Sunday, August 25, 2013

7th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival Rundown

I started to review dance shows one year ago when I wrote about the 6th annual MixMatch Dance Festival hosted by HartPulse Dance Company.  I didn't know at the time that I would keep writing about shows over the course of the year and in the meantime fall in love with dance writing.  You might be interested to know that I am not paid to write any of this. I first started writing because I wanted to support dance; and, until we get a stronger written cannon about the concert dance in the LA area, I believe we will continue to float along under the public radar.  So, I started writing and a year later here I am having just danced in the MixMatch festival and written another article in support of the fantastic dance that took place.

The MixMatch Dance Festival is an open and inclusive dance festival featuring 8 dance styles, 50 choreographers and 70 different dances.  This year it grew to include 5 performances in one weekend, each completely different.  While I wasn't able to attend all 5 shows, I was able to make it to 3 and wanted to share at least a bit of what I enjoyed as part of the festival.  I wish I had time to write about each piece because, every dance had something unique to offer to the diversity of ideas and styles in the festival.  But, considering that I am back in dance class tomorrow at 8 am, I have chosen to cover just a few of the pieces that stood out for me in the shows I saw.

"Spirit of Intention" choreographed by Bay Area dance artist, Anandha Ray and dancers, was a stunning solo performed by Laura Rae Bernasconi.  This fusion of tribal Middle Eastern and modern dance, was unlike anything else in the festival.  The highly stylized and purposeful movement was performed with intensity and honesty. Bernasconi is a commanding performer, bearing her soul to the audience without hesitation through each precisely design gesture. The final roaring exhale evoked a feminine power reminiscent of the goddess Kali herself.  

Friday evening, Anne C. Moore presented a female quartet, entitled "i always choose to misremember."  This contemporary modern work was a feast for the eyes. The dynamism in the choreography and fluid performance by the dancers mesmerized the audience.  This is an example of a movement driven dance success.  While the title hints at a loosely thematic narrative, the power of the piece existed for me in the dancers' ability to engage the audience through the physical and emotional, execution of the rich choreography.

CJ Edwards charmed the audience with his all male hip hop, "The Quest."  These dancers were all very different in physical appliance, yet they had excellent unison in all aspects of space, time and energy.  The circle moment, in which a few of the dancers came to the center to shine in their own way, reminded the audience of the vernacular heritage of hip hop and bridged the gap between social and performance in an easy and effortless way.

The Saturday matinee included, "Fearing the Unkown," choreographed by Mariana Olivera. I had recently seen this piece in the SB ADaPT festival this summer, but seeing it again was an opportunity for me to take note and appreciate the physical risk involved in much of the choreography.  Olivera punctuated the choreography with high risk partnering, including falls, catches and throws that left this audience gasping out loud.  This performance communicated the feeling of helplessness felt by the dancers as they submitted their body weight to each other.

Misa and Stephen Kelly performed their charming and heart warming duet, "Recall is Never Replay."  If you have not seen Misa and Stephen on stage, you should!  This husband and wife duet is quirky and thoughtful, nonsensical and endearing.  The movement and choreographic structure was non traditional, including gestural phrases set to spoken text that seemed related only by chance at times, but it also felt entirely appropriate.  The ending, in which the two slowly entwine in a reclined embrace, wraps up the dada-like piece with a string that can't be explained in words and can only be felt in the gut.

The closing Sunday matinee featured many strong choreographic works, including Tawny Chapman, Artistic director of Leverage Dance.  Chapman presented two distinctly different works. The first, entitled, "Window of Opportunity (Excerpts)," was a modern dance, task-oriented piece performed by nine young dancers in a grid of nine boxes.  The dancers moved through the grid as if in a game, springing, turning, and sliding between the the boxes. This piece created a strong sense of geometry, which the dancers embodied effectively in their mature performance.  The second piece in contrast was entitled The Bitter Earth" and communicated a different tone, although it was performed by many of the same dancers.  This contemporary modern piece was deeply emotional and exquisitely performed by the young women.

Nicole Olsen, choreographed and performed an empowered solo, entitled "Nude."  As the title suggests, the theme of revealing became apparent when Olsen first discarded her sweater.  The piece balanced strength and control with freedom and release.  The release and athletic flow became increasingly present as Olsen shed the layers of her conservative skirt, blouse and tank top, leading the audience up to the moment of ultimate power as she walked upstage taking off her final layer. 

Ashleigh Doede of Nancy Evans Dance Theater presented an excerpt of "Adhere Until. . ." Another audience member said of this piece, "These are the dancers you dream of growing up to be." I have reviewed NEDT before, and as always this performance was technically exquisite and emotionally powerful.  The dancers perform very difficult phrases with a subtle ease that I fear can be missed by an untrained eye.  This particular piece by three women exemplified the solid musicality and physical training that has come to be the thumbprint of NEDT.

