Saturday, July 31, 2010

our first interview

Clarence Brooks. the name that may be familiar to you already.

I met him in the mid-1990s when he was dancing with the Nikolais/Louis company. Our paths crossed frequently in NYC and again in 2005 in Boca Raton, Florida where he is the Director of Dance at Florida Atlantic University.

This spring, while teaching Dance History at George Mason University, a video of Nikolais' work included Clarence as one of the dancers. When he appeared on the screen, a student shouted out "That's my teacher!" She had taken his classes at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. The point I am trying to make: Clarence has been invested in dance for decades and the impact of his thoughtful teaching and dedication to this art-form is widespread. Here's the interview:

Question 1: Why do you teach?

Clarence: I started teaching dance shortly after I started training to become a dancer - which is not something I would recommend. It is something that I really enjoy doing. As a highly kinetic and spatial learner, I obtain a great deal of sustainment observing others challenge their bodies, their imaginations, and their use of space and environment. Watching others learn enables me to have a deeper understanding of what I am doing as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and as a student.

Question 2: During your dancing career you have performed in virtually every state with a range of ballet as well as modern companies, what advice would you give to aspiring dancers?

Clarence: I am so very grateful to this field for the opportunities it has afforded me.
Always educate yourself; place yourself in a learning environment; what you learn can never be taken away from you; learning is never a waste of time, energy or money;
Study the other art forms and the relationships between them;
Study more than one dance form and see as much dance as possible;
Document as much of your training and career as possible; collect a program from each performance you participate in; get a video/DVD; collect photographic images of you in rehearsal and performance as well as you with your peers and teachers; write down your recollections of classes, master classes and performances;
Audition for the sake of auditioning; you are not entitled to get everything you audition for (or apply for) but you should open yourself to the possibility of a new experience as well as to the inevitability of rejection;
Don’t be afraid to fall/fail because the ground is not that far below us;
Don’t be afraid to get up/fly again – do it with grace and humility;
Unfortunately, Life and dance are roses with thorns; things are so much better now than they were and if the youth put their shoulder to the wheel it will get even better; but you have to get involved, and do the right thing, and keep forging newer, better paths for those who will follow behind you;
Above all, be a good person and try to do no harm;

Respect yourself; take real good care of your instrument; treat it well and responsibly.

Question 3: We both admire and miss Kathy Grant (in the photo above with Clarence). How did she contribute to your growth and success as a professor?

Clarence: Kathy Grant was a teacher and mentor and friend to me.
When we were introduced to each other after a performance she noted that because I was the only black person onstage and she was the only one in the house, other audience members thought I was her son. She said since I knew what I was doing she did not disown me nor did she set the appreciative-but-mistaken audience members straight. She guided me through other moments of racism that were not as endearing as our initial greeting.

Friday, July 30, 2010

epiphany in the shower

The summer course I was teaching at George Mason University ended on Wednesday. Called “Dance Appreciation” the class fulfills a fine arts requirements and students often include those who have danced all their lives as well as people who have never attended a dance class or concert. The diversity of perspectives makes it a fascinating experience. On the first day I ask students to write down their answer – between 2 and 4 sentences – to the question: “What is dance?” I collect these and look at them alongside their answers on the final exam when they are asked to describe at least five different roles that dance can serve. Here is one student’s answer (the same student who had been in Iraq and wrote the review posted 2 weeks ago):

“to act as intermediary between physical and spiritual worlds, which we saw in Native American rituals; to showcase a place in society – as we watched in the courts of King Louis XIV; to tell a story, which we saw in Romantic Ballet – offering ways of showing narrative without speaking words; to teach social graces – as we saw in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom; to preserve and define a culture as we saw with Flamenco and with Gumboots when people who were disenfranchised used dancing to retain a sense of power and worth; to connect to the spiritual realm – as we saw in the snake ritual in Kerala when the girls destroyed the mandala when they were in trance”

I am posting this today on National Dance Day because people in Congress (Eleanor Holmes Norton) seem to equate dancing with aerobic exercise: Congresswoman Norton states

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On view tonight

Nestled between today's storms Karen Reedy Dance, artist/kayaker Alison Sigethy, and musician Jeff Franca brought rays of light and calm to the waterfront of Alexandria, VA.

Taking place in front of and through the Torpedo Factory, their collaboration offered sounds and sights akin to gentle breezes. There were poetic images and graceful lyricism in the dancers, percussionist and kayaker as they intertwined themes of waves and tides. The creation made me think of a beautifully tuned string instrument: not too tight, not too loose, just right.

Sigethy began the performance in a kayak, coming towards the crowd that stretched along the dock. Rolling in her boat, she turned upside down and right-side up. It was playful and soothing. Ducks passing by seemed to be perfectly choreographed into her swirls and twirls.

Dancers on the dock picked up the curving shapes of Sigethy’s choreography and the waves that enveloped her. Making patterns with their bodies, there was a sense of exploration and harmony: synchronization between the dancers, the warm evening, the crowd that gathered to watch.

