Archive | February, 2010

Andrew Simmons creates A Song in the Dark

Andrew Simmons creates A Song in the Dark

By Grace Edwards.

He’s danced with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, travelled the world and worked in Europe as a freelance dancer and choreographer. Now Germany-based choreographer Andrew Simmons returns to New Zealand to create his third work for the RNZB, A Song in the Dark.

A Song in the Dark is one of three works featured in the RNZB’s upcoming TOWER season, From Here to There. Dance Informa’s Grace Edwards asks Andrew about his latest offering.

Andrew, your piece, A Song in the Dark, has been described as “exploring themes of missed opportunities, love and beauty in the ordinary.” What inspired you to create such a work?
The inspiration for the work comes from many difference places, mostly from day to day experiences, the interactions that we have with others, and the beauty that is all around us in things we take for granted, such as friendship, people, nature, art, and architecture.

Much of the movement in my work is fleeting and danced in couples, which heightens these aspects.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's TOWER season, From Here to There

The Royal New Zealand Ballet's TOWER season, From Here to There

Why did you choose to set A Song in the Dark to music by minimalist composer, Philip Glass?

I didn’t really set out wanting to use his music, as a lot of it, while interesting, can be quite overwhelming. I happened to find the longest of the three pieces I have chosen by chance. I really liked it, as it is for piano and strings only, so it sounds very rich. It sounds like it moves in waves while at the same time having good clear leads to follow.

Once I’d decided that I wanted to use that piece, I thought more about how I wanted to structure the work, and the other two pieces were easy to find.

Is that how you always begin the creative process? How do you usually conceive and create your works, from start to finish?
I almost always start with the music. That gives me the best indication of how I want to the piece to feel and look. Then it gets more specific, working out the number of dancers and which sections of music may fit group, duet or solo work best.

I start with a few steps that I can give the dancers on day one, and the movement vocabulary evolves from there. I try to work as fast as possible so that there is time left for things to be expanded on and cleaned once the rough draft of the work is finished. Then, once you’re in the theatre, you see if anything looks strange in the space and, of course, if there are any traffic problems moving on and off stage.

Once that’s all done itʼs time for the dancers to do what they do best and present the work, hopefully in the same way it was initially envisioned.

You have worked as both a dancer and a choreographer. What do you consider some of the personal highlights of your career?
The transition from dancing to focusing more on choreography has only recently taken place for me, and at what is quite a young age for that change to happen. To be honest, the highlights are the people Iʼve been able to meet and work with.

Dancing throughout the UK, China and Australia with the RNZB gave me some great experiences, and dancing Jorma Eloʼs Plan to A was one of my most enjoyable moments as a dancer because of the unique choreographic style of the piece. And of course, the opportunities I have had to create works for the RNZB.

Having been an RNZB dancer yourself, does that affect the way you work with your dancers, particularly in relation to A Song in the Dark?
Itʼs really great actually. The times which I’ve found the hardest were during choreographic workshops and when I was still a dancer in the company creating things. Coming from the outside and then working with the dancers has been easier, as there is less of a blur about what position each person is in. It is now clear that I am there as a choreographer and that that’s my job, first and foremost.

It also helps that we can have a relaxed working environment, as I’ve spent many years working with the same people and we’ve shared a lot of good times together.

What is a typical day like working with the RNZB? 
The dancers start the day with class for an hour and a half at 9:30am. Then the day is split up into three main rehearsals, one in the morning, then two after lunch. During a triple bill season there is one rehearsal for each piece. There are also rehearsal times that can be used in other studios if there are dancers that are free whilst not being used in the main rehearsal.

Finally, what would you like the audience to take away with them from A Song in the Dark? 
Thatʼs a hard question to answer, as itʼs so individual. The times that people come and tell you their thoughts and feelings about a work, ones that are so removed from anything you had been focusing on whilst creating it, are often the most interesting. I donʼt feel you can or should tell someone what they should be looking for in a work, or what they should ‘get’ from something like this. My job, as an artist, is to help create individual interpretation and thoughts.

 All the best for the season, Andrew!  

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s TOWER season, From Here to There, runs from February 25th to March 27th 2010. It begins in Dunedin and tours to Invercargill, Christchurch, Hastings, Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington. To book tickets or to find out more, see the RNZB’s official website at www.nzballet.org.nz

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Win Tix to Cats and Leigh Warren!

Win Tix to Cats and Leigh Warren!

