Reviews: Detroit Dance City Festival / August 22-24 / Detroit

ddcf2014logoThe 2nd Detroit Dance City Festival concluded a couple of weeks ago, and it was a huge success! Building on last year’s event, the Festival offered more performances by more companies as well as more classes, and attracted considerable media attention. Congratulations to Joori Jung and her talented, committed team for running a super organized and exciting event. artlabj2014fest1
Opinions expressed below are those of each individual writer. DancePanorama seeks written work that reflects a true diversity of thought and does not edit or censor responsible journalism. Keep the conversation going on our FB page, and let us know if you’re interested in contributing writing to future dance events in and around Detroit – our doors are open! https://www.facebook.com/dancepanorama
Our reviewers
Paulette Brockington

Paulette Brockington

Paulette Brockington is an accomplished dancer/choreographer and actor/director, who received the 2012 Michigan Heritage Award in Performing Arts for her contributions to dance in the Great Lakes area. A versatile artist, her dance career in concert dance began with a teaching fellowship at The University of Michigan followed by positions at Marygrove College, Wayne County Community College District, guest stints at other colleges and organizations, several dance companies including her own, and opera companies. Through artist residencies she has taught all ages from early elementary through the university levels. in 2008 she was ArtServe Michigan’s Arts Educator of the Year. Other grants and awards levied during a lifetime of achievement make her a freelance artist of note who has had the privilege of training with Bela Lewitzky, Iacob Lascu, Judith Jamison, Tommy Gomes and Joel Hall to name a few.

Tom Regan

Tom Regan

Tom is an adult-onset dancer and dance fan, starting at age 40 with a jump into adult jazz and tap classes, a consequence of witnessing several recitals at the studio attended by his daughters and prompting the thought “hey, I can do that that!”  He also enjoys community theatre, where he has played ensemble roles in productions at Stagecrafters in Royal Oak and Ridgedale Players in Troy.  His day job is software engineering and he is married with two adult daughters.

Jessica Thomas

Jessica Thomas

Jessica Thomas is a native of Detroit, MI. She is a professional performer, choreographer, and educator. Thomas is the founder and director of JTDance. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from New York University (Tisch School of the Arts) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wright State University. She has performed in numerous choreographic works at various prestigious venues, including Aretha Franklin’s Christmas Card,
Mechanique,Collage, Song of the Youths, Country Dance, Romeo and Juliet, Barre Exercises, Aida, A Chorus Line, Jo! A Dance Odyssey: Africa to America, One Mo’ Time, For Colored Girls,The Story, True West, Among the Scapes and Fields, Half A Dozen of the Other, The Land of Loneliness, Milk, and Honey,Altruistic Intentions, Je’ Adore, Who Am I To Be…, Tragedy of Design and Pulse, and The Nutcracker with Ballet Internationale, Cincinnati Ballet, and Dayton Ballet.
Jessica has served as a dance educator and performer throughout Detroit for events
such as the Detroit Public Schools Dance Day, The Arts League of Michigan, The
Institute of Music and Dance at Marygrove College, Eisenhower Dance School, Ballet
Renaissance, Dance Expressions, and Motor City Dance Movement. She has been a
choreographic guide for Inside Out Literary Arts (Emily Dickinson) and is currently a
dance instructor at Legacy Dance Studio, LLC.

6PM Friday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Jessica Thomas

What better way to spend a Friday evening than to spend it at the YMCA Boll Theatre! There were a variety of gifted choreographers/companies presented via ArtLab J Dance’s Detroit Dance City Festival. The YMCA Boll Theatre is an ideal and intimate space.

The first piece that was slated on the program was “A Higher Place”. It is a clever, intricate contemporary/classical pointe piece choreographed by Chelsea Radgens. The long sleeve black, white, and tan leotards with white platter tutus immediately grasped my attention. The costumes were classic as well as edgy. I, as well as the audience, erupted in soft laughter as Michelle Quenon and Grace Russell would jetè, fouettè, and/or soutenu (for example) around each other as they competed for the ‘limelight’. What is most significant is their ability to portray competitiveness and yet be elegant in the way in which they delivered an arabesque or pique attitude. The first section in “A Higher Place” also reminded me of, and correlates with, how competitive life itself can be. For example; the traditions that we hold on to, and/or the lack thereof. Radgens kept the integrity of the traditional ballet technique and style and inserted the competitive acting innuendoes as the overtone in the first section. As the second section commenced, the white platter tutus were replaced with black jazz shorts. Quenon and Russell were no longer confined to the restrictions of the classical platter tutu whilst performing earthy/weighted contemporary movements. In the second section, they performed cohesively. The movement is light and connected. Quenon and Russell would assist each other in a “roll through or rond de jambe into an embrace”. As if to say; “In life we need each other to get to ‘A Higher Place’.”

The second piece on the program was “Fragrance In Time” (Excerpts) choreographed by Joori Jung of ArtLab J Dance. The piece begins with the dancers strategically placed throughout the space and an active hourglass projected on the cyclorama (‘cyc’) of the stage. The costuming complemented and delightfully contrasted one another. I enjoyed the silky materials and colors of blue, olive green, salmon pink, and tan. In my opinion, it was “couture meets dance”. In the first section of ‘Fragrance of Dance’ the choreography Jung presents on Rachel Ahn Harbert, Marianne Bass, Julia Fowler, Christa Smutek, Adriel Ruben, and Melissa Phillips is delightfully quirky, fluid and gestural. The negative space tremendously affected the use of positive space in their movement. The choreography took me on a journey through time, space, memories (some joyous, thoughtful and painful). The controlled execution of playfulness in ‘Fragrance In Time’ captivated me. I felt a sense of calmness and complete joy while watching the six dancers perform. Some of the highlights of the piece include Harbert doing a ‘trust leap’ into the arms of the five dancers that were standing diagonally upstage left. Harbert’s solo and the gestural conclusion of ‘Fragrance In Time’ where the dancers transition, whilst on stage – from wearing all black with black tulle around their necks, to nude underwear – was thought-provoking and profound. At the conclusion of “Fragrance In Time”, the dancers descended to lying on the ground, in a straight line horizontally across the upstage space. Jung created movement that ‘lackadaisically’ aided each dancer from lying on the ground to standing in a straight line looking at the audience jokingly. The stimulus of the movement seems to come from a play on memories, how the brain sometimes randomly processes things such as how we see colors. I came to the conclusion that ‘time is a continuum’; it has no end.