The performers were distinguished by their all-white outfits: shorts, dresses, capris. They were stunning: Constance Dinapoli, Karen Dunn, Bobby Sidney, Noelle Snyder, Alexis Thury, and Rachael Venner. Their different ages and body types reflected the diversity of people in the crowd and added to a sense of balance and coexistence (I discovered after the show that Sigethy’s exhibit in the gallery is called “Art in Balance: Rhythm and Repetition”)

guest blogging: Kelly Bond's "Elephant"

Since this is a site about dialogue, it is great to include responses to performances from other people. Here John Lanou creates his own work of art - a poem -  inspired by Kelly Bond's performance "Elephant" which took place in the Capital Fringe festival:

by John Lanou
"I tend to get quite hungry, without even knowing it. Then I taste food and realize I'm starving." ~ my friend after the show.
Naked. Acting. On display. Naked. Exposed. Like a gorilla. For all to see. With nowhere to hide.


Karen Reedy Dance takes part in a collaboration at the Torpedo Factory. This is one of the essential paths of performance today: sharing ideas and creations between different disciplines. I am also excited to see this event because it is live and site-specific. When I talk to people about dance today they think that what they see on television - So You Think You Can Dance - is all there is. I am not knocking the show - it does a lot to open the eyes of viewers and get them interested, but it does not acknowledge the diversity of dance and performance styles that exist in our world. And I think it makes little to no effort to acknowledge the sources and people who have pioneered these styles and ideas. While I am on this topic, has anyone heard about National Dance Day happening on Saturday?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Since Sunday

Here is the full review of Sunday's event at Castleton Festival on a site called Widening the I.

The Washington Post sent the classical music critic to review the event (article here). Since the performance featured stunning choreography it would have been valuable to read a review from the dance critic. I often wonder why we hear so little from DC's writers for mainstream publications about next generations of choreographers and performers....

There are some great up-and-comers in this area: on Monday I visited the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. I had been invited to speak to the International Teen Institute about the intersection of architecture and dance - my two favorite subjects - as they relate to site specific performance and flash mobs. I spoke about Bill Wasik and where/how flash mobs originated: interesting to see how something that started as a comment on consumerism has been overtaken by commercials and advertising (look at the T-Mobile mob here). After the talk, John Borstel, Humanities Director for the Dance Exchange, told me about this hilarious event by Improv Everywhere at Abercrombie.

Unexpected interventions are not a 21st century creation: in 1963 Robert Rauschenberg created a performance called Pelican  in a DC roller-rink. His work evokes the idea "Attack Complacency" which could also be applied to flash mobbers. Trisha Brown in 1971 created "Walking on the Wall" at the Whitney: on view again this September. And Bill Shannon makes performances out of his daily travel. These are some examples of fascinating work that brings us into contact with what attracts us to today's flash mobs: spontaneity, engagement, democracy, participation, and new ways of seeing the world -- and people -- around us.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

more from Maya in Brussels

Just heard more from Maya who graduated from GMU this spring: "I've been taking morning classes at P.A.R.T.S. (I even saw Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker on Friday!), so that has been great and I've been meeting a nice group of dancers. I met this artist/composer David Helbich who is a part of the arts scene here and he took me to this opening of a new shop called shop residence. The gallery that started this is nadine. Also David Dorfman said I could be his assistant and take his class at ImPulsTanz so I'm thinking of going to Austria for a week in August."

igor stravinsky and faye driscoll

Today I discovered a jewel in the boonies - Rappahannock County - which is an area of farms, vineyards and fields for miles. A wealthy and generous conductor, Maestro Lorin Maazel, and his wife Dietlinde, invite young musicians and artists to develop performances which are made into a festival called Castleton during the month of July. Today's program was Stravinsky's “A Soldier’s Tale” conducted by Maestro Maazel with choreography by Faye Driscoll. It was fantastic. The cast was Philip Taratula, Sean Donovan, Mike Mikos, and Toni Melaas. Also on the program was Manuel de Falla's "Master Pedro's Puppet Show" conducted by Han-Na Chang and created with New York City's Puppet Kitchen. I've written a review which I hope is posted on a website soon so I can share it with everyone here... it was an incredible afternoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

open minds

Tonight I saw Kelly Bond’s Elephant at the Fringe Festival and I finally understood why so many of my friends have raved about this performance. Was it dance? Not in the traditional sense of shapes and lines transforming in and out of each other to intentional sound. It was much deeper than that. Seeing Elephant caused me to journey into its peculiar world and get lost in moments on stage and in my head. So often I see dance that simply regurgitates the practices that have been handed down since the time of Isadora Duncan causing a disconnect between me and what I am watching. The world is very much the same since the time of Isadora, but we are different people. We strive to remain the same but we push for change. Elephant is about change.

