Review: ArtLabJ / March 29-31 / Greektown, Detroit

by David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA

ArtLabJ Director Joori Jung addresses a packed audience for ‘Dream City’

A new company, ArtLabJ, has taken the Detroit arts scene by storm and changed it forever. Blending experimental dance theatre with a choreography best described as poetic, the amazing Joori Jung premiered, this Friday, a 48 minute piece called “Dream City,” presenting a complex tapestry of impressions and emotions which describes at a visceral level, the humanist experience of Detroit in the modern age.
The choreography is new, innovative, fresh, daring and pure. The dancers’ technique is flawless and the use of props is powerful.

ArtLabJ dancers. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The people of Detroit come to life in her piece, first cradled in the arms of blissful sleep, bathed in birdsong and awaken to a realization of their own greatness. A tempered yet frenetic pace, movements in counterpoint, exquisite aerial sequences, and dramatic mime paint a picture of the turn of the century. The musical history of Motown and the giddiness of Detroit’s heyday is evoked as well, with increasingly ominous whispers of the gathering storm ahead. One graphically sees the crumbling of hearts as the city begins to feel painful times, when, with a superb use of costuming, lighting, projection and movement, Joori’s dancers portray, both in raw and sublimated angst, the disillusionment, frustration, despair, paranoia, learned helplessness, and collapse that had become a citywide phenomenon for so many years. Singly and in packs, lost souls turn upon each other in a ravenous bid for survival. There is casualty, there is death; there is a brief and startling glimpse of unity in mourning. What is phenomenal, however, is that the resolution of destructive anomie is not found in a utopia of collaborative politeness, but in an uneasy harmony between cultures and perspectives in the here-and-now.

Dancers Chris Braz & Aaron Smith. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The dénouement is a gritty, uneven tangle of bodies and paint, both black and white, as the choreography moves between struggle and unity many times, resolving into a mythic dyad with each other’s colours marbling their own as the protagonists finally stand, not side-by-side, but at slight angles to each other—and that mirrors reality. It is the heroic struggle of the present that is exalted, and leads to the rebirth of our city, awakening once more from the bliss of sleep into the Elysium of tomorrow.
As a Detroit physician dealing with many patients suffering the consequences of societal illness, it amazes me how quickly this brilliant New York choreographer, now in Detroit, has understood the spiritual essence of this city—its problems and its redemption, the suffering of its individuals and its realistic potential to succeed. There are no illusions here, just truth. It is a piece that needs to be presented in every serious theatre in the city, not only for its vital content, but because Detroit is ready for an inspired experimental dance theatre like ArtLabJ. I would like to make a special mention of one of the dancers, Rachel Ahn Harbert, whose talent is definitely one to watch in the coming years.
In closing, I quote one of those who also attended the premiere of this piece. In her words, “Modern dance has finally arrived in Detroit. I have waited for ten years to see this. I have seen this only in New York or California.” My question to you, dear readers, is “Why NOT in Detroit?”

David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA


Dance Theatre of Harlem Encourages the Youth of Detroit with a Powerful Dance Intensive

By: Megan Drabant

The dyeing of shoes, organization of leotards, and perfecting of buns all preceded the first day of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Detroit Summer Intensive. On June 25th, students who auditioned and were accepted into the program entered the doors of the Detroit Opera House (DOH) with excitement and anticipation of what would be encountered in next three weeks of the intensive. With placement classes concluding the morning of orientation, the 59 students, who range from local Detroiters to students from at least eight other states and Canada, were organized into levels of technique such as Onyx, Bronze, and Amethyst.

Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) Summer Intensive challenges students to explore ballet and the allied arts by providing classes in ballet technique, pointe, modern, African, contemporary, jazz, improvisation, creative movement, and nutrition. With five classes a day, students are pushed in an intensive setting to become the best dancers they can be and present what they learn in a culmination performance. “Every class is very serious and everyone focuses on working hard and staying concentrated. The teachers inspire us to strive for success and to find your own individuality within the technique,” said Onyx level student Malika Mowinski.

With faculty consisting of former DTH members and affiliates, the education being received is straight from the heart of Harlem. DTH Detroit Program Artistic Director Kareen Camargo approaches class with the feeling of being “accessible to every student” while pushing them to work hard and have fun at the same time. “I want the students to feel like they are giving 110% rather than feeling like they should have done more. Every class is an opportunity to learn something new, with no regrets leaving class.”

The culminating performance for the intensive is this Friday, July 13th at 6:00pm at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit, MI 48226. This show is free and open to the public and will include performances of ballet, jazz, modern, African, and a lecture demonstration. “Along with witnessing the growth of ballet technique, one will see how the students have found a joy for dancing and an interest in other disciplines of dance,” said Camargo. For more information regarding the performance please call Kim Smith at 313-237-3251.

It is evident that this program is beneficial for the students in attendance, but there are more positive attributes beneath the surface for the support of artistic endeavors in Detroit and abroad. By hosting the DTH Summer Intensive pilot program in Detroit, a unique partnership is in the foundation stages between DTH and DOH. We will see the results of this partnership in the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s touring performance at the DOH in February of 2013. Detroit is fortunate to be on the list of locations for the upcoming performance season, since this is the company’s first touring season in nine years since its closure in 2004. For more information regarding Dance Theatre of Harlem’s upcoming performances check out or for specifics on the Detroit performance.



‘The Body Electric / Detroit: A Detroit Dance Guide 2012-2013’

by Julie Gervais
Panorama e-Media announces that has been chosen as digital co-publisher of ‘The Body Electric / Detroit: A Dance Guide For 2012-2013’.

Harriet Berg, Publisher of the print edition of the Guide, was a leader of the Metropolitan Dance Project, which published a series of these Guides in the 1970s and 1980s.

This inaugural edition of the Guide will cover dance activity inside the city of Detroit exclusively. It will be distributed throughout the Detroit Metro Area.

If you are a Detroit dance provider of any kind – studio, school, independent artist, company, venue, presenter – and do not yet have a presence on dancepanorama, please go to the site and sign up. No fees are involved in this process. Your listings and event information will be processed through the site. In some cases, your information is already there. Please inspect the information and confirm that it is accurate and complete. If you have any questions about the listings process and/or content, please contact

Cheers to 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