Jodie Randolph’s company Pure Existence performed ‘Awakening’ third in the program. The bone-colored lace dresses complemented by the warm lighting and classical music added to the calmness of the piece. The adage movements performed by Megan Scheppelman, Alyssa Langmeyer, Teresa Muller, and Maddy Prebola were so delicate and thoughtful. The transitions on and off stage were seamless. The use of plie, space, stillness, and partnering by and among the performers was timely and precise with the musicality of the piece. ‘Awakening’ is a traditional contemporary piece. It possessed elegance and was full of intense emotion. The piece was simply angelic.

“Invisible” was fourth in the program, choreographed by Bree McCormack. Costuming incorporated beautiful earth tone colors. Sam Assemany, Angela Mitchell, Sam Snell, Jalisa Brown, Darryl Barnes, Sarah Rot, and Sam Crouch physically had great perception on swift isolations specifically in the upper torso which then resonated through the rest of their bodies. The choreography and the warm lighting gave “Invisible” a summer’s sunset type of quality (warm and happy). McCormack utilizes low, medium, and high levels in a unique way whilst still maintaining the integrity of the motifs utilized. The choreography is swift yet stylistically controlled.

Fifth in the program was “Blue Roses”, Elizabeth Schultz’ choreography. The simple navy blue, dark blue and black symmetrical dresses caused me to envision an elegant rose. The movement/shapes in the piece are quite airy. Every step performed had a waltz (rise and fall) quality. I was delightfully overwhelmed by the beauty of the cello/violins in the musical selections chosen for “Blue Rose”. The steps complimented the music very well. Elizabeth Schultz, Christina Sears-Etter, and Amy Hutchison were connected, seamless as well as continuous in their movements.

“Will it ever change…heard it all…nothing matters (#88 by Lo-Fang)” are words from one of the musical selections in Tracy Halloran Pearson’s “Portrait”. What do we see? What do we feel? These were several of many questions that came to my mind as I observed “Portrait”. The white costumes and bright white costumes complimented the choreography well. The gestures that were significant were initiated from the dancers caressing and/or twitching their face. The dancer’s movements were extremely powerful as they moved through the stage space. Their leaps were boundless. I was also captivated by the various complex group lifts.

The closing piece, “Mayne Mentshn (My People) The Klezmer Ketch: Act I (Excerpt)” choreographed by Carolyn Dorfman was quite a treat to witness. The soloist, Katlyn Waldo, begins the excerpt with her back facing the audience which is an ardent statement. The piece had a jazzy feel to it. The beautiful highs and lows of the saxophone playing in the foreground add to the vast array of stylistic, grounded, and traveling movements that Dorfman incorporated in the choreography. Waldo moves so fluidly and grandly. The female in male attire automatically caused me to think of the woman’s plight for equality in a “man’s world”. The piece caused me to question: What is the glass ceiling? Are women still striving for equality? The choreography is thought provoking, powerful and grand.
In conclusion. I left Detroit Dance City Festival’s 6:00pm performance completely satisfied, challenged as an audience member, and longing for more. It is nice to see such high caliber performing art presented in Detroit, MI.

8PM Friday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

A Half Dozen Twists of Fate

The fourth set of performances for the second annual Detroit Dance City Festival presented an unpredicted or random occurrence with far-reaching consequences for dance life in Detroit. Although I would have set a different program order, the evening ultimately filled the need for pleasure, humor, beauty, thoughtfulness, virtuosity and the avant-garde.

The program started with Marcus White’s “Cache” who directed an androgynous exploration of stillness with a mixture of ethnic, contemporary and reflected movement. Solos turned into duets into trios, back to solos and ended with a quartet finding stillness. Within it dancers splayed their chests like a mini explosion frozen in time.

“Rae” by Paulette Brockington was next on the program. The three sections went from a group to a duo back to the group performed to music by Delta Rae.

“Fury: Women in Sand” presented four supple bodied ballerinas hued in earth tones. Choreographer Sheena Annalise sculpted contemporary material with flashes of pointe work. Her intent was cohesive throughout with the choice of music and stated movement theme. If you like clean lines then you missed a gem.

Teresa Muller choreographed “Uneven Odds” for solo dancer Carmen Craft. Ms. Craft performed in an upstage open rectangle of strewn daisies. Hints of ‘love me, love me not’ were played out in movement danced with an open heart touching the audience. She struck a chord with the audience garnering this piece as the most responded to by the audience.

Next the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company took the stage with “Narcoleptic Lovers” (excerpts) choreographed by Doug Elkins. This version of the piece started with one relationship that was followed by a refereed bout of mixed martial arts cage fighting without the cage and without the martial arts giving us a full-body contact combat/spat resolved with a wink and a smile. The referee left on the stage performed a solo, perhaps of longing ending with her lying downstage on her side dreaming, ending with a dreamt about duet. “Narcoleptic Lovers” was filled with the things in life one needs to be happy – humor, h=the feeling of control of one’s life, your private time, challenges and satisfaction.

The concert closed with choreographer Mandi L. Neubecker-Phillips piece, “I Hear You Eternal.” This trio of ladies in black had a strong sense of leading and following with each of them taking turns as the leader. Ms. Neubecker-Phillips presented a sense of earthiness not found in the other pieces. I also think that they were at a disadvantage by being placed after “Narcoleptic Lovers.”