Readers, here’s your chance to WIN a Double Pass to…

Frame and Circle by Leigh Warren & Dancers
For more information about this new contemporary work read the feature interview with choreographers Leigh Warren and Prue Lang. Click here
www.adelaidefestival.com.au

Dates: March 10th‐13th, 7.00pm & March 14, 5.00pm
Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Contact: BASS 131 246

Click Here to enter

CatsCATS, the Musical Spectacular!
Win two tickets to see Cats in either Melbourne, Perth or Sydney.
Click here…

MELBOURNE
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Opens: Saturday 6 March 2010
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012
www.ticketek.com.au

PERTH
Venue: Burswood Theatre
Opens: Tuesday 13 April 2010
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012
www.ticketek.com.au

SYDNEY
Venue: Lyric Theatre, Star City
Opens: Tuesday 18 May 2010
Bookings: ticketmaster 1300 795 267
www.ticketmaster.com.au

NSW Permit Number: LTPM/09/00769 CLASS: Type B

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Keeping her Monster Paws up!

Keeping her Monster Paws up!

Lady Gaga Dancer Montana Efaw.

 By Kristy Johnson.

At only 18 years of age, Montana Efaw is already making a name for herself. Chosen to dance for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball World Tour, Montana will be heading to the Australian shores early this year. Excited about the tour, Montana spoke with Dance Informa’s Kristy Johnson.

Congratulations on being selected as a dancer for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball World Tour.
How did this come about?  

Back in August or September ’09 there was a big audition held to dance for Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards.  I was fortunate to book that job. It was a highlight moment I’ll never forget.  The concept was so amazing, incredible and theatrical and Gaga is the absolute best singer/songwriter and entertainer!  I didn’t want the experience to end!  So when I got the call from my agent that I was chosen to be booked for the Monster Ball World Tour it was like my dream came true.

For you, what does it mean to be a Lady Gaga dancer?  

Oh man! Gaga is such an incredible talent. It is a dream job to dance for her and go full out at every performance for her.  Dance and performing is my passion.  I’m 100% a Lady Gaga Monster!

Relocating from Portland to Los Angeles, how did you prepare for the move?  

For me, the key when making that move to LA is to have a  plan!  I knew at about 14 or 15 that I wanted to dance/choreograph as a career. So looking back at those years, every step I did brought me closer to that.  Although I am 18 years old, I had prepared for the move for several years with training, traveling, working hard and grasping every dance opportunity along the way. I didn’t wait for things to come to me, but I pursued everything!  And did I mention training, traveling, training, traveling….lots of that!

Your career to date reads like a dream, what advice would you give to aspiring commercial dancers?

Get into the best studio in your area and train, train, train!  In all styles!  In this business you have to be able to master several styles of dance. Don’t focus on just hip hop or just jazz.  Train the hardest on what you are weakest in.  Teach class, get used to working with dancers and setting choreography on them.  Find local shows and conventions where you can get stage performing opportunities. Be relentless.  And be yourself! Don’t try to imitate another dancer. You can definitely learn from other dancers, but you are what makes you unique.  Then when the time is right for you (you have a plan, a place to live, job opportunities, an agent, etc) you make that giant step!

Which choreographers have you been working with for the tour?  

Laurieann Gibson!  Ahhhhhh…..amazing!  I assisted for her for a couple years at a dance convention called The Pulse. Her style is so unique and entertaining and when she teaches class she includes tips and tricks on how to be a better performer. Listen to everything she says – golden advice.  If you ever have a chance to take her class, DO NOT miss it!   She also has an incredible assistant, Richie Jackson who works with us a lot too – very inspiring! (For information about The Pulse visit www.thepulseontour.com)

With the tour heading down to Australia, what can we expect to see from the show?  

Be prepared for the show of your life!  Lady Gaga will give you a performance you will be talking about for years to come!

What’s next for you after the conclusion of the tour?  

Oh, I really can’t think about that!  My job is here and now and I give it 200% of myself.  Right now I’ll keep my Monster Paws up!

Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball World Tour is currently touring the US, before heading to the UK. Her first concert in Australia will be March 17th at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Check out www.ladygaga.com for dates and locations.

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Win Passes – The Silver Rose

Win Passes – The Silver Rose

The Silver Rose – The Australian Ballet

26 February – 3 March
Lyric Theatre, QPAC
with Queensland Symphony Orchestra 

Choreographic legend Graeme Murphy returns to The Australian Ballet stage with a dazzling full-length work. Based loosely on The Rose Cavalier, The Silver Rose is a ballet of romantic intrigue and love gone wrong. The Marschallin, a celebrated actress, is still very beautiful but fears her lover might fall for a younger woman. Inevitably he does. Against spectacular Art Nouveau sets, the cast tie each other in romantic knots. In turn-of-last-century Vienna, love is a dangerous game.