"Strings," choreographed and performed by Chihiro Kodama, was a jazz-hip hop-capoeira fusion that was refreshing and playful.  Kodama's choreography and performance integrity rests on his ability to physicalize the music with an intensity and accuracy that is not always seen in contemporary choreography.  His vernacular based movement vocabulary is detailed and precise as well as fun and celebrational. 

Reject Dance Theater presented a few different works over the course of the festival, but I have chosen to speak about Sunday's performance of "Molt" because of the sheer quirkiness of it!  The featured "bird" dancer was a joy to watch in this piece. Her refined movement fit with the proud stance of her bird character.  The other dancers, dressed in fur vests and coats, contrasted the lightness of the bird, with their heavy and loose movement vocabulary.  The motif of the hip slap into what I saw as folded bird wings was so strong for me that I know this piece will resonate with me for a while still.

Festival director, Amanda Hart closed the festival with a duet entitled "Forever." This sweet choreography is characteristic of the strong jazz based choreography (especially male-female partnering) that I have come to expect of Hart's work.  These dancers seemed to authentically enjoy dancing with each other. They were soft and gentle with each other and told the story of falling in love with a conviction that melted the audience. 

Overall the festival was a huge success! 

The Southern Califronia dance community is gaining momentum, with festivals such as MixMatch, ADaPT and Celebrate Dance.  And, the opportunity for choreographers of all genres and backgrounds is greater than ever.  Now is the time to join in the movement and go out to see more dance in your local community.  Take the risk and discover the hidden treasures in your own backyard.  

Did you see the show?
What did you think?
Did you love a dance I didn't mention? (I am sure you did!) Share it here!
Your comments help support dance in LA and Nationwide!


If you are interested in reading up on Last Years MixMatch click here:
MixMatch Run Down (Aug 26th, 2012)
MixMatch Run Down (Sat Aug 25th, 2012)

Also, if you are interested in seeing one of the dance works presented by Megill & Company for this festival, click here. 
Stop. Listen. Dance.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where did the dance students go??

Hi Everyone,

So, a few things have changed in my dance life since I last wrote a blog post. 

First, I have been elected as co-president of the CDEA (California Dance Educator's Organization state affiliate of NDEO).  What does this mean? I am honestly not quite sure.  What I do know is that dance has a great opportunity for some big changes at the state level regarding a dance credential being offered for dance educators in Primary and Secondary schools.  And, I am dedicated to doing what I can to improve the state of dance on a state, legislative level.  I will do what I can by facilitating and mobilizing the dance community if every way I can.  

Secondly, and what I want to directly address now is the issue of low enrollment in dance classes at my school (Moorpark College).  A week before classes started, I got the call. Two of my classes were cancelled due to enrollment, and I was being reassigned to classes that had formerly been scheduled for adjunct faculty members.  Whether I liked it or not, I was going to be a Hip Hop instructor and there was nothing I could do about it. 

But, aside from my crazy fear about teaching a genre of dance in which I have relatively little training, my questions is Where are all the students?  

When I came to Moorpark college 6 years ago, the classes were overflowing with student! It was a breeze to get 3 sections of Jazz I filled with 50 students each.  We had multiple sections of Ballet, Modern and Jazz at all levels.  Then the state budget crisis came down and we had to make cuts, yet the classes we kept were still full!

Then, this semester came and we were left with nothing but questions marks?  What happened? After  thinking it through I have come up with some speculations on why the enrollment is so low. These are mere speculations, and I have no evidence for any of it. But, that has never stopped me before, and I hope that you may have some additional ideas so we can do better next semester!

1.  TMC: "If it is not on the TMC, you shouldn't take it."  Or at least, that is the growing perception I have noticed among the student population.  Yes, the TMC (Transfer Model Curriculum) streamlines student transfer, but it is coming in at a cost to the general liberal arts education. Students don't have time to "figure out" what they want to do in life.  They will run out of units long before they make a decision.  Students need to be driven and focused.  And, that translates to no extra Modern Dance classes for the dancer at heart. 

2.  Unit Max and Priority Registration:  Students who have acquired more than 60 units* which is the ideal number of units needed to transfer are now sent to the back of the registration line.  Meaning students who mismanage their unit loads in their first semesters may get stuck at the back of the line when they are in most need of their last Math or English class in order to transfer.  This is causing students to treat each unit as a precious gold token.  They can't spend them frivolously on performing arts credits that can enrich and transform their lives!  It is a big decision to give up 2 units of your total transferable units to a Tap dance or Ballet class. 

