Sunday, August 26, 2012

MixMatch Run Down (Aug 26th, 2012)

As stated in my last blog, I am currently trying my hand as a dance writer in hopes of encouraging more discussion about dance and also growing the awareness of what is currently available for dance lovers in the Southern California region.  Today was the 3rd performance of the 6th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. While I was not able to see the entire show because I was also performing, I managed to see most of it and wanted to share my impressions of the fantastic matinee performance.

Act I
The matinee opened with "No, Seriously" choreographed and performed by Molly Mattei. Beautifully performed, this dance was a versatile mix of dynamic energies that swept me away.  I found her performance to be intoxicating with its use of subtle timing, musical phrasing and articulate movements.  This piece is a wonderful representation of contemporary American dance which blends styles seamlessly, balancing traditional technique with more urban vocabulary and personal expression.

Amanda Hart, the Artistic Director of the MixMatch festival and HartPulse Dance, presented a beautifully performed quartet, "Spoons."  I imagine the title represented the metaphor of two souls finding each other and fitting together like spoons.  In this piece, the two duets worked in and out of each other, continually moving the focus of the audience member before finally returning to the original pairs, holding and hands as seemed inevitable.

Noelle Andressen, Artistic Director of Rubans Rouge, performed her first solo work "Decision."  I know it was her first work because she told me!  Noelle is a former student of mine from Moorpark College, and I couldn't be more impressed with her growth.  She has proven to me that perseverance above all is the most important. This solo was dynamic and emotive with its strength residing in grounded leg stances and articulate gestures of the arms and torso.  She danced around and finally into a pile of rose petals, signaling to me a deflowering of the character that matched the title beautifully. 

"In this Shirt" choreographed by Meghan Tobin and Felicia Guzman of LA Unbound was an ensemble piece that included women in yellow dresses and a featured male figure.  I enjoyed the challenge of the technique and expressive demand of the piece. It opened with a stunning duet in a very classical ballet style with beautiful line and balance.  I was left with a few questions, particularly about the title of the piece and the relationship of the featured male dancer with the rest of the ensemble (which included just one other male).  But despite my questions, it was clear to me that these dancers dance hard for their passion. 

Kim T. Davis of ktdavisdance stole the stage again in today's performance of "Without...", a trio of one woman and two men.  Unlike her piece yesterday, this trio was more aggressive, with the three dancers taking turns, supporting, holding, pushing and propelling each other through space.  The performance was exquisite. These dancers performed their impressive partnering with an ease that seemed to suspend the laws of gravity while completely evoking them.  The choice in cast was significant for me. All three had light hair and skin complexions, but differed greatly in height. This created a sense of them being siblings that I could not shake.  As the "middle" brother fought for independence, it seemed only natural that the others had no choice but to let him be and to go on without

Sadly I was unable to see the last piece of Act I, "Lifeline" by Leverage Dance and choreographed by Tawny Chapman. I did see part of it in tech but I don't feel comfortable giving feedback because I was unable to see it in it entirety and with complete focus. So, if anyone has a link to this piece online please do post it in the comments so other readers can appreciate the work!

Act II
"Cicatrix," choreographed by Heather Dale Wentworth and performed by her Carlsbad based company, OPUS MIXTUS dance, was one that I saw in tech rehearsal and then again from the side lines as I waited backstage.  A powerful group of dancers with strong lines and facile bodies made this dance a pleasure to watch. Wentworth incorporated the use of black elastic bands around the dancer's waists, thighs, wrists and ankles. At first, it seemed simply a pleasant design elements, but then the elastic bands were manipulated and shared by the dancers as they wove in and out of each others space before finally coming together, bound to each other in the last moment of the piece.  Not knowing what a cicatrix is, I did what any good blogger would do and googled it!  It turns out a cicatrix is a scar and this new information leaves me wondering: were the dancers the cells coming together to heal a wound?  It makes sense to me in retrospect, but I would want to see the dance again to determine if that connection is grounded in the rest of the piece.

Next came something COMPLETELY different, a piece I performed in with poet performer Joelle Hannah called "A Dance for the Guy in the Blue Button Down Shirt." Because it is not fair to critique your own piece, I will leave that up to you and invite you to check out a performance of the piece from the Razor Babes poetry tour last May.  You can determine for yourself whether it was brilliance, madness or a bit of both.