So here is why I liked it. They were beautiful to watch, there was a non-sexual nudity that spoke to a feeling of deep humanity. We are a mostly hairless ape and yet hair was significant as a differentiating factor on nude bodies. They told us stories, I have been told not to tell stories in dance since I started choreographing but good stories are entertaining and they make us use our imagination. It was theater but it was interactive, they talked to us and expected us to talk back and we did. It was self-reflective in that they performed and revealed that they were performing so that no moment was outside of us but everything that happened kept us as participants in the journey.

They made me laugh and they made me scared. They made me question things that I thought were true, which opened my mind and caused me to grow as a person. That is the power of art.

two quotes

Recently came across two passages that resonate with one another: one from Osho, author of "Zen: the Path of Paradox" and the other from "Miles Beyond" about Miles Davis, written by Paul Tingen, and recommended to me by Reuben Jackson who has an impressive knowledge of music, the arts, and for a long time was the archivist of the Duke Ellington Collection for the Smithsonian Institution.

From Osho: "Art has nothing to do directly with enlightenment, but enlightenment has much to do with art. When many enlightened people exist in the world, they create a different kind of world, they create different kinds of things, naturally. Zen art has a quality of its own. Watching a Zen painting you become meditative; watching a Zen painting you are transported into another world. Listening to an ancient song like Bhagavad Gita, just listening -- even if you don't understand, even if you don't know the language, the Sanskrit language -- just listening, just the tonality of it, just the timbre of it, just the music, the melody of it, and suddenly you feel great silence arising in you, flowers showering inside you, something opening, something blossoming. The world needs enlightened art. But that cannot be managed by teaching people how to create more art. That can be managed only if people start moving towards their inner core of being."

From Miles Beyond: "Great art has more chance of emerging when artists are acutely aware of their strengths and limitations. As an improvisational, here-and-now musician pur sang Miles did not have the inclination, the patience, or the skills to get deeply involved in the time-consuming,  laborious post-production process. Moreover one of Miles's main strengths was the freedom he allowed the musicians with whom he worked..."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Onstage today

one of the beauties of a blog is a chance to write on any topic, any event, any person, particularly those items not covered in mainstream publications. Today I was the Washington School of Ballet to see a performance by students after their Summer Intensive. It was inspiring and full of delight, with 3 highlights being the opening choreography by Kristina Windom, the last piece on the program for the highest level of students by Carlos Valcarcel, and the students’ own choreography. The first piece, which Kristina choreographed for younger dancers to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was airy and magical: in long tutus and leotards the performers swirled through the steps. A young soloist was dedicated and winsome with her long arabesque lines.

Valcarcel’s choreography for the older students was a stunning closer. Set to Beethoven, his choreography masterfully enlivened the music, spotlighting its canons and peaks. The students rose to the challenge of the creation's speed and intricacy. It would be fantastic to see what Valcarcel could make for the company, The Washington Ballet, and other professional troupes.

Last but not least, the students themselves offered their own choreography, beautifully designed with interesting formations and patterns. And it was a great idea to have different groups of dancers use the same music so that when we, the audience, saw the variety of ways we hear music and create movement to its textures.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Onstage last night...

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performed at Wolf Trap, bringing back a wave of memories and thoughts about the future of this art form. The company was buoyant and energetic; the repertory included 1988’s Brandenburg, Phantasmagoria (a DC premiere), and 2008’s Beloved Renegade. It is impressive to see a span of 20 years of choreography, and tonight when I teach at GMU the students will be looking at other Taylor works dating back to the 1950s. How many choreographers in the United States have been able to sustain careers and companies for 56 years? Of the performers last night, Michael Trusnovec was particularly stunning. The purity and calm strength of his dancing reminded me of a favorite former company member Patrick Corbin.

But what other dance offerings are available at Wolf Trap this year? Students from the summer Appreciation course I teach have attended Cirque Dreams - Illuminations and Riverdance. This September they have a chance to see Chinese acrobats. When did these spectacle-extravaganzas become such a prominent part of dance programming? If it is economic, meaning the need to fill almost 4,000 seats (The Filene Center at Wolf Trap can accommodate 7,028 total: 3,868 in-house; 3,160 lawn), what impact does this have on the repertory that used to appear at such large venues… where do these companies go?

I remember in the early 1980s – maybe 1981? – seeing The Joffrey Ballet perform at Wolf Trap. The program included The Green Table and it left an indelible impression. It didn’t seem like a ballet from 1932, it was fresh and captivating. I think something is lost when dance history becomes a story of videotapes and DVDs, and live events are about catering to mass entertainment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


A photo from Caroline Yost who is a student in the GMU School of Dance and spending her summer before senior year in Jakarta. More about her adventures can be read here on her blog. The above photo is the Borobudur Temple - which is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument near Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.... Below is Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. More images coming soon.... 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Performers leaping on cars and rolling on cement may not be the first images that come to mind when you hear the phrase "dance concert," but Liz Lerman Dance Exchange made these images part of an event Friday night in DC. When I reviewed it, I used the word "fearless" to describe the artists, and thought about how any new venture requires risk and courage. Fearless is a word that also comes to mind when I hear about the plans and projects of recent GMU graduates like Maya Orchin.