We’ve got 5 Double Passes to Give Away, just email us with your:
Name, Date of Birth & Address to go in the draw. Send all entries to info@danceinforma.com  

 More info: www.australianballet.com.au/silverrose

Top photo: Wilfried Hoesl, Courtesy Bavarian State Ballet

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Ailey Kicks off US Tour

Ailey Kicks off US Tour

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicks off its U.S. tour in Washington, DC, this week, followed by Charlotte, Atlanta, and 17 more cities across the country. See new work added to the repertory this season and, at most performances, the beloved classic, Revelations. Join the ongoing celebration of Judith Jamison’s 20 years as artistic director when Ailey comes to a city near you. For the tour dates and details click here

AAADT has performed for an estimated 23 million people in 48 states and in 71 countries on six continents, including two historic residencies in South Africa. The company has earned a reputation as one of the most acclaimed international ambassadors of American culture, promoting the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance.

For further information visit www.alvinailey.org

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Ballet’s Bad Boy – Rasta Thomas

Ballet’s Bad Boy – Rasta Thomas

By Deborah Searle.

Rasta Thomas, the founder and Artistic Director of Bad Boys of Dance is definitely bad, in the good sense of the word. An award winning performer, Rasta has been in several TV documentaries, performed at the Academy Awards, appeared in the feature film One Last Dance, starred on Broadway in Movin’ Out and danced at the White House for the President of the United States.

An accomplished ballet dancer and all round performer Rasta made dance competition history as a teenager before dancing with Le Jeune Ballet de France, Hartford Ballet, the Kirov Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. With a number of guest performances with some of the world’s best dance companies including American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of China, Joffrey Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Rasta brings a wealth of experience to his role as Artistic Director of Bad Boys of Dance.

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

In 2008 Rasta created Rasta Thomas’ Rock The Ballet with his wife Adrienne Canterna. As Bad Boys of Dance embark on a European tour of Rock The Ballet, after three successful weeks at the Joyce Theatre, New York, Rasta spoke with Dance Informa.

Funnily enough, Rasta started dancing under punishment from his father. “My father put me in ballet for misbehaving in martial arts class”, he said. Little did he know just how talented his son was, as Rasta took to dance like a duck to water. As such a successful dancer, I asked Rasta about his career highlights so far, as at only 28, he has many years ahead of him. “I have too many!” he exclaimed, listing off a string of achievements. “Receiving my black belt in Taekwondo, winning gold medals at IBC Varna and IBC Jackson, performing on the Academy Awards, dancing the great male ballet roles, guesting with the top dance companies, and working with dance giants like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Savion Glover, Carlos Acosta and Tetsuya Kumakawa are all highlights”, he shared. He also spoke on meeting Michael Jackson and working with Patrick Swayze. On the personal front Rasta noted “getting married and becoming a dad to an amazing little girl” as his greatest achievement. “And of course, starting Bad Boys and Pretty Girls of Dance”, he threw in.

Rasta and his wife Adrienne Canterna, a talented dancer herself, make a dynamic team, creating Rock The Ballet together. Rasta spoke of their special union and working relationship. “I met my wife in dance class when I was ten. We have been soul-mates ever since. I genuinely feel that it is a miracle that we get to do what we love to do and share it with the world one show at a time. We bring out the best in each other every day, on and off stage. We compliment each other’s artistic weaknesses extremely well”, he shared.

With Rock The Ballet enjoying acclaim across the globe, I asked Rasta about the show. “RTB is a dance show that is athletic, sexy, entertaining and fun”, he expressed. “It is a high energy dance show that was created for dance lovers and first time theatre goers. Our secret is simple – great dancing to great music”.

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

And the audiences have agreed. “Our audiences leave with smiles on their faces wanting to go out dancing! It is a magical thing when everything clicks, when all the hard work pays off. You are dancing your heart out to a packed theatre, and then at the end, you are appreciated. Nothing is sweeter”, he said.

Rock The Ballet is an attempt to revitalize classical ballet and bring new audiences to the theatre. “The stereotype that ballet is boring is very much alive and kicking. My mission is to change that with the Bad Boys and Pretty Girls of Dance”, Rasta explained. “Most people enjoy dancing themselves, but in my opinion ballet is not the type of dancing they like doing or even find somewhat enjoyable. The steps are appreciated only by dance fans and that doesn’t have to be the case. Rock the Ballet is the perfect example that a dance show can showcase exquisite technique and artistry but also be tons of fun!”

And who wouldn’t expect that a show called Rock The Ballet by a company of ‘bad’ boys wouldn’t be fun and entertaining? But what’s so ‘bad’ about these dancers in the first place? Rasta explained that it’s not that the dancers are badly behaved, but that they are so talented and exciting that they are ‘bad’ in the ‘cool’ sense of the word. “When growing up the word ‘bad’ was slang for good. Being a huge Michael Jackson fan only made it easier when I had to name the company”, he enlightened me. And Rasta’s dancers are good, to say the least. “The Bad Boys are hybrid dancers of the future that can mix many different styles of dance. This creates a vocabulary that is more accessible to people. We are the Bad Boys because we are breaking from the traditional dance path most would have followed. We are leaders and trend setters”, Rasta explained.