6PM & 8PM Saturday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Tom Regan

I swooned over Detroit Dance City Festival’s inaugural show last year.  The dances I watched were held in a gritty, 18th-century building on Beaubien catty-corner from the Greektown casino.  The long hike up to the fourth floor in stifling heat; the improvised performance area set up in an ancient industrial loft with a pressed tin ceiling; the eclectic mix of amateur and professional dancers and multi-media: it screamed Detroit.

This year, sitting in the light, airy lobby of the downtown Y waiting for the performance to begin, I wondered: will it have the same Detroit texture, the same smell of machine oil and metal filings?

Yes it did.

The 6pm show was kicked off by d’shire dance collective performing “Interconnection,” a testosterone-filled performance of power, flexibility, and even some popping. d’shire danced barefoot, as did all of the other troupes, and I quickly become jealous of the strength and range in those feet, a feeling that lasted all night.  How do professional dancers make their feet do those crazy things?

Jamie Kreindler and Emma Zagar followed with “Rever La Realite'” (Dreaming Reality).  While a voice-over informed us that life is like a dream that is not under our control (the very opposite of “lucid dreaming”) the dancers used their bodies to mime the self attempting to shape one’s life.  The two women combined great technique with incredible strength, effortlessly holding lifts and positions that must have had their muscles screaming in agony.

Next Sean Hoskins and Jessica Post performed “As X Approaches,” a whimsical demonstration of logical absurdities (“if you keep moving half the distance to each other you will never touch”).  My only criticism of this number is that it would have benefited from a few more smiles.  A nudge and wink to the audience would have drawn us into the joke.

I could make the same criticism of DAMAGEDDANCE performance of “GUT.”  With a background of percussion, the dance was a series of sharp, staccato movements that smoothly blended into fluid and then back into staccato.  The dancers made it look effortless.  It was hugely entertaining, at times comical, but again would have been brightened by a few smiles.  Has smiling become unfashionable in high-end dance?  I hope not.

People Dancing followed with “Snow,” where four women evoked the fluidity and grace of a gentle snow storm.

Take Root performed the abstract “Falling Through,” where a young man with a jar of rice, a metal bowl and a laptop created sound effects while an incredibly lithe and beautiful young woman dancer alternately writhed and leapt in loosely-choreographed accompaniment.   This was the most daring number of the evening; so many things could have gone wrong, but none of them did, and it was joyful to see sound-effects man and dancer hold their connection.

Finally, Elizabeth Rose Zwlerzynski performed “Remix Locale,” another bit of whimsy, juxtaposing Broadway, Manhattan with Broadway, Detroit.  A screen behind the stage showed Ms. Zwlerzynski dancing down Broadway Avenue in Detroit, while pedestrians variously gaped or ignored her, combined with film of another dancer doing the same on Broadway Avenue in Manhattan.  Meanwhile Ms. Zwlerzynski danced for us live, alternately copying and splitting off from the choreography displayed on screen.  One’s attention was pulled from screen, to stage, to screen.  It was very well done and very fun to watch.

Capping a night of spectacular performances, DDCDances ended the 8pm show with the haunting “Indivisible.”  The dance troupe, long in the tooth and incredibly flexible and strong, used their bodies to describe the sickness and cynicism of the declining American Empire.  The screen behind the dancers flashed scenes from Detroit’s famous Heidelberg Project, the stage floor was littered with old clothes, and an authoritative voice recited verse alternately cryptic and blunt.

Many of us get the feeling that the entire American experiment is coming unraveled at the seams, and “Indivisible” captured this unease, masterfully.  This performance alone was worth the price of admission.

This number was preceded by “Lucidity,” a lyrical performance choreographed by Christina Chammas.  With a theme of “lucid dreaming,” where one is dreaming and aware of it, the three young woman danced with exactly the control and power one would want to have in a lucid dream.

MarDelDance preceded this with “Transmission,” where four woman and one man flowed into various poses and stretches and held them, like a series of punctuation marks, very pleasing to the eye.

Emily Cargill and Dancers presented “sweet tooth,” a very mysterious contemporary number where the four young woman alternately shoved, pleaded, bullied, and erotically groped one another, accompanied by sound effects that would be familiar to Dr. Who fans.  When they finished I heard an audience member whisper “they were awesome,” and they were, this performance will provoke much after-thought.

The three men of d’shire dance collective performed “The Bullet with the Butterfly Wings” in the second number of the 8pm show.  Danced to Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” it was an intricate series of lifts and leaps.  “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” perfectly describes the mix of muscle and grace that these young men demonstrated.

Emma Fath opened the 8pm show with her solo “Truthiness.” Ms. Fath used her body to demonstrate the various roles we play–tentative, confused, confident, pedestrian, driven, sexy–with technique and courage that made her a joy to watch.

Detroit Dance City Festival is a hit and bound to succeed, I’ve very happy that years from now I’ll be able to brag that I saw its humble beginnings.

8PM Saturday, August 23 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

Adventurousness Dances into the Boll

Night three of four evenings of dance concertizing brought dancers from across Michigan and the United States right coast.  Choreographers explored the meaning of pedestrian movement while designing architecture, in some cases, worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The night began with Emma Fath’s solo, “Truthiness.” Unfortunately it did not live up to its name. She showed no relationship to the music. Her offbeat dancing showed no clear motivation for her choices.

The trio, d’shire dance collective, followed with “The Bullet with the Butterfly Wings,” starting with a sculptural solo in silence offering curvaceous and linear designs worthy of an art studio. I do wish I could give the first D a shout out but the program lists names not by whom the parts were danced. And he is the first D because all three dancers have names that start with the letter D. The duo entered making its own statement before interacting with the soloist. Each in turn had solos, took turns as duet partners and worked in unison. It was a visually beautiful piece.

Emily Cargill and Dancers performed “sweet tooth.” I watched the piece then looked at the program. For me the title was a misnomer.  I did, however, feel that murmuring to one’s self and having others try to control you intimates pleading and struggling to be understood. A statement can be made for cravings and/or addiction as its possible thematic matter. Whatever the motivation, I did find it well danced.