During her summer before senior year, Maya was in France working with David Dorfman and becoming inspired by the people and ideas across the Atlantic. After graduating this spring, she flew to Europe, first working with an artist at PAF (the incubator for theorists and artists) located in France and run by Jan Ritsema, then traveling to Brussels.

She writes: "So i made it to Brussels!!!! PAF was amazing - an unbelievable place. They turned a huge convent into a performing arts retreat. The rooms have been transformed to studios with unbelievable views. Here's a picture (above) of the PAF inner courtyard from my room...  When you walk the halls you hear a mixture of dancers rehearsing, musicians playing, and you see writers and poets outside and painters usually would be in the bell tower. At night there were showings and I saw bizarre dance pieces where a woman just moved her head for an hour and a half. There was a group from Australia working on dance and visual art and combining the two. There was a great Norwegian group who were editing films. I met these fabulous scientists from Paris and I met a dancer from Amsterdam who sat me down and told me everything about the dance scene there. PAF is run by Jan Ritsema-a prominent European choreographer who has taught at P.A.R.T.S. school in Brussels. When the Laban school came I was invited to take their movement, vocal, and Alexander class a few times so that was a great experience. I met some great dancers from Italy and will see their show in London in October.

New York City

Trisha Brown is someone who consistently triggers a stimulating conversation whether it is a Dance History or Dance Appreciation class. I will usually show her Whitney Museum piece "Walking on the Wall" from 1971 and ask "Is this dance?" or "Is this art?" which leads to an intense "What is art?/What is dance?" conversation. Brown inspires us to consider how we define these ideas through the radical way she shifts our perspective, changes the surface of the stage, and uses pedestrian action and actual time. So to walk into the Whitney Museum on Sunday and to see Brown's "Walking on the Wall" projected on a gallery wall was very cool. It was part of the exhibit: "Off the Wall - Part 1" and I recommend it to anyone interested in performance, art and communication through movement. I also made my first visit to the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca, a beautiful multidisciplinary venue where I saw Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir. Really fantastic, smart and a lot of fun.

Friday, July 16, 2010


When a picture is this stunning, I think it is okay to post it twice. Plus there is more to the story: Nora Hickman graduated from GMU in 2009. She is the dancer directly below the arch with her feet apart, leaning to the left and the whole project is viewable here. Nora says of the experience: "we rehearsed outside in
December from 8am to 10am, 3 days a week for a month. So it ended up being a really beautiful event and a bunch of people were there, but we rehearsed in the rain and ended up getting sick. I've learned that it's great to audition and try everything... once."

This summer

Teaching Dance Appreciation this summer at GMU has been eye-opening. Among the students in the course is Jeremiah Howdeshell, who was an enlisted infantryman in the Active Duty portion of the Army for 4 years. He writes: "my first unit was the 1/24 Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division in Fort Lewis, Washington from January 2006 - June 2006. Our unit reflagged and we changed to 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and moved to Vilseck, Germany from July 2006 - August 2007. We deployed to Baghdad and Muqdadiyah Iraq from August 2007 until October 2008. I returned to Vilseck until August 2009 when I was awarded an ROTC Scholarship to end my service early to start the path to become a commissioned officer. This picture is from Muqdadiyah; we don't have a lot pictures from Baghdad because we were shot at on a daily basis and when we were back at base we were too tired to do much beyond sleep, eat and call home. This is a group of us from 'Mustache March' where most of us affirmed that we need to not grow a mustache ever again."

One reason I enjoy teaching Dance Appreciation is because it brings people together to discuss not only different ways of dancing, but also cultural identity, how we express values and beliefs, and how we respond to other cultures and ideas. Jeremiah has been able to broaden our perspectives on what is happening today in Iraq, and is also a gifted dance writer. He attended "Ballet Across America" at The Kennedy Center last month. Portions of his review are here. He says "I chose to see the ballet because I had never seen anything like it before, and as a part of my love of traveling and exploring I always try to give new experiences a chance, and more often than not it has been rewarding." An excerpt of his review:

"The third movement, Shindig, initially surprised me based on the name, and did not disappoint me in being a surprising performance. Dancing to the music of a blue-grass band, six couples burst onto the stage hooting and stomping, the men in jeans and short sleeved shirts and the girls in summer dresses with knee length skirts. The atmosphere of this movement was completely different from the other two [performances by Houston Ballet and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet], but still contained the basic elements and feel of a ballet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Norton Owen, director of preservation at Jacob’s Pillow, recently used a provocative image to capture the importance of dance heritage: in Avatar, there are characters who receive nourishment from a Tree of Souls which is fed by their ancestors. It is a magical, glowing place which director James Cameron says was inspired by bioluminescence that he encountered during night diving. Why is it important to dance? Dance draws it power and creativity from human interaction: this legacy continually nurtures and motivates artists, students, and audiences around the world. Awareness of our Tree of Souls is essential not only for dancers, archivists, and scholars but also for students and our next generation of choreographers.