"Variations on a Theme of Trees" was another piece that I was only able to see in tech rehearsal.  But I did watch it in its entirety and what I can say about it is this: this piece was well designed from a theatrical perspective, incorporating interesting props including painted images of a tipping building, large tree branches attached to back harnesses, fabric covered fans, chairs and a metal tower.  It created an environment that went beyond the dance.  As for the modern dance movement vocabulary, it reminded me of work I have seen in festivals in Mexico, and it seems that the choreographer Beatriz E. Vasquez is Latina, so it makes me wonder whether there is a genre of Latin American Modern dance, that needs recognition in the current cannon of dance practices.  The style was sculptural and thematic, utilizing strong ballet partnering that was never purely classical, but rather revealed the dancers strong technique as they portrayed an abstracted narrative through line and shape.

"Polymorphic" choreographed by Erica Villalpando of Nanette Brodie Dance Theater lent a yogic feel to the stage as the female cast elegantly performed partial sun salutations, yogic stretches and impressive feats of strength and flexibility.  The dancers wore geometrically designed aqua and red costumes, that matched the geometry of the red boxes they used as props.  The use of the red boxes added an element of height to the stage space when it was used as a pedestal for the female figures.  The dance began slowly, but by the end it found an engaging pace as the dancers moved on and off the red boxes in swirling patterns of leaps and assisted lifts.  Overall this was a visually dynamic piece.

Sophie Olsen brought a bit of theater (as well as excellent dancing) to the stage with "Rollerskater" performed by Carole Biers.  This fun and quirky solo was short and sweet.  Bier's focus was essential to the success of the piece as she was able to draw in the audience to her playful games.  She interacted with the space by addressing a mysterious something in the air, playfully picking it out of space and dropping it into her pants for safe keeping.  Could it have been a key that was referred to in the song?  I imagine yes.

Arpana Dance Company brought the house down with its joyous classical Indian dance piece "Aikya" choreographed by Ramya Harishankar.  The brilliance of the piece was that the classical Indian dance vocabulary drove the piece, but was set to a variety of music styles including Anoushka Shankar and Coldplay!  These lovely young women were a joy to watch.  There is something about the classical Indian dance training that is very potent in capturing the interest and attention of the audience.  I think it derives in part from the use of rhythm and specific rhythmic stepping in the choreography. The women stamped and slapped the floor with their feet in beautifully syncopated (and perfectly accurate) rhythms.  But in addition to the driving rhythms of the footwork, the dancers authentic joy and clear focus was another factor in engaging the audience.  The dancers' joy at the end was intoxicating enticing the audience to a roudy round of applause at the end of the show.

Next week there are three more shows for you to enjoy (MeCo will perform Pull & Draft Friday Aug 31st and Won't Let Go Sept 2nd).  Don't miss out of this performance that offers something for everyone and celebrates the love and diversity within the world of dance!

MixMatch Run Down (Sat Aug 25th, 2012)

This weekend and next Amanda Hart's Hart Pulse Dance is hosting the 6th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica.

I am participating in the festival with my group Megill & Company, but tonight I took the time to attend the show as an audience member and enjoy the gifts of the dance scene here in LA (and beyond).  I am writing this review in order to help get the word out about dance in the So Cal community.  It is so hard for small, independent dance groups to get reviewed. So. . .  I thought I would go rogue and start doing it myself.  The following are my impressions, observations, and questions that emerged while watching this fun filled night of dance.  Please feel free to add comments if you saw the show as well or if I have made an egregious mistake that should be fixed!

I hope that this will serve the community as a springboard for talking about the amazing dance practices that are happening all around us.


The show opened with Michelle Shear's "Two Forty Five," featuring a quartet of  dancers (3 female, one male) sitting around a table wearing structured suit jackets in various subdued colors.  The piece built from gestures of the head, arms and hands while seated at the table, to bigger "break off" phrases with full bodied movement grounded strongly in a ballet-modern technical vocabulary.  This was a well crafted piece, that contained strong elements of theatrical design, symmetry and asymmetry in space, theme and variation.  It reminded me of Kurt Jooss'  "The Green Table" in its use of the table and specific hand and arm gestures.

"Windows Within," choreographed by Joei Waldron of Axxiom Dance Collective, was a powerful male duet that featured impressive turns, leaps and extensions on behalf of the dancers.  While the interaction between the men was emotion-filled, I wondered whether it was a piece about two individuals or rather a single individual who may be struggling within (as suggested by the title).  Regardless of the specific narrative, the theme of yearning and struggle was evident and well performed by these athletic dancers who were powerful and passionate.