As the company is currently auditioning for new Bad Boys to join their team, I asked Rasta about his requirements for new recruits. “I look for versatility in dance vocabulary, personality, showmanship, technique and a deep passion and love for the art form. Also, a strong desire to improve and want more is important”, he made clear.

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

Teaching dance workshops across the US, to Bad Boys hopefuls, Rasta shared some advice for young dancers. “You get out what you put in. Dance is a way of life. Try and stick to the choreography, but if you get stuck, just improvise your way out”, he said. “Dance is very hard and the training is painful. You have to condition your body and your mind to a point that is extreme. If you’re not sweating, you’re not growing. If you’re not hurting, you’re not challenging yourself hard enough. In the end, dance is hard work any way you cut it. So in the end, give in and just love it every second you can”. Noting discipline as one of his major keys to success Rasta credited it to his martial arts training. “Martial arts gave me the discipline to set a goal and achieve it. These are two vital aspects to being a dance maker”, he revealed.

So what keeps Rasta creating at the pinnacle of his success? “What keeps me dancing are all the possibilities still to come that I have swirling in my head. How I can make audiences and people feel alive and happy? How can I raise the bar and keep people coming back for more?” he expressed. “My dancers, my wife, music and life in general inspire me to produce a better show every day I’m alive”. And Rasta is sure to achieve his goals. “I want Bad Boys to be the hottest and ‘baddest’ dance company the world has ever seen”, he exclaimed. “My job is to make that happen!”

The Bad Boys of Dance are currently performing a 50 show, 23 city, European tour, but will be visiting Australia this season with the dates yet to be announced.
For further information visit www.rocktheballet.com.au/main.html and www.badboysofdance.com

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Cheryl Cutlip – Creating Opportunities for the Dancers of Tomorrow

Cheryl Cutlip – Creating Opportunities for the Dancers of Tomorrow

By Deborah Searle.

Cheryl Cutlip, a Radio City Rockette for 15 years and Director of Project Dance and Broadway Underground is a dancer with a heart for her city and the dance community as a whole. With a long list of stage credits and an impressive career to date, Cheryl was not only dance captain, assistant choreographer and spokesperson for the famous Rockettes, but has performed on Broadway in the National Tour of Crazy For You, European Tour of 42nd Street, and the Broadway benefit to the stars of Mack and Mable.

After recently stepping off the Radio City Music Hall stage, Cheryl is not taking off her dance shoes yet as she focuses on how she can give back to the dance community. Dance Informa spoke with New York based Cheryl about her career, her dance projects and her advice for us all.

Cheryl CutlipAs a successful performer, choreographer, teacher and director, what is your career highlight so far?
Performing in Crazy For You was a big highlight for me.  It was sort of my dream show and I was cast in the Broadway National Tour as Susie and understudied Irene. I remember having a surprise visit by the director, Mike Ockrent.  At the time, I was on stage rehearsing my role as Irene and from the back of the house we heard an isolated applause.  As he came down to the stage we all were excited to see him.  That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

The other great memory was a workshop called Rockobolous. The Rockettes worked with Pilobolous for one month to set a new piece.  Unfortunately, the 12 minute piece was only performed for management but the process of merging these two polar opposite styles proved to be challenging yet artistically fulfilling.  I’ll always cherish my minute in a modern dance company. 

 

After 15 years as a Radio City Rockette how did you find stepping off the stage?
Stepping off of the great stage at Radio City is still fresh.  15 years is a long time to perform with the same company and my memories there will always be close to my heart.  I find myself still excited to go see shows there and know that as I move to new things that there will be many more opportunities to perform in the future. 

What has become your new focus?
Ten years ago I founded an arts and education organization called Project Dance.  We’ve been growing steadily over those years and I’m now focusing more than ever on what the future of Project Dance will look like.  The organization offers worldwide dance events for networking, performing and training.  Project Dance also produces an urban variety show in New York City called Broadway Underground.  On a local level, Project Dance has an in-house dance company called Atmosphere and in the near future we will be offering a nine month professional preparation program called The Project Dance School of Urban Ministry.

How has dance brought joy to your life?
Finding what you are meant to do is such a key in life.  Therein lies the joy.  I’m so thankful to my parents who encouraged me in my dancing.  Though I’ve been paid to dance for the past twenty years, I’ve found that for the most part it has seemed like a dream.  I love to dance, I love to be in class, I love the feeling of overcoming new challenges in the studio and I love performing.  The people I’ve met along the way have made the journey joyful.   

