“For Kristine: A Family Diary”

As mentioned before, the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) will be hosted at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), starting Tuesday February 28th through Saturday March 3, 2012. The College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Fine and Performing Arts celebrated its 14th Fall Dance Concert on Saturday November 19, 2011, which took place at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts Theatre.  A variety of student dance pieces were showcased at this recital, but one of them made an impact. The Modern dance piece, “For Kristine: A Family Diary.”  The work of student Selma Gonzales portrayed the tragic story of a family member death due to domestic violence. Her work and dedication has been recognized by the University dance professors as one of the best student choreography of that semester, thus being chosen to represent the dance program at the American College Dance Festival Association.
Selma Gonzales is a TAMIU Senior student, an English Major with a minor in Dance.  Selma attended John B. Alexander High School, were she participated in the colorguard program for four years. In this program, she was taught fundamentals of Ballet and was introduced to Modern Dance. Selma’s love for modern dance did not begin until she had the opportunity to experience the technique at the TAMIU dance program, as she declared, “It wasn’t until I came to TAMIU were I learned a lot more about modern, and that’s where I started to grow, and my love for modern grew as well.” Selma’s family tragedy were the inspirations that led to a strong dance choreography, that selected by her professors got chosen to represent TAMIU at the American College Dance Festival Association.
A lot of organization and thought  Selma go into her dance choreography while she prepares until ACDFA. The modern dance piece was named, “For Kristine: A Family Diary” in memory of Kristine Meza; who was murdered outside of her home by her boyfriend the past February of 2011, in San Antonio Texas. This dance piece represents the pain of the murder of her cousin, domestic violence, and what the pain does to the family of the victim. Through this piece Selma is trying to portray how the family of a domestic violence victim copes with the pain of their loss one. Selma stated, “Many people just think about the victim and the person who committed the crime… it’s never thought about the family of the victim how much they have to go through.”
This dance choreography involves meanings, symbolism, and abstract ideas.  The young choreographer explains how there was a thought and meaning to every movement she created, as she would reminisce the moment in time when it happened. Selma’s piece holds a very innovative way to showcase her work to the audience, starting with her audio. The actual audio that will be heard by the adjudication board members will be recordings that the family made, talking about Kristine and sharing thoughts about how and who she was. Furthermore, she uses chairs to symbolize the process that it took her family to overcome their tragedy, there is a pile of broken chairs that grows into one complete chair. Selma stated, “I wanted to start with the chairs broken, because that’s how we started this journey of our healing… as you go along you see the chairs slowly building up, and that’s how we were.”
For Selma Gonzalez this choreography involved more than just a dance technique, she wanted to portray awareness of domestic violence, its consequences, and the scars it leaves on people. As a result of this tragedy Selma’s family created a foundation called “The Kristine E. Meza Memorial Foundation” to create awareness and to raise money for scholarships. Selma expressed her deepest gratitude towards the TAMIU dance program and her professors for being chosen to represent the university at this dance conference, she stated, “I am honored actually, I was not expecting it but I’m very honored to represent TAMIU at this conference ACDFA… I’m very blessed.”
If you would like to know more about  ACDFA and its history please visit their website at www.acdfa.org
(Neguif Angeles may be contacted at neguif.angeles@dusty.tamiu.edu)

Detroit Dance History: The Detroit Metropolitan Dance Project aka “Dance Power”

By Harriet Berg

My recent interview with Monica Mercer for the Hour Magazine article was an evocative experience. It helped me recall the halcyon days of the Detroit Metropolitan Dance Project where every major art institution in metro Detroit was involved with bringing modern dance to the city. Nicknamed Dance Power, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, it brought together a cross section of public teachers, administrators, private studio owners, and socialites who cooperated to make American Modern Dance known to the public through workshops, lecture demonstrations, and performances.

The motivation for the NEA was the realization that American modern dancers were the leading cultural ambassadors, influential and admired, in Europe, Asia, and South America. They were not, however, known in the American Heartland. Through Dance Power, with government support, we were able to develop a brand new dance audience in a wide cross section of the population.

The major aspect of the program was that the dance audience got to know the dancers and choreographers personally–not just in performance. At lecture demonstrations and workshops in neighborhood community centers they had the opportunity to ask questions directly of the artists and get up front and personal at after parties with food, drink, and lively conversations.

People like Delia Hussey, head of dance and physical education in the Detroit Public Schools, and Dance Studio owners Norma and Robert Taynton, arranged busloads of dance students to travel to the musical hall, orchestra hall, and high school auditoriums. College dance department heads like Ruth Murray, Carol Halsted, and Dominic Missimi, planned master classes in their college studios. And dance aficionados like Maggie Allesee, Mary Dennison, Ellen Kahn, and Eve Cockburn organized parties and driving pools with professional efficiency. Women from the UAW Sally Brown, and Mae Reuther, served on committees, sold tickets, and made telephone calls.

Those were the days when we had actual dance critics in the local newspaper and this contributed to the heavy atmosphere of excitement about this unique and engaging American art form.

Dance Power is an example of how citizens working with their government can make the arts a vital and effective force in every day life. Today we are fortunate to have Karen and David DiChiera and Carol Halsted at the Detroit Opera House, who are carrying on the traditions of Dance Power. As well as Vince and Meg Paul, and the dedicated board of Directors at the Music Hall.

This movement was so strong and supported by so many major institutions. Today We all need to get behind these individuals who still support and work so passionately for all forms of dance in Detroit.