Sophie Olsen's "Peep Show" provided an unexpected commentary on women's power and sexuality.  The three female dancers opened the scene wearing bathrobes and performing perfunctory tasks of reading, chowing on chips and flossing.  Then, upon hearing the sound of quarters dropping in the machine they strip off their fuzzy exteriors revealing quintessential lingerie in red, black and white.  After performing a shocking routine of sex powered head rolls, body grinds and hip undulations, they returned to their boring world of waiting. This pattern repeated until these girls had had enough. rebelling against the structure and ending with broken movements that embodied the destruction of their compliance. 

"Then and Now" was choreographed by Heather Dale Wentworth or OPUS MIXTUS dance.  This sweet female duet was in stark contrast to the piece before it.  The performers, dressed in black and white, shared a yin yang quality that blended them together in moments of sensitivity and care.  The piece oscillated between moments of support and care, the most powerful of which for me was the image of the one girl holding the head of the other while kneeling in child's pose. 

Erica Lyn Pena performed a stunning solo entitled "inTAKE".  Wearing simple knit pants and a tank top, there was nothing particularly theatrical about this piece. Instead it was a study in motion and flow.  Pena leapt and rolled through the space in an opening that was kinetic and whirling in its repetition.  Each movement motif was developed in front of the audience in such a way that we as observers could track the movements visually and eventually feel the movements and their kinetic value. 

The first half closed with a film "La Femme" featuring the work of Sophie Olsen (who also choreographed "Peep Show" and the festival director Amanda Hart.  This is a steamy piece set to the music of Yael Meyer featuring a cast of stunning dancers who embody the flickering heat of fire perfectly.


The second half of the show began with an earthy duet by Kim T Davis of Ktdavisdance.  The female duet began simply and grew over the duration of the piece in an organic way that surprised me by the end.  The exquisite modern dancers were patient and serene in their rock solid performance.  The aspect of the piece that stood out most to me was the use of the hands. This piece highlighted the power of touch, exploring it in countless ways and in so doing conveying the depth of intimacy between these two women.  Grasping, sliding, catching. I was gradually carried away into its chilling ending.

Phil Turay took the show into a hip hop flavored direction in his "Cleopatra." Turay is an articulate dancer whose use of isolation and urban movement vocabulary (as well as more popular music style) made this a groovy, good-time, energetic dance.  I was particularly surprised by the combination of his movement vocabulary, which was clearly influenced by street dance and club dance and his choice of not wearing shoes.  This contrast against expectation was refreshing and effective in blending a more urban vocabulary with concert dance.

Ericalynn Priolo of Priolo Dance Company assembled an excellent group of female dancers for her piece entitled "Process."  This piece featured a groups of women dressed in all black who moved powerfully and gracefully through the performance space.  There was a clear edginess to the piece that used strong lines as well as interwoven moments of release technique.  The dancers served the aesthetic and athletic vision of the choreographer moving with a seamlessness that made the performance a joy to watch.  I was left with only one question.  The dancers began the piece wearing dresses over pants, then they exited and removed the pants before finishing the performance in the dresses.  I admit, I found myself taken out of the dance for a moment as I tried to make sense of this.  (I would love to hear other people's ideas on this).  But, overall this piece was beautifully crafted and performed.

Jessica Wang presented her take on blending dance movement and martial arts in "Kung Fu Fusion" a piece that focused on the design potential of the body in slow moving shapes that were then contrasted with bursts of energy in quick kicks and jumps.  Wang's performance offered both serenity and power, conveyed in her unwavering focus.

"Flex/Pull," choreographed by Amanda Hart, closed the evening of dance.  The only male/female duet of the show, this piece offered a new energy to the audience.  The dancers were well matched in height and physique, very fit and powerful in their movement profile.  The nature of the relationship was primarily expressed through sculptural partnering that demonstrated the skill and strength of the dancers.  While there was a romantic component to the performance, the duet seemed to present a metaphor for two energies that pushed and pulled against each other in a fight for balance before coming together in a final image of interwoven ease. 

Overall, the show proves once again that there is great dance happening in the area, and I am so pleased to be a part of it.  I will continue to do my best to offer feedback for the festival participants, and hope that it will spark new discussion and appreciation of the dance that is happening here and now in our own backyard. 