How do you find that dance inspires others?
Dance does have a way of inspiring others.  It’s hard not to see the beauty and dedication of dance when you visit the ballet, go see a Broadway Show or even when you come across a dancer who for the sheer joy of movement expresses their heart through dance.  Dance reminds us of design and order, purpose and inner strength.  It makes us believe we can fly.  Dance unlocks an often closed door to our heart and says ‘come in and be free’. 

Dancers perform at Project Dance

Dancers perform at Project Dance

Tell us about Project Dance. What inspires you to run the event every year across the world?

I think for inspiration alone we produce Project Dance.  We desire to point dancers onward and upward.  Onward in their journey with dance and the career that is in front of them and upward in their journey with dance to explore their relationship with God.  Faith and art go hand in hand.  Project Dance is a safe place to discuss that intersection.  It’s been an amazing ten years and I’m always pleasantly surprised by the masses of dancers who long to merge who they are on the inside with who they express on the outside.

As a citizen of New York during 9/11 how was the arts/dance community affected?
I know for me it was a time of feeling helpless to help.  Dancers, for the most part, are not able to spare much change.  Most of us live month to month and the idea of helping financially seemed impossible.  I remember sharing this with some of my dance friends who felt the same way.  We brainstormed on how we might give back.  And, out came Project Dance.  We set up a stage on Broadway and 44th Street in the spring of 2002.  We invited anyone who had been affected by 9/11 to come for healing.  I’ll never forget that day.  The rain poured from the time we started until the time we ended.  But the faces of those hurting will never leave my memory.  I distinctly remember watching as one burn victim wept while watching the dance and another elderly man who kneeled on the hard pavement to pray as we danced.  The Spirit of the event was evident and something new was beginning.  New York City was getting a new start and dance was one of the things being used.

How has Project Dance brought hope and healing to New York and other cities across the world?
We’ve found that in every city there is a need for hope and healing.  There is also a need for dancers within the community to come together, train together, network together and encourage one another.  Our events are two fold:  for the city and for the dancers.

I remember a story of a young 12 year old girl from Pennsylvania who dreamed of dancing on Broadway.  Though she had a debilitating disease she showed up to perform.  This would be one of the last times she would be able to dance due to her illness.  Making her dream of dancing on Broadway come true changed my life.  I began to realize that Project Dance was more than a dance event.

Our events have caught on and I now oversee seven event coordinators who all produce Project Dance events in their city.  This year we’ll be in Houston, New York, Toronto, Manila, Atlanta, Sydney and Hong Kong.  Next year we’ll be adding Brisbane, DC and Denver. 

What can dancers expect to take away from a Project Dance weekend?
The goal is that every dancer who attends Project Dance will gain clarity on their next step in the dance world.  As you know, a career in dance is a journey and you don’t get through it over night.  We offer a number of events throughout the weekend to help point dancers in the right direction.  The other goal is that dancers will feel validated in their art, a true sense of purpose in their dance.  We encourage dancers in every area; the professional world, the teaching world and the growing world of inspirational dance.

Broadway UndergroundTell us about Broadway Underground.
Broadway Underground is an urban variety show that lives up to its name.  We take the raw talent off the streets of New York and put them on our stage.  There are no elaborate sets or costumes so the artists have to hold their own.  I co-produce the show with Jared Grimes who is a force within himself.  We’ve worked together for the past four years to bring audiences one of the funniest and most musically satisfying experiences.  The show also has a core dance company and house band, and we feature up and coming talent at each show.  We have a good time and allow our audiences to interact with the performers throughout the night.  The highlight of the show is our Open Session.  Members from the audience hop up on stage with their tap shoes, or instruments and jam with our house band.  It’s not a competition but rather a showcase of ‘who’s who’ on the streets. 

What productions does Broadway Underground have planned for 2010?
We’ll be taking Broadway Underground to the next level in many areas:  television, film and stage.  So, be on the lookout for us….

What advice would you give to dancers who want to make a difference in this world?
I believe making a difference in the world is about investing in people.  The dance world can keep you running fast and hard towards your career.  It always seems like someone else is taking more class, getting more jobs and moving faster than we are.  I think it’s key to understand our own specific call in dance and take the time to invest in others.  For me personally, I have to remind myself that God has a plan for me and it includes dance but it also includes looking around to the needs of others and sacrificing my time to help out.  Shows come and go but our friends last a life time. 

Also, it is so important to ‘hone your craft’.  No one can put the time in for you when it comes to dance class and the disciplines that lead to success.  For me, I like to find class buddies.  When I’m heading out to a ballet class I text a few friends and encourage them to come.  They do the same.  At the end of the day, in order to work as a dancer you must be on your game.  There is a great joy in putting that time in and seeing the fruit of your labour.    

Oh, one last thing.  You’re never too old to dance.  I have to share that little nugget because many people in the dance world will tell you otherwise.  There is no magic number to end on.  If dance is in your heart…DANCE!