3.  Fewer offerings make tighter schedules: Offering are fewer and fewer across the campus, therefore students are have less and less flexibility in how to shape their schedules.  Where they used to have 30 options of a GE class on various days and times, they now have only 20, or 15 or fewer! And, that GE class has to take priority over an elective dance class.  Students are very limited in what their schedules can be according to the campus wide scheduling and with all the shifts, it is no wonder we have low enrollment in prime times like 8-10am, 10-12pm and 1-3pm. 

4. Repeatability: Repeatability for dance courses at community colleges has been the hot topic for a couple years now. At this point dance students cannot repeat any dance course.  Therefore, most schools including Moorpark have created 3-5 levels of each genre so the student can continue their training.  However, offering all levels of ballet together is virtually impossible to teach, therefore the program has to separate the levels to different classes at different times.  Therefore, students who could repeat a Level I offered at a good time are now stuck having to take Level 2 and Level 2 is not offered at a good time in their schedule so they end up taking no ballet at all. They have no other recourse.

5.  Dance Majors:  being a dance major is a tough decision, because at this point in history it is a choice of the heart and not the head.  Dance majors have always been few and far between. Most students who take dance take it because they love it and don't want to live without it.  Many dance students are just 3-5 units away from an AA in dance, but don't have the "time" or units available to complete their degree before they transfer as a psychology or chemistry major.  So, our number of completors continues to be low.  The dance industry is missing out on some incredible dancers, choreographers, dance historians and dance theorists.  We are losing them to more employable areas of study. 

Which brings me full back to what I first mentioned in this blog:  The elusive dance credential, as it has come to be called, could offer a great pathway for dancers to get a transfer degree, then a BA in dance, then a credential to teach dance in the public school system.  But, without a strong non-performance based job market out there, dance majors are stuck choosing between what they love and a "practical" degree like Math or Business.  Often, Math or Business wins out.  Until we change the job climate for dance majors by giving them the state's stamp of approval, dance will continue to be at the bottom of the list.  And, we may see dance shrink even more.  The performing arts offer a vehicle to understanding ourselves and the world.  We must find a way to keep dance alive in the state of California as well as nation wide.

And, we must do it together.


*It may be 72 units, I have heard conflicting numbers. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: New Original Works Festival: Week Three

The NOW Festival held at REDCAT on August 8, 2013 was a night of far-out performing arts that rallied the spirit of NOW in the LA arts scene. 

The evening opened with a music work composed by accordionist Daniel Corral entitled Dislike.  The music began in swelling harmonies with the eight accordion players falling in and out of dissonance as they played the loosely structured score. This endless din of accordion harmonies, contrasted the verbal assaults by the readers including highly punctuated accusations taken from a 24 record of the most "disliked" YouTube video ever. The rhythmic disparity allowed for the listener to catch bits and pieces of the caustic language over the drone of the accordions. The challenge existed when the accordions and the readers voices synchronized in the same register and competed for the aural space. However, this sonic competition was just another layer of the conceptual composition. A similar competition existed between lines of the libretto and the voices reading them. It was frustrating and irritating at times, because one would hear the beginning of a sentence but miss the second half due to a sudden sweep of cacophony surrounding it. Each reader talked into the mic in a way that they were talking at each other (and at times at no one) rather than with each other.  The somewhat arbitrary timing of the piece provided a context for outrageous and humorous moments to stand such as "Obama loves Bieber" and "Baby baby baby, oooh" or "Learn some grammar Bro," not to mention the string of profanity and name calling throughout.  By the end of the piece, I hated YouTube; I hated the Internet, and I would have given anything to make it stop. But, my experience of discomfort was what created the power in the Corral's social commentary. It was uncomfortable listening to ugliness of it all, recognizing just how much people feel they need to say, to be heard (at all costs) about things that are ultimately irrelevant to their personal everyday lives. Yet, the need to define oneself by speaking up compelled these YouTube watchers to participate in the ugly stream of toxic thoughts. This 20+ min piece offered the time to viscerally experience the inane communication that is so prevalent in the online environment and gave us pause to consider our own role in this world of dislike.

After a brief intermission, the stage was reset for a dance work entitled The Other Thing, by Meg Wolfe and Morgan Thorson.  The piece opened with a walking pattern that each of the three performers followed in canon. The floorplan allowed for moments for the performers to regard the audience and each other with momentary interest as they passed.  The sounds of their heeled shoes echoed through the space, amplified by a floor microphone. This created a spaciousness to the piece that matched the large and empty performance space.  Fleeting moments of activity left the audience wondering about these three, very different women and their respective natures.  Overall, there was no evident overarching compositional structure or story telling.  The non-sequitur movement and disparate dance phrases created all sorts of questions but never answered any of them. This of course drove my thinking into the purpose of the choreographers' choices.  I first looked to the title: The other thing? Other than what? Tradition? Commercialism? This train of thought seemed to hold some water because this piece offered a whimsical study in the expected and the unrelated. A smattering of patterns, relationships and scenarios, this piece exuded a postmodern/ dance-theater feel that was extremely intellectual and kinesthetic without relying on an evident theme nor narrative.