Detroit, Dance, and the Fela Frenzy

Fela Kuti, the Man

Written by Marcus R. White

Detroit is obsessed with FELA!  The dance-packed, theatrical musical  performance showcases some of the best and brightest in the industry.  My initial response to the production was “WOW, that was incredible.”  As an “informed” audience member, however, I wanted to take my analysis beyond the simple obvious amazing dance, theater, and musical excellence of the cast of FELA and show how Fela’s story is transformative for Detroit and the human experience abroad.

Detroit “Gets” FELA!

Institutions throughout the city have dedicated exhibits and mentions of the musical, creating a consistent “feel good” sentiment throughout many levels of our community.  The story of the man, Fela Kuti was presented in an accessible way to help connect the community, at least on the surface.  The Music Hall Detroit should be extremely proud of their ability to be the center of huge mobilization for the arts and culture in Detroit.   Beyond the actual performance the bringing together of so many community members cross class, culture, and race was inspiring to me and made me extremely hopeful for the city.

Transformations through “African” Dance Aesthetics

The movement vocabulary presented drew on experiences of contemporary African dance traditions. I am interested in the company’s ability to capture a unified understanding of “African” (more specifically Fela’s) aesthetics while being placed within the context of the American musical.  Fela’s music as presented in the musical helped shaped new dance forms or improve older dance traditions. It could be argued that his amalgamation of different sounds helped shape a new understanding of movement vocabularies.

I am most amazed at Bill T. Jones’ capturing the life and legacy of Fela Kuti through dance.  The strong connection to many of the original folkloric forms catapulted this musical as being one that is deeply rooted in African and African-American traditions.  This seems like an obvious understanding of Fela’s life and role in helping to develop the sounds in Nigerian and global music history; However, this compelled me to think about movement vocabulary and bodies within the Black diaspora.

Is FELA: The Musical limiting? 

Packaging the life of Fela within a two and a half hour production I imagine was a challenge for the creative team and introduced interesting choices about how to present his life.  Some of these choices may have been limiting and not truly capturing his life story.  I could agree with this point and even argued this point, but isn’t a strong skeleton of his legacy more productive to telling his story than no body of work at all?  Whatever your position the themes of struggle, resilience, and group thought were prevalent and stuck with me as messages I can think about in my own understanding of current socio-political issues.

Mr. Jones’ involvement in the project makes sense to me.  His sensibilities around political action could match closely with Fela Kuti’s in that both demonstrate that art can be the center of action to improve the way of life for humans throughout the globe.

Congratulations Cast of FELA and Good Luck to You for Future Shows!

The cast of FELA! in action

Review: FELA!, Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Feb. 14 – Mar 4

By Julie Gervais

For almost three weeks now, it’s been really hot at the corner of Brush & Madison.

Hot with the pounding rhythms of Afrobeat. Hot with the oppression of post-independent military rule. Hot with mosquitoes and injustice and frustration, and with the odd combination of fear and fearlessness found in places where chaos and violence rule the day.

FELA! Ensemble

Most of all though, the heat comes from some of the most hyperkinetically mobile dancers ever gathered together in one show. Entire essays could be written on the range of movement of the human pelvis, as shown by these dancers.

The buzz has been loud in Metro Detroit about the Music Hall’s extended run of the hit Broadway musical ‘FELA!’, the story of the legendary Nigerian musician and activist.  And the show has not disappointed.

The energy levels are off the charts, and if you’re someone who finds it hard to sit still in your seat when the dancing is so big, you’re in luck here – audience participation in both the dancing and the singing is part of the ticket. Detroit is not generally a city of shy people, and hardly needed an invitation to get the house moving, even on a Tuesday.

The show does not delay in making clear its intentions.  Right up near the top, “Yellow Fever” is a spine-tingler. It moves so fast and furious, and so much like a finale, that you wonder how they can possibly go forward from there. Later on, you wonder how they’ll be able to do it again the next night.

Adesola Osakalumi as Fela Kuti

One of the show’s delights is getting to know this character, so much talked about. “He” (on Tuesday, the fabulous Adesola Osakalumi, who slips into Fela’s skin like it’s his own) is never far from the center of the swirling action, carrying the thread through the events of his life. If ever there was anyone whose life events merit a full evening of theatre, it’s this guy. Instead of adding drama, I’m told they needed to subtract some. Fela the public figure is a legend.

But Fela the man is something of a surprise. He’s child-like with wonder at the world, recounting his travels and adventures as a naïf, yet with the wisdom of an elder. His humor is self-deprecating and he finds it in some unlikely places (like prison).

It’s difficult to condense a life this big into an evening, and surely some aspects must be weighted at the expense of others. The murder of Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Kuti, figures large due to its enormous impact on his life. There is a beautiful duet between the two, poignant and haunting. She remains in the show after her death, appearing in a nightmarish scene that evolves – no point in lingering on the morose – into a kind of dance club party. The seeming incongruity of this turns out to be something of a calling card for the show – bad stuff happens in life, but you still take your joy where you can find it.

There is much joy, especially found during the many moments that offer a complex and rich layering of movement and song. That the directors make these moments feel thrilling, rather than overwhelming or confusing, is a huge tribute to them. (Choreography is by one of the dance world’s heroes, Bill T. Jones). Several things going on at once feels like…life. Life with heightened sensibilities, with excellent music and dancing, and with the warmth of Africa.