Marianne Delahanty Bator choreographed “Transmission” for MarDelDance. The piece used pedestrian movement mixed with moments of linear design. The soundtrack was incidental to the movement for roughly the first half of the work. Then half way through the choreography there was a close kinship with the music using a movement theme that relied on/recapitulated the motif.

Christina Chammas choreographed a trio of ladies in “Lucidity.” Ms. Chammas had a clear idea for her movement which showed in how she designed and explored the idea of awareness, seeing and not been seen, ending with a solo emotionally done in breath rhythm. The piece left one with a pleasant, calm feeling, which affirms the title.  The choreography showed clearness of thought and perceived the truth in an uncluttered way.

The evening closed with DDCdances “Indivisible” choreographed by Barbara Selinger. This is the second time I’ve seen this piece. It fared better in the Boll’s intimate setting. Its commentary on the homeless and homelessness this time made me think of the Emma Lazarus poem carved on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me you tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to be free…” popped into my head the first time one of the dancers looked into the void of the scrim with her head just below the projected film that I had early found intrusive.  And 3 of the dancers literally reached for the stars at one point. I found that quite striking that they were not without hope. The undressing was a bit cumbersome, but in the end the quartet was left disrobed, vulnerable, open to the elements.

A fine night of dance in Detroit with the two trios leading the  way.

8PM Sunday August 24 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

DDCF Adds Six to Make For Four Days of Unprecedented Movement Invention

Let me start off by saying that concert order is important. If all the pieces cater to a certain taste the audience doesn’t get the benefit of the highs and lows dance has to offer. Every piece can’t be audience members watching one or two or three or four or five+ dancers walking around and being dramatic and being crazy and being artistic. If all the pieces are like that the watcher doesn’t get the relief change offers. This makes the concert seem long and drawn out. When people are bored (or mad as hell can’t take anymore) they may exhibit inappropriate dance concert etiquette like instant messaging throughout a piece, surfing the net on their cell phones, napping or talking while a piece is going on. I witnessed all of those things while watching the last 6 pieces presented as part of the Detroit Dance City Festival. There were some gems that would have been better received in a more eclectic line-up.

JTDANCE opened the concert with Jessica Thomas’ “Neighbor.” This trio of dancers presented a contemporary work, which while having some moving lifts showed momentary unison problems. Each in turn lifted and shook the front panel of their floor-length skirts as if confused but showed no confusion while moving in broad, sweeping strokes.

Second on the program Jaide King-Griffin danced her own “Out of the Blue.” Ms. King-Griffin, while pleasant in blue, needed to exhibit more strength in her arms and develop more core strength to sustain her movements.

Another choreographer danced solo followed with Annie Scott in “CRASHING.” Done to her own spoken words, Ms. Scott presented a gem that was both short and bittersweet. As she said as she danced, {she was] crashing through life with seatbelt hands about experiencing life.” The audience enjoyed experiencing her.

Alex Bush Dance was next on the program with “your body and its bones.”  I found the piece, choreographed by Alex Bush in collaboration with her dancers, less about the body and its bones and more about relationships and their obstacles. It began with a male and female who explore embracing. I think that is relevant because at the end of the piece they reiterate the same movement without touching each other before embracing at the piece’s end. The same movement images were at times projected on the backdrop with female/male and male/male images engaging in the same types of movement almost as if asking whom one might choose.

RED Stowall choreographed “Celebration” for Big Red Wall Dance Company. I don’t know that the title of the piece actually fits the dance. It did not feel celebratory but was indeed a pleasant ethnic movement based dance that was colorful and well danced by six ladies. Though devoid of much facial expression they presented grounded movement themes as solos, duets, a quartet and finally sextet with poise.

The final piece of the evening of artlabJ Dance’s “Fragrance in Time (excerpts)” choreographed by Joori Jung. I did not get a sense of scent while watching the dancers but did feel the situations presented. In my eye the piece started in a workplace with a pretty unrelenting lady boss. By the time we get to the third section of the piece it started to feel unclear for me. This may or may not be because we were seeing excerpts from a larger piece. The last two sections – a woman’s solo followed by a group piece – seemed divergent from the beginning of the work. I did feel the idea of fragrance though in the last group section with the group clad in black with a froth of black tulle around their necks. They ended exposed in their underwear. Nice bodies but I don’t know why. The piece overall though was danced with aplomb and presented with a sense of character.

The festival in its entirety offered works that appealed to the aficionado, the novice and the professional craftsman. As Ellis said, “Dancing … no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.” Add that to Moliere’s thought that “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.” These two quotes enunciate our need for the Detroit Dance City Festival and the voices it allows us to see.

Dance Artists Needed

Performance Opp: Seeking dancers that are able to rehearse twice a week to ultimately perform an opening number for a Christian Play. This is a great performance opportunity especially for Christian artists seeking to use their gift to glorify God. Must be able to rehearse once/twice a week for one hour. Rehearsals begin next week, first showcase of choreography to be presented on July 28. Must be able to commit to photo/video shoot prior to performance day (9.11.2014) and to the performance (9.12.2014) @The Millinium Center, Southfield, MI. Please be proficient in all styles of dance. Only taking and responding to serious inquiries. For interest or further inquires inbox me on fb or email: j_t_dance@yahoo.com. (Please share posting with others, thank you)

DDC’s “What’s New” Concert

DDCdances – 2014 SEASON FINALE CONCERT

DDCdances presents their season finale concert, What’s New, on April 11, 8 PM at the Wallace Smith Theater, Oakland Community College, Farmington Hills.

“Indivisible” – photo by Steve Selinger

The evening features the premiere of Indivisible, a theatrical, thought-provoking work choreographed by Barbara Selinger, DDC’s artistic director and award winning choreographer. Indivisible includes projections of historic images of the Heidelberg Project, Detroit, photographed by Bernadine Vida. This powerful piece is not to be missed!

DDC also premieres a stunning quartet by Corinne Imberski, former DDC dance artist and choreographer. The piece (untitled to date) is a beautifully designed work of art performed to the music of Bela Bartok.