The mere combination of the dancers on stage provided dynamic contrast that begged questioning. The tall and severe, Meg Wolfe, communicated an energy of seriousness and gravity. But, the slight stature of the sweet, hometown-girl, Jessica Cressey brought a lightness and play to the stage.  Morgan Thorson contrasted both with her feminine allure and long blonde hair. The interaction between these three were quirky if nothing else. It seemed like the piece was one big challenge made to the audience. "Dare to get me and dare to dislike me." This theme of challenge was supported in a stand-out compositional choice in which Wolfe defiantly held both arms overhead in fists for the duration of a song plus another few minutes. Staring down the audience and unwilling to relinquish her stance (despite the apparent fatigue developing in the arms), she crafted a lasting image of the work. 

The night wrapped up with my debut performance on kazoo! Well, mine and the rest of the audience who kazooed in harmony (as designated by the color of your instrument). The one act musical Toxikos directed by Deena Selenow was a bawdy, humor driven, pop music and Greek theater mash up that got the audience laughing out loud. The pop culture references and well timed comedy were just what the audience needed to finish the night on an upbeat note. The original Greek text by Sophocles was well delivered by the cast of women, but unfortunately the narrative meaning was largely lost amidst the mischievous and funny antics by the performers. However, the audience didn't seem to mind or notice and instead were rousted to feverish applause after the final song and dance performance of Britney Spears' Toxic. Although I missed exactly how the song tied into the Greek classic, I, too, enjoyed the fluffy entertainment value and parodic dance moves choreographed by Genevieve Gearhart and Deena Selenow. 

Overall the evening had something for everyone and gave me a lot to thing about as an audience member and artist. NOW Festival is a provocative acronym because it made me link what I saw to the here-and-now of today and therefore framed my experience within my concept of what is NOW and  the question of how each work related to NOW? I was able to bend my brain into various definition of NOW whether it be pop culture references, rejection of current trends or extensions of yesterday's avant garde. Had the evening been presented under a different heading, I may not have made these connection or interpretations. But, I am always grateful for any tidbit of insight into an evening of performance and found these three works excellent representations of the many directions and interpretations of NOW.

The show runs for two more nights. Click here for a link to the REDCAT website and ticket information.  And, remember if you go see it, be sure to come back here and leave your own comments for the performing arts community.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What do the numbers 101, 35 and 10,339 have in common?


And here's how:

You are currently reading my 101st blog post!  Congratulations!  Don't you feel special?  Well, I do, because when I started this blog over 2 years ago, I really didn't know where it was going to take me.  All I knew at the time was that I had something to say, about dance, about life about learning.  And, I needed a forum that was not my classroom and was not my choreography.  Thus was born the Musings by a Dancing Poetess.  You can read my very first post here to see just how crazy I was back then.
Compelled (June 15, 2011)

10, 339
With my 101 posts I have gathered over 10,000 page views! I know this is small potatoes for many bloggers, but it is triumph for me.  I am getting the word out about how dance can improve your quality of life, how growing an appreciation for dance improves your understanding of yourself, society and the world, and how meditation and awareness can be the link to all of the above.  And, a hearty thank you to YOU the reader for helping me get here! I mean, I didn't click on my own link that many times. I mean, geez, I have to a make dances some time! (haha!).

I am well past the 50 day mark in my Year to Live.  Only 35 days to go.  7 weeks.   Not a lot of time, but certainly enough to make it count and soak in the richness that is this lifetime.  I must say I highly recommend this meditative practice as created by Stephen Levine. I have made huge changes in a year because of the simple question. "What do I really want to do?"  I am finding greater joy, asking deeper questions, noticing the passing nature of struggle and challenge and taking more time to support and love those I care about.  Granted, I had my fair share of freak out moments. But, that come with the territory of writing your own personal eulogy (which is my next "assignment"). Yikes!

Of course, these are just numbers. They actually don't mean anything for the future. I could stop writing this blog tomorrow, or you could stop reading it. And, there is no way for me to know how much time I have left in this life.  So, I look at these numbers not as trophies to hang on my wall of accomplishments, but as fuel to keep the engine running, to make the most of my experience and a lasting effect on the world and its inhabitants.  I sometimes say that I am changing the world one dance at a time. I didn't join the peace corps. I didn't open a soup kitchen. But, I am here now reminding you to take life by the hand and leap into your greatest potential.  It won't always be shining and perfect, but it will be authentic and real. 

And, it will be beautiful.


 Here are some oldies-but-goodies for your reading pleasure:
Thanks for READING!!

Artistry in the Jazz Dancer
I see you. . .
Are you vain?
New Reminders of Old Loves
Fascination with Madness