I thought of this a couple days ago as I was having lunch with a friend who was recently promoted to the role of Projects Manager for Liz Lerman Dance Exchange – Ellen Chenoweth. She is a colleague I admire for her curiosity, her exploration of ways of expanding awareness for dance, and her ability to promote events and ideas that call for recognition and support.

When we met we got on the topic of broader perspectives. She shared a story about Sarah Gamblin, Associate Professor of Dance at Texas Women’s University, who was a member of Bebe Miller Company from 1993-2000. What Ellen recalled was the way that Sarah’s long-time association with Bebe Miller gave her a point of view on creative process and research that enriched the community of artists in Texas – people who may never have encountered Bebe Miller’s performances.

We had been talking about how much of the dance we see fits into a rather small vocabulary of shapes and ways of choreographing. When a college or university brings in people who have had rich experiences with choreographers, company directors and artists, the students’ learning is expanded, their perspectives broadened. When I think of the dance history gathered in the faculty of the School of Dance at GMU, I see how vital - and generative - it is for departments to bring in faculty who have learned from, performed, and worked with accomplished artists, choreographers, and company directors.

Monday, July 12, 2010

in response...

Thinking about Amanda’s awesome comment below – and before I start sounding like one of those people who never attends performances that I appreciate – here is a list of 10 things I have seen recently which left indelible impressions.

These artists offer vital statements about performance as shared experience - particularly Tino Sehgal’s “This Progress” at the Guggenheim Museum and Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present” at the MoMA - and also create vocabularies for the body, mind, spirit which are unforgettable "Fela!" by Bill T. Jones on Broadway, Akram Khan and Sidi Larbu Cherkaoui in zero degrees – particularly for its use of dance as path to identity and communication (a great review is here) , Karen Reedy’s "Path of Attraction," Shen Wei Dance Arts at The Kennedy Center, Kelly Bond’s "Splitting the Difference," at the DC Fringe Festival 2009, Zoe Knights' “Death in the count of 9” for its extraordinary integration of movement, choreography, music, lighting and costume and Les SlovaKs Dance Collective “Opening Night” (these last 2 performances were part of the festival in Salzburg, Austria in 2008 where I worked as a dramaturge), and finally the unclassifiable and unforgettable "Cornfield" by Nancy Bannon at Transformer Gallery in DC.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7 in 48

Over the last 48 hours I have attended 7 performances and reviewed them for the DC Theatre Scene website.

It is Fringe season in DC so there are about 130 shows between now and July 25. The ones I saw were creative and inspiring: a merger of Shakespeare's Macbeth and Capoeira that was fantastic - and The Sleeping Beauty told by puppets - also clever. It is refreshing to see and write about theater as well as dance. I think the borders between these categories are dissolving, and it's interesting to see how the productions categorized as theater tend to be more focused in their intent and design.

I find myself reviewing dance performances and being left with questions like how did the choreographer connect that movement to that topic? As someone who loves dance, studies it, teaches courses in it, watches it, I am surprised by 2 things: how frequently dance is used as decoration - what I call visual display - rather than honoring the intelligence and communicative power of the body's movement. Second I am surprised by the sameness of the movement - whether the topic is multiculturalism, depression, or loss, I see similar steps, phrasing and shapes.

When Karen and I talked about starting this website we hoped to hear from you, from people who read about dance, dancers, artists, and performance. What I have noticed writing for this theatre website is that the choreographers themselves respond to what I write - this is great! They often write to explain the choices they made choreographically and sometimes I find myself wishing their performances contained the clarity of ideas written in their comments. Why is it so rare for dance to be used as its own unique discipline - unlike words or painting or music - that conveys something about knowledge, emotion, and relationships - rather than something used to illustrate a text or fuse some catchy shapes?

In an ideal world, I see dance as a communicative medium, capable of sharing insights, and performances as events where there is a reason why the choreographer invited us to come. I am most inspired by the artists who have ideas about what they intend to present and choose movement and dancers that make these statements perceptible.

