between the diversity in our population and the diversity represented in ballet companies. How does DTH’s original mission fit into the 21st century?

KS: It’s still a necessity for DTH to have this sensibility. We’ve been having the same conversation for as long as I’ve been involved in ballet. I don’t that anyone has ever had a satisfactory answer, but if you look at ballet companies across America, it’s not really that different from what it was years ago; it’s frankly not that diverse. Dance Theatre’s mission to continue to provide opportunities for black dancers remains unchanged, and remains relevant.

DP: The fact that we’re still having this conversation – is it good, in a way? In the sense that, if we’re talking about it, we’re acknowledging that there remains work to be done.

KS: I don’t want to say it’s exactly the same as years ago – there is some more diversity now, but change is slow. There are so many factors that go into it. So yes, perhaps the fact that we’re still talking about it is good, in that we need to continue to make people aware. Particularly people who serve on Boards of Directors and as Artistic Directors, it’s important that they know that there is still an issue of inclusion.

DP: Thank you so much for carving time out of a busy schedule, and we’re looking forward to seeing you next week!

KS: We’re looking forward to being there!

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: LM Productions ‘Broadway in Detroit’: Masonic Temple December 14

Lisa McCall

Lisa McCall is at it again!

This whirlwind of a woman, who has crafted an international career as a performer, choreographer, educator and producer, is once again working her magic as she prepares a big show: a Broadway-style production that showcases major stars alongside some of our own Detroit performing artists.

She makes clear how important this is to her – to create opportunity for local performing artists who have the talent and the drive, but maybe not the resources, to propel themselves all the way to New York. She puts them up on stage with artists who are in the international mix, and schools them in the demands and standards that it takes to get there. She chooses as collaborators other established artists who also care about this goal.

Dancers in rehearsal for ‘Broadway in Detroit’

Legendary percussionist Bill Summers, who worked with Quincy Jones in writing the musical score for the mini-television series ‘Roots’ and the soundtrack to the ‘The Color Purple’, says “I want to share my experience and knowledge with the current and next generation of artists. I have worked with my own idols and I have information that can help make the road less arduous for those seeking a productive life in the arts. There are no shortcuts to being an excellent performer but the experience of the experienced can shorten ones life journey to success.”

‘Broadway in Detroit’ will take the audience on a musical journey, one experienced by a dancer dealing with rejection.

McCall: “We have all experienced rejection at some time in our lives, but the way we respond to it will either break us or build us up. ‘Broadway in Detroit’ will empower, enlighten, and entertain the audience.”

This show will take place in the stunning Scottish Rite Theater (also known as the Cathedral) at the Masonic Temple, 500 Temple Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $20 and are now on sale. Call 248-573-9243.

New York City Ballet MOVES Upcoming: Detroit Opera House Oct 27-28

Grand Rapids native Maria Kowroski, Principal Dancer with the NYCB, shown here in George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’. This work isn’t on the upcoming Detroit program, but the photo shows some of the signature technical details that put NYCB in a league of its own in the ballet world.

By Julie Gervais

Puzzle: The USA is a big country. The New York City Ballet is the largest American dance organization. How do you share the magic of a ballet company with 90-some dancers and an active repertory of over 150 works?

Solution: Create ‘NYCB MOVES’ – a touring group that presents a selection of dynamic works from the company’s vast repertory. Performed by a group of NYCB dancers, including principals, soloists and members of the corps de ballet, each program features live music played by musicians from the NYCB orchestra.

Conclusion: Not only does this make abundant sense, it’s a tremendously exciting development for Detroit, considering that we’re on the tour schedule! NYCB MOVES will appear at the Detroit Opera House October 27-28. The last time New York City Ballet appeared in Detroit was…1961. We’ll try to dig up more info on that later. Meanwhile, enjoy this photo of Michigan’s own Maria Kowroski, Principal Dancer with NYCB, who is listed as  a member of the touring group. Casting and programming not yet available as of this writing, so stay tuned!!

Vote for Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Do you love “Dancing with the Stars”?

How about Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward?

Hines Ward/Courtesy of Baltimoresportsreport.com

Then don’t miss your chance to vote for Ward to be on “Dancing with the Stars” – the all-star season!

Ward first made his dancing debut on season 12 of the widely popular competition show, and brought the Mirror Ball Trophy home to Pittsburgh with partner Kym Johnson.

Representing Steeler Nation with black and gold on "Dancing with the Stars"/Courtesy of Behindthesteelcurtain.com

“The fans are the reason I won the Mirror Ball trophy, so, for me, if time permits and it works out with my schedule, it would be something I’d strongly consider if the fans want me to be on the show again,” Ward was quoting as saying on WTAE.com.

Vote here!

Ward and Johnson dance the samba on “Dancing with the Stars.” Please note that voting for this particular season is closed. Please vote for Ward to join the all-star season cast by following the link above.

Barcelona Ballet gives Detroit first look at its ‘Swan Lake’ [DETNEWS]

A breathtaking beauty is cursed by an evil sorcerer to swim a lake by day as a swan and to take human form only at night.