“The Room” – photo by Steve Selinger

The concert will present excerpts from the The Room, current DDC repertory, choreographed by Barbara Selinger. The Room integrates projected images of John Sobczak’s exquisite photography that creates a captivating environment on stage.

From Windsor, the amazing HNM Dance Company, artistic director Anh Nguyen, will also perform two wonderful pieces. Bolero, choreographed by Nguyen, is upbeat, fun and will definitely put a smile on your face. HNM will also perform the magnificent Miserere by David Earle, artistic director and founder of Dancetheatre David Earle, whose passionate dance works touch the human spirit. You’ll be inspired.

DDC Dancers: Amy Hutchison, Ann Arbor; Susan Clayton, Ferndale; David Guzman, Southgate; Elizabeth Schultz, Ypsilanti, Barbara Selinger, Farmington Hills.

Tickets for What’s New:

At the Door: $20 (cash or check only)

Online Only: Advanced Sale Discount $16 (credit card)

Group Sales (10 or more): $10 arrange via email barb@detroitdancecollective.org

To order tickets and for more info: www.detroitdancecollective.org or 810-444-4553

Please visit www.detroitdancecollective.org for further information about the concert and DDCdances.

DDC is funded in part by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts and individual contributions.

Review: Joffrey Ballet / Detroit Opera House / March 1& 2, 2014

By Julie Gervais

The Joffrey Ballet brought a perfectly-balanced program to the Detroit Opera House last weekend, March 1 & 2. It was an affirmation of what has always mattered about ballet, and a strong indicator of why ballet will continue to matter no matter how many people have tried to stick a fork in it.

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet Chor. Jerome Robbins

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet
Chor. Jerome Robbins

The freshness of Jerome Robbins 1945 Interplay is untarnished by the years, but is now a kind of period freshness. Time has not subtracted a single bit of fun from this work. Its construction is so careful that it creates the impression of carefree whimsical play, bubbling over with the exuberance of the (soon to be) post-war American spirit.  The group (8 dancers) engages in friendly competitions, starts chain reactions, tries to outdo themselves and each other. They might be on the brink of adulthood or maybe just shy of it – old enough to play at sexual innuendo yet young enough to not take it too seriously. There’s a fun time travel aspect, as occasional flashes appear of the iconic style and choreography that would eventually blossom into West Side Story, still 12 years in the future. There is abundant nostalgia these days for what some call the ‘pre-ironic age’. Whether that ever really existed or not, the piece is easy to love.

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain, now one of Christopher Wheeldon’s worldwide signature works, is like one long breath. Its ability to capture and hold attention, using just the push and pull of emotional ties between two people, is a tribute to the power of dance. With his score, (Spiegel Im Spiegel, or Mirrors In The Mirror) Arvo Part proves that minimalist music can find a heart connection on what is, for most people, the first hearing. If perhaps Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili might have showed a bit more of the contrast between moments of closeness and moments of apart-ness, this was still a beautiful interpretation.

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Stanton Welch

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet.
Chor. Stanton Welch

The next piece was the blockbuster of the program. Stanton Welch’s Son Of Chamber Symphony is everything that is great about contemporary ballet. It opens against a projection of bold square architectural lines against low light. The ballerina’s saucer-style tutu, a creation made possible by 21st century fabric technology, holds its shape and flatters the leg line without the traditional frou-frou underlayers of supporting tulle and net. The men’s tunics honor and yet depart from tradition with a cutaway in the chest that reveals their – gasp! – chests. Anastacia Holden’s exquisite movement quality sets up the entire ballet – calm and confident, she owns it with a special fierceness that is often the claim of ballerinas whose proportions don’t necessarily reflect current ideals. The ballet takes on deconstruction of tradition as a sort of investigation. What if…we put ‘expected’ steps and shapes in a few unexpected places? Or unpacked the whole idea of a final climaxing pas de deux just to see what makes it tick, and whether it can tick differently? It’s fascinating and compelling and purposely funny at times, such as in the role-reversal promenade in which the ballerina in parallel bourree supported her man’s one-legged tour lente. Or when the principal ballerina makes her way slowly in a downstage diagonal through a sea of identically dressed women – latter-day shades or swans. It feels rich in imagery but austerely so, not opulent. Think Silicon Valley rather than Moscow. It is danced super clean and with an urgency that can give meaning to abstraction. It’s as though the dancers are hell-bent on sharing their acquired knowledge and insight into the music (John Adams’ work by the same name). This commitment to communicate is a key piece of the work’s success. There is much contemporary ballet that confuses an austere esthetic with emotional emptiness, or that fails to use movement to illuminate the music and the reason for the choreographer’s interest in it. Son Of Chamber Symphony is simply fabulous and deserves a long life on the stage.

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp’s crowd-pleasing Nine Sinatra Songs was the crowd-pleasing closer, a smart choice even though it’s not from her ‘best of’ collection. Some steps are re-used to the point of redundancy, some simply don’t work very well and the scale of it looked a little lonely on the DOH stage. But this 30-year old piece earns its place in permanent rotation through Tharp’s keen showmanship. Lucas Segovia deserves special mention for his comedy skills, hitting just the right notes to put a hilarious spin at just the right times. Everyone left with a song in their hearts.

 

Review: Detroit Dance Race / December 21 / Greektown Detroit

By Michelle Quenon

On Saturday, December 21st at seven o’clock in the artLab J studio, the 7th Detroit Dance Race was about to begin. With just two rows of chairs for the audience to sit, the setting was very intimate, creating a vulnerability for both the performers and the audience members; a sensation that is most often missing in bigger venues such as a theatre. That being said, watching the pieces performed in the artLab J studio was a very refreshing experience. The choreographers all tailored their pieces to be seen at a close visual range, and, after the audience got over the initial closeness of the performers, the intimate setting transformed into a warm and exciting atmosphere full of encouragement and appreciation on the part of both the audience and the performers.