What inspires you?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Close to the Glass

In 2008 I was in NYC and there was an exhibit called "Close Encounter" about Chuck Close and Philip Glass at the Met. While I did not see the works I did take a moment to make a dance a day about it. I don't usually hold the camera as I dance which is exactly why I decided to hold it for this particular video. Sometimes its good to do things another way even if you know the outcome won't be very good. What I found interesting about the video is the connection between me, the glass, the portrait of Philip Glass, my breathing and the sense of mirroring that happened. The portrait is both inside and outside, I am outside but my reflection is inside.

cultural hegemony

In this episode of So You Think You Can Dance? two contestants perform a Bollywood number, then the judges analyze their dancing. They compare the movement to hip hop, to “African” and to Georgian State dancers without mentioning any dance form from India such as Bharatanatyam or Bhangra. I posted this a week ago, but then got into a conversation (argument?) with a friend who saw nothing unsettling about the comparisons made by the judges. My questions remain: why do the judges assume they are experts on dance when their comments make the performances into sport-like entertainment and fail to acknowledge any of the cultural history embedded in these dance forms? When one judge compares the ankle bells of the dancer -- in Bharatanatyam they are used to accent the rhythm of the feet and called ghungroos -- to Santa Claus sleigh, his comment makes me think this show is about championing consumption rather than honoring the knowledge that is embedded in these forms. The judges sound amazed by how similar the duet looks to hip-hop, when it is performed by two dancers who have probably had more classes in hip hop than dances of India. Is it really surprising that the routine ends up looking like hip-hop?


I couldn't have been more than 14 years old, but I remember when a ballet teacher - in a fit of fury and frustration - threw one of his shoes at a classmate. When I see friends who were in the same school we joke about these recollections - recalling the outbursts of the teacher more than the infraction that caused the scene. There are lots of approaches to teaching and giving feedback, and these memories came back as I wrote an article about a DC project for emerging artists who are given three months of constructive feedback and discussion with peers and mentors. Feedback can be invigorating – and also hard to find. Page Carr, an artist and professor who oversaw the project, says these conversations are invaluable because they "promote the asking of questions and generation of ideas, which are central to art-making, no matter what the medium or intent." I wonder if/how choreographers and performers in DC/VA find the discussion, discourse and feedback they need?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Artist Chuck Close says

“…But I am always looking forward to more and more wrinkles and more and more stuff to paint. The stuff that I love is the stuff that other people hate. And, I think that the face is a road map to the sort of life you have led and embedded in it is the evidence of your life. So, if you have laughed your whole life you have laugh lines. If you frowned your whole life you have furrows in your brow. There is lots of evidence of who you are and what your life has been like.”

from a great interview of Chuck Close by John Anderson. It has me thinking about our different definitions of art and artists. Do we see exhibits and performances because we like to escape to a world where everything is smooth and harmonious? or do we prefer to uncover and examine the ambiguity of life? do we like to be shocked and confronted with grief, anger, aggression?

Some of my fascination with art and performance is in its range: the infinite sea of topics and situations that inspire us, and the creative ways artists present their ideas.

In the same interview, Close says: “In New York City, every time they have a budget cut, the first thing to go is art. Teaching for testing is ruining education, and it is certainly ruining alternative ways of learning because they are so intent on having you know the right facts and things to spit back that it has taken the creativity out of the hands of the teacher. It is terrible! I can’t imagine how depressing it is to get these people out of high school going into the college system who have had such a limited notion of what success can be.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

how do dancers spend the summer before their senior year? an update from Maria Ambrose

Right now Stephanie Locey, Amanda Blauer, and I are staying in NYC and taking various master classes. So far we have taken classes from Amy Marshall, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Elisa Monte, Zvi from ZviDance, Christine Wright, Robert Battle, and Kate Skarpetowska. It is really exciting that a majority of the master classes are taught by people who have either set pieces at or performed at GMU, so they recognize us or have fun talking about all the faculty they know there! They always have great things to say about the faculty, alumni, and GMU dancers that have been taking class for the summer. Amanda Blauer and I also attended the Paul Taylor Company audition just for an early experience. It was a little overwhelming because of the quick pace and 400 other dancers, but having the chance to go and see what an audition would feel like made a huge difference and felt like a great preparation. We plan to attend Amy Marshall's classes in August and audition for her as well just to get as much experience as we can. It is really interesting taking classes around the city and being able to decide as an individual what I want to take or who I want to surround myself with. I can tell already that this is going to impact my senior positively. My favorite is being able to take class with professionals and watch the way they learn and interact. Overall, I think living in the city for the summer before actually moving here has put a lot of thoughts into perspective, given me amazing class opportunities, and increased my excitement to dance! We will be here until mid August continuing with classes and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Summer Reading

a holiday is a great day to catch up on articles... Below is an excerpt from “A Vision for the Arts at Harvard.” It was published in December of 2008 and is a frank assessment of the school’s support (or lack of support) for the arts. It says “Our peers at Columbia, Princeton and Stanford all outpace us in their graduate and undergraduate degree offerings in arts practice…” They forgot to mention GMU!

The 3 recommendations of the report – for Harvard to create: a graduate degree program in a range of art practices, an enhanced place for the arts in the undergraduate curriculum, and new, innovative art spaces - are already happening at Mason. Check out Amazing Space for more info on the School of Dance’s construction project.