For information about Project Dance visit www.projectdance.com.
For the 2010 brochure click here

Houston, March 19-21
New York City, April 16-18
Toronto, July 16-18
Manila, July 31-August 1
Atlanta, September 24-26
Sydney, October 8-10
Hong Kong, October 15-17

For information about Broadway Underground visit www.broadwayunderground.org

Broadway Underground’s Next Show!
Date: April 26th, 8:00pm
Venue: BB Kings, 42nd and Broadway, New York

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Traveling for the Love of Tango

Traveling for the Love of Tango

Milonga Madness in Buenos Aires.

By Karen Phelps.

A man leads me to the dance floor. The music starts, he takes my hand and…hands me his business card. Tango tourism is big business in Buenos Aires. Being a tango teacher is a desirable profession and competition for students is heavy amongst up and coming tango teachers.

Just ten years ago tango was not so popular. Now the dance form has gained popularity, mainly among foreigners, who get hooked in their own country then travel to Buenos Aires with the specific purpose of perfecting the dance style. It is easy to see why it is a desirable profession. The best teachers command top dollars, up to $300 pesos per hour ($80 US/$90 AU), and travel the world performing and teaching.

But finding tango in Buenos Aires can be difficult unless you know where to look. Travellers expect to see tango danced in every bar but most porteños (locals) have never danced tango. For porteños, tango remains simply a tourist attraction. The real tango scene is underground. For those in the know, milongas (tango dances) can be found every night of the week.

Although tango can now be found in virtually every country around the world, Buenos Aires is undoubtedly the place to be if you want to seriously improve your dancing. To the uninitiated dancing social tango looks deceptively simple but it is far from an easy dance to master. Dancing milonguero (close embrace) tango grew from crowded dance floors. With little room for tricky manoeuvers this type of social tango allows for simplicity of steps while encouraging a natural connection between the dancers.

But although it looks simple, as tango is entirely an impromptu dance for the woman, following the man’s lead can be difficult as every man’s lead is quite different in style. And for the man, navigating a crowded dance floor and planning moves in advance can require as much forethought as playing a game of chess.

Dancing at a Milonga. Photo Karen Phelps

Dancing at a Milonga. Photo Karen Phelps

Tango in Buenos Aires comes with its own rules of etiquette, which can initially be intimidating. Women generally do not ask men to dance but must wait at tables for men to catch their eye. Called a ‘cabeceo’ this catching of the eye is a subtle invitation to dance. If the woman smiles and does not look away she is signaling her acceptance. Of course this subtle signaling can also on occasion go terribly wrong with sometimes two women arriving red faced to the dance floor to dance with the same man.

With tango classes held both during the day and at night a tango vacation can be far from relaxing. There are a wide variety of different teachers and dance styles to choose from including traditional milonguero style to more modern nuevo tango complete with electronic music. So how to find the best classes? Milongas often provide information on the classes held there and there are also tango publications available that list the dance schools’ schedules. The best way is to look around, try out some classes and also ask other tango dancers you meet for recommendations.

For the serious tango dancers though, private classes are a must. Prices can range from $200-300 pesos per hour ($50-$80 US / $60-$90 AU). But if you get the right teacher the individual critique can be invaluable and more economical than doing a larger number of group classes where individual feedback may be scarce.

I select a teacher on the recommendation of a friend and arrive at an apartment in downtown Palermo that private tango teacher Nora Schvartz has converted to a dedicated dance studio. She tells me I must take a series of three lessons but if I do not like her teaching style after the first lesson there is no obligation to take more. The reason? Tango is a difficult dance to master and requires a number of lessons to notice any real improvement.

Nora, a diminutive lady who speaks English, French and Spanish, watches me dance with eagle eyes. Any delusions I had about my dancing skills are immediately deflated as she starts from the basics, teaching me how to walk. The walk is the most basic element of tango and also the most essential. It looks deceptively simple but many tango dancers will perfect their walk over a lifetime.

Once Nora has corrected a few basic mistakes, a young tango dancing lawyer called Matias, dressed in a tight black t-shirt, arrives – my dance partner. Nora has paired him up with me as it is easier to practice with a dancer who is a similar height. I also find out that Nora specially selects the dance partners using only the top young dancers in Buenos Aires. Matias, for example, was a recent top ten finalist in El Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango Salon – an important tango competition in Argentina.

The lesson lasts two hours making it good value for money as Nora charges at the cheaper end of the private lesson scale. She does not let much go unnoticed, correcting virtually every part of my body. By the end I am somewhat overwhelmed by all the things I have to work on.

But it is during the night at various milongas that I can really practice what I have learned. Many include a lesson before the social dancing begins. They start after 11pm and can go until 6am. For added inspiration most include a performance by expert tango dancers. Milongas can vary markedly depending on the milonga and even the night of the week. Once again, ask around to find the milongas that will suit you best and visit a variety of them to get a feel for what is on offer. Once you find a milonga you like, look at who has organised it and go to other milongas they are offering.