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The program started with a piece choreographed by Chelsea Radgens entitled Foil. As the title suggests, the two dancers–Mackensie Garlow and Morgan Markowicz–were indeed foils of each other. This idea was reflected beautifully with the music, as the duet between the two string instruments mimicked the movements of the dancers, separating them visually and audibly but still connecting them as one undoubtable entity. The intermittent segments of unison dancing aided in heightening the stark contrast of Garlow’s poised lyricism and Markowicz’s vibrant virtuosity. The piece was well performed and very interesting to watch.

Following Foil was a piece called Awakening, choreographed by Jodie Randolph and danced by Megan Scheppelman and Nikki Steltenkamp. Right from the start, the piece was very engaging. The calm fluidity of the dancers gave the piece an almost hypnotic

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

feeling and both dancers were able to make their movements expansive without breaking the delicacy of the piece. Also, the connection between the two dancers, along with the connection they held with the audience contributed to a spellbinding performance from start to finish.

The third piece of the program, Tussle, was choreographed by Alicia Cutaia and performed by herself and Russ Stark.

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia.
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Both dancers moved beautifully and with much technical precision. There was much creative partnering that held the audience captivated and even drew audible sounds from its members at certain points. For the most part, the interactions between the two dancers were languid and tender, though there were subtle hints at a “tussle,” performed in the same tender way. Movement-wise, the two were in perfect harmony, though the lack of a strong emotional connection between the dancers, whether intentional or not, was unclear. This aside, the piece was still very captivating to watch.

The program continued with a piece choreographed by Lauren M-R Taylor called MOLD.

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The piece started out with some very interesting formations by the four dancers, and moments of stillness were used very effectively. The dancers were very engaged with one another, and as they all began to break away from their solos and come together, there was a real sense of camaraderie that developed among them. They became–as the title of the piece suggests–a mold.

The next two pieces of the program were performed by the Body Rhythm Dance Theatre and choreographed by Edgar L. Page. The first piece, Words I can’t unsay, was  tensely calm and sexual, with the dancers displaying an intense physical and emotional connection with one another. This was contrasted greatly with the second piece, My love

My Love Is Like... / Chor. Edgar Page Photo Scott Lipiec

My Love Is Like… / Chor. Edgar Page
Photo Scott Lipiec

is like…, in which a solo performer, Ta’rajee Omar, took over the space with a deeply introverted solo of frustration, anger, and loneliness that had the audience bouncing between intrigued discomfort and enthralled mesmerism. It was powerfully expansive and yet exceedingly vulnerable at the same time. Omar never seemed to stop moving, and she contorted her body into positions that reflected her discomfort while still managing to keep everything as rich and languid as if she were moving through water. The piece was very captivating and definitely a crowd favorite.

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

After a brief intermission, the program continued with CHANGE, the artLab J dance choreographed by Joori Jung and performed by Edgar Page and Rachael Ahn Harbert. After a short video illustrating the want and need for change in the perception of the arts in Detroit, the dancers began to play with double entendres, as Harbert continually held out her hand and asked Page for “Change?” The duet that followed was slow with unconcealed weightedness and drudgery, though there were undoubtable moments of hope. Overall, the peace was very well executed and thought provoking.

Following CHANGE was I said, “there are no people here,” choreographed and danced by Jennifer Harge. Harge began by facing away from the audience and moving her feet in a box pattern, as though ballroom dancing with herself. The music–choral singing–along with the choreography produced a heightened sense of loneliness. At one point, Harge stopped dancing and looked out at all the members of the audience. At such close proximity, a frank acknowledgement from a performer can leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, but Harge’s clam, sincere gaze, along with the beautiful voices of her soundtrack, had the opposite effect. She then proceeded to pick three people out of the audience to dance with her onstage. As she quietly went around to each of her newly gathered performers, showing them each what to do, their movements began to mesh together, rendering the title of her piece irrelevant and leaving the audience feeling very inspired.

The Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The program continued with a piece entitled The Epitome of Femininity with choreography and performances by Stephanie Booth and Jessica Parks. Both dancers were clad in relatively androgynous costumes–spandex shorts and grey tank tops. Their dancing was beautiful, sensual, powerful and deliberate, displaying athleticism and grace. The minimalistic music and costumes aided the dancers in stripping away all preconceived notions of “femininity,” and bringing a refreshing take on a usually overworked subject. The connection the dancers held with the audience was very amusing. While working their way in and out of strenuous poses with apparent ease, they shot looks at the audience, as though daring its members to contradict them and their displays of femininity.

To conclude the program, the Detroit Tap Repertory performed River and Winter SOLEstice. River was danced to surprisingly slow music, though the intricacy of the steps and the complicated rhythms were all clearly present. The second piece, SOLEstice, was an enjoyable and upbeat dance to holiday music. It provided a very fun ending to the program.

Detroit Tap Repertory Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Detroit Tap Repertory
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

WSU DANCERS TO PERFORM AT THE JOYCE THEATER, NYC

By Julie Gervais

It’s the fourth of November, which means that ten students from Wayne State University have just seventeen days before they will perform twenty-two of the most challenging dance minutes of their lives.

Dancepanorama caught up with Meg Paul, Ballet Lecturer in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theater & Dance at WSU and the rehearsal director for ‘Hissy Fits’ – a work created by Dwight Rhoden, who founded and co-directs Complexions Contemporary Ballet with dance world superstar Desmond Richardson.  Meg is also the Director of the CCB Summer Intensive at WSU, an educational outreach partnership begun three years ago. It’s been a great fit from the start – having danced with the Company, she has an insider’s understanding of both their movement style and their mission. It’s a mission that is strong on diversity and individuality, and Detroit has embraced it with open arms.

Dwight Rhoden

Dwight Rhoden

The path to twenty-two minutes began with a nine-day residency that kicked off on day one of the fall semester. Mr. Rhoden chose his cast, and they reported in to the studio after the academic day at 4 pm to begin a six-hour rehearsal. Until Labor Day weekend, when the holiday time afforded eight to nine hours of rehearsal per day: eighty hours and counting.