 

You’d think this would make finding true love rather difficult for a girl, but not when it comes to the ballet “Swan Lake.”

 

The Barcelona Ballet will perform the bittersweet love story at the Detroit Opera House Friday through Sunday.

For Full Article CLICK HERE The Detroit News

American College Dance Festival Association

Courtesy of, ACDFA Website

Neguif Angeles, Bridge Reporter

The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) makes its way down to South Texas for the first time. Texas A&M International University will host this vast dance conference starting Tuesday February 28 through Saturday March 3, 2012. ACDFA will be closed to the public.

As stated in the official ACDFA web site, “The American College Dance Festival Association exists to support and affirm dance in higher education through regional conferences, the adjudication process, and national festivals.” ACDFA is an academic conference for dance, in which dance programs from different universities are brought together from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Florida. Throughout the week of the event, students will learn dance techniques from professors of the visiting universities. Classes will begin at 8:15 A.M and continue until 6:00 P.M.

Students in the conference will have the opportunity to perform in adjudicated dance concerts. Every university will chose one or two group choreography’s that will represent their school. The first dance piece will be choreographed by a faculty guest artist, and the second one will be a student dance piece. They will then receive feedback from acclaimed national artists in dance.

An estimated 29 academic institutions will participate in ACDFA including, Miami Dade College, New Mexico State University, Rice University, Sam Houston State University, and University of Texas Pan American among many.

A total of 500 dancers will be at TAMIU participating in the conference. There will be a variety of classes offered ranging from Pilates, Yoga, African, Bollywood, Modern, Ballet, Tap, Jazz, and various other courses.

Approximately 30 TAMIU students were selected to represent the university in ACDFA. One of the choreography’s selected by TAMIU includes Flamenco, a classical Spanish dance. This dance piece, choreographed by Rogelio Rodriguez, utilizes a “Pericon” which is a large fan that is displayed by the female dancers. TAMIU student Selma Gonzalez choreographed a modern dance piece, based on a tragedy that occurred with the murder of one of her cousins.
Bede Leyendecker, Department Chair of Fine and Performing Arts, started planning this dance conference five years ago in partnership with important people that are both active on campus and in the community. Leyendecker expressed, “We are really excited about having our colleagues from the region come to Laredo; this is the first time that this conference has ever been held in South Texas, so it’s a first and hopefully not a last.”

If you would like to know more about ACDFA and its history please visit their website at www.acdfa.org

The Bridge will have further coverage on ACDFA. Feel free to leave your comments
This Article has been published at www.thebridgenewspaper.com.

‘Stars of Russian Ballet’ Gala on 08.27.11 To Include Two Young Professional Dancers from Detroit Metro

by Julie Gervais

 

Maria Kochetkova, San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer, will be one of the Stars of Russian Ballet at Ann Arbor's Power Center on August 27

Maria Kochetkova, San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer, will be one of the Stars of Russian Ballet at Ann Arbor's Power Center. Photo (c) Erik Tomasson

On August 27, 2011, it will happen again.

Some of the world’s finest dancers will bring their magic to Ann Arbor’s Power Center, under the auspices of Ballet Russe / Russian Artists International.

Last year, there were audible gasps in the audience as the first couple took their places on stage for the first pas de deux of the first Stars of Russian Ballet Gala Performance. Maybe they thought this group wasn’t really bringing world-class ballet – principal dancers and soloists from some of the most exclusive companies in the world – to Ann Arbor. Maybe they thought that was just a little bit of hype. Maybe now they know:expect a knockout performance.

The Gala is part of a two-week Russian Ballet Festival, which includes an Intensive Training Program held at the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet in Novi. It begins on August 15. This year, some sixty students from around the country will take intensive classes throughout the day, taught by many of the same dancers with whom they will share the stage on the 27th. The professional artists will come from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Staatsballet Berlin, and National Ballet of Ukraine.

International sensation Daniil Simkin will appear, dancing a piece that has come to be associated almost exclusively with him: Les Bourgeois (I could mention the YouTube views count, but who said anything about numbers? This is art!).

A gala (not to be confused with the satiric and hilarious ballet choreographed by Antony Tudor, entitled ‘Gala Performance’) is ballet’s version of an evening of greatest hits – one dazzling showpiece after another. Fans of ballet know these pieces and can place each one in context. Many could hum along with every note. Newcomers should be told not to worry about the stories behind each excerpt; many of them are tortured and confusing anyway. Better to just sit back and enjoy, knowing you are seeing artists whose talents are in demand around the globe.

But while the global aspect is exciting, this performance also has a little bit of the hometown team involved. Two young dancers, just starting out on the precipice of their careers, will return home to appear on the program as soloists. Each has an unusual and exciting story. Check back for part two of this story and get to know Haley Schwan & Patricia Zhou.

And don’t forget to find a ticket soon! Check all Ticketmaster locations or Ticketmaster.com.

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