“Harvard values leadership and originality of mind. It has created a curriculum to foster these qualities, in the hope that its students, in their different pursuits, may change the world for the better and make things new. But by sidelining arts-practice, this university has largely left out of its curriculum the most direct training in imagining the new and in exercising the practical cunning required to bring the new into being. Since the end of the Middle Ages – long before originality became the hallmark of great art – people recognized that, in crafting paintings, writing poems, and composing music, they, uniquely among all creatures, introduce into the world something new. This capacity was what gave art its special promise: hand in hand with science, it could – on occasion – change the world.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010


for the last 2 days I have been thinking about Karen's "Mentors" post and it has inspired me to acknowledge three people who have impacted my thinking about dance, teaching and artists. The first is Deborah Jowitt, a dance scholar and professor at the Tisch School/New York University who I learned from and think about every time I stand in front of a group of students. She combines generosity, intelligence and creativity in ways that are exceptional.

The second is Susan Shields (pictured above at GMU), not only for her breathtaking choreography and her performances with artists like Lar Lubovitch and Mikhail Baryshnikov, but also for her course called Senior Synthesis. When I watched this year's graduating dancers from GMU deliver speeches that had been crafted in Susan's class, I wrote her a message that said "Tonight's presentations were personal and poignant. I am impressed by how deeply each senior explores own strengths and weaknesses and is able to acknowledge what they love and what they strive for without embarrassment or entitlement. Your Synthesis course is truly magnificent - it seems to emphasize what I hold as the most important aspect of teaching: that the students start to know themselves - honestly and lovingly - thank you for a wonderful evening."

And then there is Philippa Hughes who combines these traits from Deborah and Susan - she is smart, innovative, encouraging - and applies them to DC where she has created an environment for artists that is supportive and explorative. When I asked her recently why she created The Pink Line Project she replied: "I started it because I was looking for resources to help me navigate the DC art scene as an art collector and art enthusiast and couldn't find anything that inspired me and that was easy to use and comprehensive. So I did it myself." In spite of our technology-savvy world, Philippa recognizes that face-to-face conversation can never be replaced by a website or webcam. She holds events that are social gatherings, bringing people together to look at art, performance, interviews with creators, and to discuss their ideas and points of view. She adds "At the end of the day, people use social media so that they can improve and facilitate their ability to interact with other humans face-to-face. It's more satisfying to sit down and talk to someone than it is to email/tweet/Facebook message/comment/like/etc. Even a webcam is missing some basic and necessary human elements - smell, touch - plus it's harder to pick up on subtle visual cues. The ever so slightly raised eyebrow. The quick and sly smirk... I don't have any hard evidence for this. I do know that I have over 3,000 Facebook friends, 90% of whom I don't really know. But one of them sees me in public, they light up and I feel a palpable energy from them. I also know that Salon Contra has been wildly popular and many tell me how much they enjoy meeting other like-minded people and being able to interact with them socially."

Philippa has a point: we write about how mentors impacted us on the web, but the moments when we were in contact - talking, listening, sharing and learning - were the times that left the longest-lasting impressions.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

About last night

Met up with friends and artists for a Dance Film Night at Ilana’s house. A group of us gets together a couple times a year to watch choreography made for the camera and artists who do not often tour to the US. Last night’s menu was Thierry de Mey (based in Charleroi), Shazam by Philippe Decouflé, DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men from 1989, Dance for Camera 2 (last get-together we watched 1) and Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A and Volleyball (Foot Film). Not only is it great to see the work, but the discussions that ensue provoke laughter and arguments. It is especially refreshing to hear how each of us defines the purpose of dance, of art, what inspires us and what turns us off. If you have suggestions about cool dance/camera collaborations, please add a comment.

Last night we got on the topic of why DC seems to have so few choreographers working with film and video and Amanda and I remembered that the Dance & Camera exhibit in Philadelphia was curated by Jenelle Porter. I wrote to her after seeing the exhibit to ask if she came from a dance background and she replied: “I don't come from film studies or dance education. I have been a contemporary art curator for many years now, and I was inspired to organize the show after seeing some great works about dance by visual artists-the works I presented in the show.”

Today I was just at Flashpoint and saw Jeffry Cudlin’s By Request which includes a video of his dancing – in a dress and heels – as he visited different galleries in DC. A favorite moment occurs when you see Cudlin through the spaces of a woman’s shoes in the foreground as he dances in the background.

Maybe the growing popularity of crossovers between genres points to a fertile direction for dance and performance: interdisciplinary ventures that ignite the unique capabilities of different ways of communicating. Cudlin’s exhibit at Flashpoint is awesome in its ability to expose the forces and subjectivities that determine value. Philippa Hughes, founder of Pink Line Project, appears in photographs in the exhibit, was one of the art luminaries Cudlin approached to take part in the project, and is someone who inspires me with her ability to support and promote creative thinking in DC. The exhibit runs until July 31.