A trip to Buenos Aires is vital for anyone wanting to really improve their tango. The variety of dancers to partner with, friends you make, milongas, teachers and classes can often make it difficult to leave. But then again there is always the next visit to look forward to…

MILONGAS
Milongas are held at many venues around the city. Expect to pay around 20 pesos entry fee. Some of these venues do not hold milongas every night so it is advisable to check before you arrive as schedules can change.

Parakultural Canning. Location: Scalabrini Ortiz 1331. A popular milonga with both locals and tourists. Many dancers to watch and often a demonstration by professional dancers as well.

Club Villa Malcolm. Location: Cordoba 5064. A relaxed milonga in a hall combined with a restaurant/pub. A tango lesson is often held first and included in the entry price if you want to have a go.

El Beso. Location: 416 Riobamba. Depending on the night you go this is a more traditional milonga. Expect to see much cabeceo.

La Viruta. Location: Armenia 1336. A relaxed fun venue that is a true bargain as you get as many dance classes that are being held that night with your entry fee including rock n roll, salsa and tango.

Sueno Porteno. Location: San Juan 3330. Good for those that don’t want to stay out late as this milonga starts at 7pm.

Buenos Aires Club. Location: Peru 571. Held on Monday and Wednesday nights this milonga is good as it features a great live orchestra called El Afronte www.elafronte.com.ar

 For more milonga information www.buenosairesmilongas.com

WHEN LOOKING FOR PRIVATE LESSONS CONSIDER:

How long is the lesson? Lessons can range from one hour to two hours for the same price.

Is a dance partner supplied? Some teachers expect you to bring your own partner.

How experienced is the partner you will be dancing with? Some lessons employ beginner to intermediate dancers but this makes it harder for you to learn.
 
For more information: www.noraschvartz.com.ar

Very top photo: © Elultimode… | Dreamstime.com

Posted in Feature Articles3 Comments

A Symphony of Body Parts

A Symphony of Body Parts

Garry Stewart breaks it down for ADT’s latest expression.

By Paul Ransom.

Be yourself. It’s a simple enough idea … isn’t it?

When Australian Dance Theatre debut their latest work at the upcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts the notion of ‘being yourself’ will be seriously deconstructed. Inspired by Eastern ideas about selfhood, ADT’s artistic director Garry Stewart has created a choreographic meditation on the theme of ‘I’.

Be Your Self has evolved into a dazzlingly surreal and architectural dance work.

“If we look into our interior….we can’t find anything other than our perceptions,” Garry Stewart begins. “There isn’t a thing in and of itself that we can identify as I or self. We are more like an array of perceptions that our conscious mind then constructs into a linear narrative of self … So I started the work off with the question: is the self the body?”

Garry Stewart, Artistic Director ADTIt’s an appropriate starting point for someone with a two decade plus track record of creating truly cutting edge contemporary dance. Indeed, Stewart’s works have been seen around the globe, with his Millennium Eve piece Housedance (performed on the outside of the Sydney Opera House) netting an estimated TV audience of two billion. What’s more, since taking over the stewardship of the internationally renowned, Adelaide based ADT in 1999 he has created critically adored works like Birdbrain and HELD.

Glittering CV notwithstanding, Stewart is not afraid to dive into the esoteric depths with Be Your Self. “I wanted to try and collapse the schism between mind and body because still in the twenty first century we think that mind, body and spirit are separate, whereas in fact neuro-biology is collapsing that separation and showing that what we consider our mind to be is very much inherent in what our body is.”

“We don’t isolate senses. We don’t just see or hear – but all of those things act in concert. It’s a total experience. And with the emotions; they don’t just happen in the mind, they happen in the body. Could you imagine fear without the dry mouth or the dilation of the pupils?”

What you sense here is an artist very much engaged with his topic and taking his work beyond mere prettiness. “How much of a construct is the self and how illusory is the self?” he continues with passion.

But of course, we are still talking art here, not just indulgent philosophising. “We are an animal of representation,” he adds. “The most distinguishing feature of being human is our ability to transform reality into a multiple series of representations. And this is never more apparent than when we make art.”

Choreographically, the challenge for Garry Stewart has been to illustrate such high end abstractions with movement. In doing so he talks about deconstructing the human body, as both physical form and cultural construct.

To this end he has collaborated with award winning New York architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R). “They created a set design that allows us to show individual body parts and occlude and disguise others. So, it’s kinda like a symphony of body parts.”Be Your Self ADT

In fact, it’s fair to suggest that Be Your Self transcends the dance. “It’s too limiting to describe it as a dance work. It’s more an artistic expression about the human body. You would call it dance – but somehow that word seems too restrictive.”