The music for Hissy Fits is by J.S. Bach (I always wish that composers could see the incredible dance works that later generations have created with their music) and, like all Rhoden choreography, the movement is dense, complex, intricate. Multiple body parts moving at once, and mostly in unexpected ways – for both the dancer and the audience.

Hissy Fits rehearsal.

Hissy Fits rehearsal.

Ms. Paul reports that they handled it all like pros – not just the intense schedule, but the digging in to unfamiliar material, the getting out of their comfort zone. Even though each of the dancers performing (plus four understudies) had attended at least one of the Complexions summer sessions, stepping into a complete professional-level work is a big step beyond a student performance, and this is the original work – start to finish, no modifications. The partnering is especially challenging in Rhoden’s choreography, adding layers of difficulty that many students are encountering for the first time.

Dwight Rhoden At Work With His Cast

Dwight Rhoden At Work With His Cast

It is important to note Mr. Rhoden’s confidence in the WSU students’ ability to perform the work at the required level and his commitment to developing young dancers’ skills at this crucial point in their development. It would be easy for a choreographer who is in demand around the world to limit his schedule to seasoned professionals. He has chosen instead to reach out with a challenge and an opportunity to young dancers just on the verge of spreading their wings. It’s an inflection point, and can make all the difference in the world to a budding career.

Working It Out

Working It Out

Post-residency, Meg Paul directed all rehearsals, coaching and nurturing these young dancers. Nine additional weeks out, they are now approaching one hundred and twenty hours of work. The moment is getting closer.

On Thursday November 21, they will take the stage of The Joyce Theater in NYC. It’s an intimate but iconic venue for the dance world, a former film house renovated specifically for dance and still dedicated to it. A highlight of Complexions ten-day run at the Joyce is their Annual Gala on the 21st , and it is on this evening that the WSU dancers will perform – on the same program with the Company – by special invitation.

Dancer Kara Brody

Dancer Kara Brody

Congratulations to all of the dancers: Chris Braz, Michelle Brock, Kara Brody, Shauna Cook, Amber Golden, Sam Horning, Ashlee Merritt, Adam McGaw, Andrew Sanger, and James Vessell; and to understudies: Bianca Brengman, Bianca Bousamra, Zariah Fowler, and Ashley Kalchik. We wish them all the best success and enjoyment of every moment of this incredible opportunity.

Sneak-peek preview opportunity! There is a benefit performance on Wednesday November 6 in WSU’s Maggie Allesee Studio Theater at 7:30. Tickets (313) 577-4273.

 

 

Review: ArtLabJ 3 Solos / October 26 / Greektown, Detroit

artlabJ3solos

By Roberto Warren

The program consisted of three solo works by Wanjiru Kamuyu of WK Collective, Rachael Ahn Harbert, and “radical child”, performed by Alexander Dones.

The first piece, “Spiral”, performed by Wanjiru Kamuyu, was actually a reconstruction of a work originally created in 2005. The work explores the affects and effects of the imposed Western patriarchal idea of beauty standards while interrogating the acceptance and assimilation of and to these standards through old and new values that arise as a reaction to that dominant cultural context.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Ms. Kamuyu enters wearing a leotard, and a full Victorian-era skirt. Hung from the ceiling are bird cages with nude Barbie dolls in them. There is also one nude Ken doll in one of the cages. Talk about Western symbols of beauty. The skirt is iconic. A symbol of patriarchal Western beauty. Moving slowly, like a cat, with high extensions, she seems content with this image she has. But then she begins to clutch at the skirt as if to question herself. She pulls the skirt up and examines her feet and legs. Are her feet good enough? Are her legs good enough? She then begins to explore her social and emotional space. Test the waters of the Western illusion she is beginning to realize she has been living. She even develops a swagger, spiraling her body left and then right. Flipping her hand across her shoulder as if to brush off any negative commentary about her “image of perfection” and then turning to look at her shadow on the wall as if to reaffirm her image to herself. She bows to her shadow. She embraces herself. But then reality begins to set in. The movement becomes jagged and percussive as the conflict builds. With a fury and rapid fits of rebellion she fights her way out of the skirt…that symbol of Western “beauty”… But she can’t seem to break away. Is it Afros or hot combs? She smiles at the audience…or a potential suitor. “Hi how are you? Do you think I am beautiful?” Then the skirt comes off. She begins to discover herself. But no sooner than that happens she goes through Western-defined sexual rejection. The lights go dark and the real struggle and questioning begins.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Under the skirt she has been wearing ruffled bloomers. Another Victorian-era symbol. Under the symbol there has been another symbol. A cacophony of whispers and laughter ensues in the soundtrack. Yes…there are critics everywhere. But this is then overridden by the angelic voices of an African children’s choir. A reminder of who she really is…and slowly…she begins to accept that.

The second piece, “Stand Still”, danced by Rachael Ahn Harbert was a preview of an evening-length work in the making. Ms. Harbert starts out by introducing herself to the audience…literally….and then she gets 14 volunteers from the audience to join her in the dance space. They become part of her dance landscape, which also consists of mirrors, two large and rectangular, and one small and round. All on the floor, along with a 3-minute hourglass. She then gives each of the 14 audience members onstage a small round mirror to hold. And because the piece is called “Stand Still”, she instructs the audience members to do just that.

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

In the first section of the piece, which she called “Death”, wearing a flesh colored top and shorts, she somersaults onto the floor, landing on her back, and uses her finger to monitor her pulse rate at her neck…and while the 3-minute hourglass runs out, she dies. Watched by 14 impassive onlookers.