Friday, July 2, 2010

choreography and writing

When you think about friends and colleagues, is there someone you enjoy spending time with, never tiring of topics to discuss, but actually share very little in common in terms of life experience? My newest friendship is with a poet and archivist who continually inspires me with his insights and perspective. Although we are both passionate about the arts and teaching, we have little common ground in terms of upbringing and education. Maybe this is what makes our get-togethers so refreshing: we come from divergent places but end up with amazingly similar philosophies and values. His name is Reuben Jackson.

When he talks about poetry I think of choreography. During our first conversation, he talked about teaching writing to students, urging them to “move the furniture around.”

I love this image.

How often have you been writing or making a phrase of movement and you feel yourself forcing the words or actions into a certain relationship? I know too well that urge to impose a particular order on a sentence or phrase – all the while hearing an argument inside the mind/body between “it’s fine like this” and “if you gave this a little more time something incredible could emerge.”

When Reuben expands on this idea, I think of more similarities between writing and choreography: “Writing is a way for you to figure out how you really feel about something. The poem is a negotiation between what you want and what the poem wants. It’s like fish or chicken for dinner. You may think you are having fish, but the poem tells you it will be chicken. I really love this process.”

Another nugget of wisdom: “I see my role as a teacher being like a good personal trainer: you push people beyond their comfort zone.”

When we met a couple days ago I was talking about some reactive responses I had heard from students recently: “I don’t like this” or “that’s boring.” Again he had a great line: “If there’s an enemy of poetry it’s impatience.”

Maybe the same is true for dance? Is patience a crucial ingredient for both dance-makers and dance-watchers?


Nora’s post has me thinking of the many mentors I feel lucky to have come across in life. I am so glad she feels supported through her continued dialogue with Susan Shields, as I feel strongly that mentorship a vital component in the life path of any artist or anyone for that matter. In an earlier post, Jessica Moore made reference to Adriane Fang as such a force for her. At many pivotal points in my education and career, I have come into contact with wonderful teachers of life and art. I proudly thank such beautiful souls as Patricia and Lisa Nicholson, Kathleen D. Brown, Eric Hampton and Benjamin Harkarvy to name a few. Each of these people taught me important lessons about life and art, never talking down to me, but rather believing in me and respecting where I was in my own journey. There is no substitute for those wise leaders that cross our paths and help lead the way.

Who are your mentors?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What's life like a year after graduating from GMU? from Nora Hickman:

As usual, it has not been hard for me to stay busy and active in my daily life. I am a fitness instructor at Physique57 where I teach a Lotte Burke style fitness class 15 times per week. Often I teach the morning/opening shift, 6:30-7:30, 7:30-8:30, 8:30-9:30. It's pretty tiring waking up at 4:30 to yell into a microphone over Lady Gaga to 20 plus NYC women, but it's super fun. Not only am I being paid to workout, but I also share my love of fitness and inspire hundreds of women per week. I make my own schedule and only need to work 15 hours per week.... Leaving adequate time for training and auditions.

From 12-2, Monday through Friday I take company class with Jennifer Muller/The Works in Chelsea. These classes are closed to scholarship students and company members so I get a lot of personal attention. In exchange for these classes I am on workstudy-- tasks varing from cutting gels with the lighting designer to stuffing envelopes for upcoming shows. However while I'm doing these tasks I get to watch company rehearsal and be in the thick of this midsized dance company. Then I try to take another class, usually contemporary at Peridance or yoga. My days are pretty long, so I make sure to leave time to see friends and chillout. Our fave spot... Or maybe just mine... is Benny's Burritos in the west village. $3 margaritas... Need I say more? I'm starting to realize that it's ok to have days off, and find balance so that I don't burn out. I live right by Astoria park/pool, which has been great now that the weather is getting nice.

A relationship from Mason that continues to inspire and motivate me is that with Susan Shields. Susan has always been so supportive of me, yet was always very honest and direct. One particular time that stands out to me was when she told me that I had a strong sense of determination. Of course in order to be successful you need talent and ability, however you also new to be hardworking and goal-oriented. Even when I would be frustrated, and to this day when I doubt myself or feel discouraged, I believe that if I set my mind to do something and if it was truely meant to be, then it will happen. Susan has always pushed her students to be the best that they can be and supported me through my three years at GMU. Now that I have lived in NYC for over a year, I believe that these supportive relationships are what help me to keep afloat and stay positive in this competitive yet fabulous city.

Gerald in The New York Times! an update from Jessica Moore

Our piece was reviewed by The New York Times on Sunday June 27th: click here. Very nice things were mentioned about Gerald and a few others in the cast, and overall I think the review is good but not very important. We finished the five day festival Tuesday night on the main stage (a change since we had been performing in a smaller space on the audiences seats). It was an awesome experience being sandwiched between some of the most celebrated jazz artists improvising behind us and an audience hungry and excited to share their musical passion with another art form. We did a structured improv that lasted around 20-25 minutes. It was incredible to feel how attached it was to the music. I don't think I've ever quite felt so much like music myself.