FYI:  My company (Megill & Company) will be performing, Sunday Aug 26th, Friday August 31st and Sunday August 2nd.  Come check out this great dance event!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Artistry in the Jazz Dancer

I had the lovely opportunity to meet and work with a phenomenal group of Jazz dance teachers and dance theorists this past weekend.  We were sorting out and preparing a presentation on Jazz dance technique and composition for NDEO this October.  Super exciting!

Since then, I have had a continued discussion with Paige Porter from Loyola Marymount University on the specific issue of artistry in Jazz dance. Very interesting and timely stuff for me,  and my mind is still whirling so I thought it was about time to put some of my thinking into writing to be shared with my dance interested readers.  So, thanks to Paige who asked this question and got me thinking!

On the first day of my level 2/3 Jazz dance class this semester, I asked my students:

What makes a good dancer? 

Their responses included naming things like dedication, technique, and expression.  Only 2 out of about 8 groups identified creativity as an essential component of a dancer.  Only 1 group identified musicality and no one specifically named artistry


… and good for me to know as a teacher.

Anyone who has taken a dance class knows how important it can seem to "get it right." 

"Step on count 2!  Leg at 45 degrees! Higher! Release your head!"

And, even in my classes, I stress the need for precision and accuracy in performance.  However, I don't want to do this at the cost of stripping the dancer of his or her sense of being an artist.

Like actors and singers, dancers are a living medium for art.  Dancers are not lifeless clay on a wheel, paint on a canvas, or musical instruments that can be manipulated without feelings or sensitivity.  The magic of being a dancer is that the dancer is both the medium and an artist.  The non dancing choreographer is just a visionary, an artist without a canvas or paint set.  Sometimes, it can seem that all the creativity is coming from the choreographer, but that is hardly true!  The choreographer relies on the dancer's artistry to bring to life his or her artistic vision. 

As an artist, the jazz dancer is a conduit, a craftsman, a technician, a medium, and a human. Sometimes dancers forget how important the human component is to being a true artist.  Dancers must challenge themselves to be authentic in their performance, to make the movements and expression true and real. They are honoring the choreographic vision, by bringing themselves to the table and putting more of themselves into the dance. (Side note: I very much dislike the song "Are we human? Or, are we dancers?" I want to shout at the radio: Dancers ARE human! That is what makes us special!)

It is still the jazz dancer's job to be precise. And, here is the dilemma for many jazz dancers I know. It can seem contradictory for a teacher or choreographer to ask a student to be specific in her performance and yet include herself in the dance. 

How can there be room for both precision and self expression?  

The artist hones the craft of dance, studying the movement in a clinical way at times to discover the palette of expression that lives inside her body.  In other words dancers must hone their craft so that they can work beyond the technique. 

We, dancers, can't let a lack of technique get in the way of our expression as artists.  Art exists in an artist's ability to choose.  A jazz dancer must make expressive choices in performance, thus embedding his artistry in the performance as well. We must enliven the dance with ourselves.  Our artistic voice is the animating spirit of performance. 

Now, where does musicality fit into all of this? Coming from a family of musicians, musicality lives in my bones.  I sense and feel music very intimately, and music is a strong influence in my performance quality.  However, I need to clarify what I mean by musicality.  In the music world, musicality refers to the artistic process of making music (producing sound that is expressive and artistic).  Musicality in dance refers to the dancer's ability to relate to the music in performance in an expressive or artistic way. 

These are not the same. 

Dancers need a word that represents their ability to infuse a dance with their artistry while they are dancing (just like musicians).  I suggest dancecality.  We need a word that reminds the dancer that he  or she is creating art in the specific and expressive performance of the choreography. Dancecality like musicality should refer to the performer's ability to bring nuance and expression to the performance, because that is the artistic experience of being a dancer. 

It is the artistic responsibility of jazz dancers to tell the human story through their movement.  The dancer is responsible for connecting with the audience and transporting them into the human condition.  There is magic in this process and no amount of "technique" can replicate it.  It must come from the artistic spirit of the dancer. 

Lastly, I need to address the Jazz dancer as a choreographer.  Jazz dance has not given itself a universal, useful framework for teaching young jazz dancers how to create jazz dance that is fresh, personal and unique while still remaining under the jazz dance umbrella.  Laura Smythe's (Laura was another participant in our jazz dance think tank weekend) Master thesis addresses just this, and I am so excited for her research!  Jazz dance is such a rich practice in American dance and dancers deserve to feel creative within their own art form.  My hope is to draw inspiration from Laura's work and implement a choreographic component into my classroom that feeds the dancer's artistic spirit from a compositional perspective. 