In the next section of the piece, which she called “While You Were Sleeping”, she binds her 14 onlookers. In the center of the Art Lab J dance space, there are three poles. Seven of the onlookers stood on either side of the center pole, and between the two end poles. She strings a black rope around all three poles, gliding around, behind, and between her onlookers, totally immobilizing them. After all, when you are told to “stand still”, you are verbally being immobilized. You are being prevented from moving in space. But the ropes and poles also resembled telegraph wires. It could be said that if you are being told to “stand still” you are not to communicate with your fellow man. But at the same time, the people doing the immobilizing are free to move around, behind and through you.

In the last section of the piece, “Hall Of Mirrors”, she used the mirrors on the floor to beg the question, if you are looking at the floor, you see the floor, but if there is a mirror on the floor, and you are looking into it, are you seeing additional space? Can you move in that space? Indeed, and with her 14 “onlookers” holding mirrors, were they also seeing additional space?

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The third piece of the evening, “play” was performed by radical child. Danced by Alexander Dones. With music by Samuel Beckett and Richard Wagner. What happens when you listen to the voices in your subconscious mind? And how are those voices compounded by what you hear in your conscious mind? Mr. Dones turned himself inside out. He dove headlong into this labyrinth of confusion, moving powerfully about the room. The voices took him into the air, onto the floor, into turns, put smiles on his face, frowns, and periodically caused him to hook himself in his mouth and pull his head back in supplication. If you pay attention to and react to everything your hear, your actions become frenzied. One action leads to another, and they don’t always lead you down a logical path. Life can be like that. And Mr. Dones showed that.

Kudos to Joori Jung and the staff at ArtLabJ for allowing such cutting-edge dance work to be presented in Detoit.

The evening's 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The evening’s 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

 

 

 

Essay: On Performing in ‘Rite of Spring’ / August 22 / artLabJ

By Harriet Berg

There is an ancient saying: “Tell me what you dance and I will tell you who you are.”

Last week as part of the Detroit City Dance Festival, I participated in worldwide celebration of the 100th birthday performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the seminal work of modernism of the 20th century.

As I stood on stage with the incredibly talented dancers of the Art Lab J Company as the brilliant choreography of Joori Jung unfolded, I felt the magnitude of the music, the images it evoked with the wild percussive sound, trumpets blaring, flutes singing. Nijinsky’s radical choreography, Nicola Roerich’s costumes and scenery based on ancient Russian legends. I felt the presence of the all the other companies who have participated in this yearlong celebration, whose choreographers chose to create their personal vision of this Rite, all linked through time and space to this company on the stage of the Boll Theater at the YMCA in downtown Detroit.

In her choreography, Joori Jung challenges the nature of male-female relationships and acquiescence to injustice in taut, articulate, gymnastic contemporary dance executed by a confident, well-trained company of Detroit dancers. At a time of so much bad news around Detroit, this “Rite of Spring” shows the city’s artists pushing up through the frozen ground of despair to celebrate their deep connections, not only to dance history, but to the regenerative power of the community of dance worldwide.

This Weekend March 9: Michigan 5 / Choreographer Showcase at the Berman Center

Courtesy of Sari Cicurel / The Berman Center For The Performing Arts

The Berman Center for the Performing Arts will host, “Michigan Five: Choreographer Showcase,” Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00pm, highlighting the most outstanding and creative dance talent from colleges and universities through-out the state.

This year, the “Michigan 5”are:  Oakland University, Hope College, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and the University of Michigan.

Greg Patterson, Director of this year’s ‘Michigan 5’

“Michigan 5” is led by Greg Patterson, associate professor of dance at Oakland University and founder and artistic director of the Patterson Rhythm Pace Dance Company.

Patterson is thrilled to announce this year’s guest choreographers: Oakland University’s Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner with the set design created by Jeremy Barnett , Matt Farmer from Hope College, Western Michigan University’s David Curwen, Shawn Bible from Grand Valley State University, and from the University of Michigan, Jessica Fogel.

Elaine Smith, Managing Director of The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, looks forward to the return of this dance showcase to The Berman stage. “Every month, The Berman Center for the Performing Arts offers audiences the finest music, theatre and entertainment programs. This showcase of the universities is excellence in dance, “said Smith.

Program Notes:

Thayer Jonutz / Oakland University

Oakland University, Thayer Jonutz:  Things Happen Because I See

This collaborative project was choreographed by Oakland University’s Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner with the set design created by Jeremy Barnett. The piece explores human interaction in a variety of public spaces.

Ali Woerner / Oakland University

 

 

Matthew Farmer / Hope College

 

Hope College, Matt Farmer: due e una 

The piece is a soft duet between two women (music by Arvo Part), and is influenced by the weight of oppressive darkness.

David Curwen / Western Michigan University

 

 

Western Michigan University, David Curwen: the lie

A  strong modern work choreographed by WMU dance alum, Jacquelyn Nowicki,  Music is by the Kronos Quartet, Music title: UNIKO.II.Plasma, Western Dance Project Dancers: Sam Assemany, Darryl Barnes, Jalisa Brown, Connor Cornelius, Alex Laya, Emily Rayburn, Sarah Rot, Alli Zajac

 

Shawn Bible / Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University, Shawn Bible: Sacrificed

A contemporary pointe dance filling space with drums, silhouettes, and physicality. The intense process of ritual dance and sacrifice is portrayed.”

 

 

 

University of Michigan, Jessica Fogel: Hath Purest Wit: Anagrams for Eight Dancers and Thirteen Letters 

Jessica Fogel / University of Michigan

The concert begins with a pre-show interactive lobby performance installation that transfers to the stage in choreographer Jessica Fogel’s Hath Purest Wit: Anagrams for Eight Dancers and Thirteen Letters.  The interactive performance installation in the lobby invites you to translate what you see into words or sketches. What you see and interpret in the lobby is re-imagined onstage, not just through movement but also through music and text. Making and experiencing art form part of a buoyant, flexible, ongoing process.

Tickets to “Michigan Five: Choreographer Showcase,” on Saturday, March 9th at 8:00pm, are $21 Admission, $16 JCC Members, $12 for students and groups will pay $11 for tickets. For more information visit www.theberman.org   or call the box office at (248) 661-1900.

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!