I want 100% of jazz dancers to feel creative and artistic in the performance of jazz dance.

I want 100% artist 100% of the time.   

Dance on.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Weaker Left Side

Having trained as a dancer since the wee age of 3, I have a deeply rooted sense of my body.  I can "feel" my body in space most clearly at all times.  In dance we call this one's kinesthetic awareness.  Well, whatever it is called, I got it. Bad.  No really, it is something I enjoy. My body memory is so strong that I can "feel" myself in motion when I am lying in bed, sitting down, riding a train.  I can envision dance and my brain and body produce sensations that mimic the actual movement.  It's a trip.

But, I realized some time back that I am almost always right side dominant both in these mental "kinesthetic" visions and in my active life.  If I am envisioning movement, my right side is the leader of the action, the initiator, the side of me that I most clearly sense and feel.  This of course is also true when I choreograph.  I am right sided.

If you are wondering, I am also right handed. I brush my teeth with my right hand and I balance best on my right foot.  No surprise there. 

But, I am concerned for my left side. In yoga, the left side of the body is the yin side of the body, energized by a softer, feminine, cool, dark energy.  The right side in contrast is the yang side powered by a strong, masculine, hot, bright energy.  Everyone needs both energies in their life.  It reflects our need for exertion and recuperation in all aspects of life.

What disconcerts me is that my left side feels asleep, numb, as if it were somehow paralyzed.  Of course in reality it isn't any of those things. I have full function on my entire left body. But, energetically speaking, I am deeply aware of the imbalance between my right and left sides. 

My left side feels awkward, disconnected, uncoordinated, and I wonder what effect this is having on my daily life.  Is that perhaps why I need so much sleep to feel rested?  That I need long periods of recuperation?  Is my left side limping along to such a degree that my right has taken the reigns in all aspects of my life?  Maybe it has nothing to do with it, maybe it has everything to do with it.

But, regardless, I feel a need to foster my left side.  And, I can tell all ready that it is going to be work.  My right side is so eager to help out!  But, my awareness of this fact is too strong for me to ignore it. 

So, the adventure begins:

Dear weaker left side, it is time to wake up!


Here are a couple interesting resources on Brain-Body connection
The Brain Dance

Article on Integration of the Body

Video of Body Half and Cross Lateral Movement patterns (Bartenieff fundamentals)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Discovering Home

Home is the sensation of relief.

I have had a truly incredible summer of travel and escapades.  Starting with a road trip with the Razor Babes to San Francisco, then a solo return trip to the bay area for a visit and a wedding, then off to Chicago for the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project week long work shop, followed shortly by a fantastic honeymoon in the Northern Pacific (Oregon and Washington specifically) and finally a flight across "the pond" to Germany and Switzerland for more touring and yet another wedding.

It was great.
I am spent!

But, this is a good thing, a great thing, because now I want to be NOWHERE else be right here in the Kubocha Cottage (our affectionate name of our little house-- details later).

Traveling is an excellent opportunity to discover the preciousness of your daily, average life. Travel is exciting and of course I appreciate all of the different views I have seen this summer: over cities, oceans, the alps!  But, travel for me often feels like I have been frozen in time.  It serves for me as an incubation period during which I am suspended from completing my everyday tasks and thus making "progress".  Travel forces me to step back and just observe.  And, as many of you know, observing the self is often uncomfortable.  It is energetically taxing and at times frustrating, irritating, and depressing to take the time to shed light on the dark and forgotten corners of the soul, sweep them out and suffer the dust cloud that follows. But, there is no better place to do exactly that than on an 11 hour flight home from Frankfurt.  

All of the waiting time, in lines, for take off, for check in, for check out, at train stations, in a car...  All of that time is incubating time.  It feels like I truly hibernated this summer, not because I closed myself in doors, but because I divorced myself from my sense of identity in the things I do at home, namely, teaching dance, choreographing, going to yoga, going to the gym, eating at certain restaurants, taking walks...  the details are not what's important. The challenge is that we become what we do, and we start to deeply identify ourselves by our habits and our practices.  Of course in the Buddhist sense we are none of this.  We are indefinite and these aspects of life are just details.

But, through our life we can gain insight and peace if we choose. Travel is just thing thing to shake up the routine, to help you question who you are and discover you are not your daily run around schedule.  I have been reminded that I choose the routines in my life and they can be deeply satisfying and rewarding.  But, being home is not about being on autopilot.  Being home is the place where the real work needs to happen.

I am glad to be home.