The concept is daring and, you might think, a little too way out for most audiences. However, for all of Garry Stewart’s attention to research and conceptualisation the idea of the audience is never far away.

“The pleasure of a visual image grants an audience access to an idea,” he states. “It’s a kind of strategy. I mean, you can make something that’s like an essay on stage but it could bore everyone to tears. I think when you’re creating art you are working in an aesthetic dimension and you have to acknowledge that, otherwise you might as well just get them to read the essay and not bother coming to the theatre.”

As he says, he creates his works “for an audience” and not just “as something for my own pleasure.” The challenge, he says, is in “finding the balance between being translatable and accessible but also mysterious; although not to point of being dismissed as obtuse.”

And here we drift onto the vexed notion of beauty, (my word choice). I can sense his discomfort as we talk about it until he comes out and declares, “It’s kinda hard for me to hear the word beauty; especially with dance, because the conventional ideas about beauty have really held dance back. It’s kinda like a dictatorship in dance.”

Perhaps there in a nutshell is the nub of where Stewart will take both the company and his audiences with Be Your Self – beyond the obvious and into profoundly stimulating, creative territory.

Win a Double Pass to the Opening Night of Be Your Self !
One lucky winner will also get the chance to Meet and Greet Garry after the show!  To enter click here

Be Your Self – Australian Dance Theatre
Date: February 20th, 23rd-28th
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Contact: BASS 131 246 www.adt.org.au
Please note: This show has strobe effect lighting and is for a mature audience

Posted in Interviews0 Comments

Full Time Graduation Performances 2009 – Sydney

Full Time Graduation Performances 2009 – Sydney

A look at four of Sydney’s top Full Time Dance Schools.

By Dolce Fisher.

Ev & Bow

Ev and Bow’s I Want it All, was held at NIDA’s Parade Theatre which is a perfect sized theatre for a graduation performance. The night opened with a huge song and dance number to the show’s title ‘I Want it All’. The stage was packed with incredible dancers.

Two of the best items were both choreographed by the studio directors. Sarah Boulter’s Paint It Black and Lisa Bowmer’s Special Ones were both outstanding. There was a very creative vocal number called Foreign Land that featured a solo vocal performance while a few dancers performed isolated by spotlights. There was some powerful and insane movement!

Ev & Bow won the open jazz section at the McDonald’s Performing Arts Challenge with Enough is Enough which they showcased again at this performance. The item demanded technical precision and stamina and the choreography was even tighter than when I saw it at the Challenge.

Every item paraded the strong technical training that the students had received throughout the year. The drama performances were also very entertaining, although the vocal numbers could have been a little stronger for the level of training.

Overall the standard has improved from last year. As one of the newest full time courses, only in its second year, Ev & Bow is going places.  Sarah Boulter and Lisa Bowmer are nurturing some amazing artists and there seems to be a wonderful rapport between the directors and the students.

UDCUrban Dance Centre

UDC’s Urban Jam 2009 at Carraigeworks showcased a mix of their full time dancers, performance groups and casual class students. This made it a little hard to get a feel for the full time department of the school, but the additional performances created a jam-packed evening bursting with variety.

I enjoyed a wonderful performance from young students Alysha Percy and Ryan Buenaventura, who are part of a youth performance group.  A notable item called Chicago by Rosa Agius had a great concept with a hip hop flair added to a few famous tracks from the musical and Tiana Joubert’s High School Musical piece stood out it as it had a really strong theme. The choreography had some clever transitions and humour.

Costuming, in general, seemed a little casual but the best looking item was the opener – Fun House, choreographed by UDC’s Artistic Director Juliette Verne. It was fun, entertaining and dynamic. Juliette Verne creates some amazing choreography.

Unfortunately, the dancers got a little lost on the huge stage at Carriageworks. Although Carriageworks is a great theatre it made it hard for the work to connect with the audience as the space was just so sparse. On a smaller stage the dancers would have looked stronger.

The students are very proficient at hip hop, which is what UDC is known for. A number of the dancers needed a little more core strength and in the more technical disciplines the use of feet and elevation was a little lacking for a few. There were, however, several stand out dancers who are leaving the full time course in good stead. The standard has improved and UDC is definitely going from strength to strength.

Although the show was very long, it was enjoyable and showcased the many facets of Urban Dance Centre well.

ED5 International

SWAP Photography

Also held at NIDA’s Parade Theatre, ED5’s Full Time Performance was very entertaining and professional. The evening had one slick number after the other, making it hard to pick stand outs. The solo vocal numbers were hilariously entertaining and the group vocal numbers were all really well coached with excellent harmonisation and blending. A ‘FaceBook’ song was very funny and a piece called ‘All the Good Men are Gay’ was hysterical, with all the female singers dressed in wedding gowns.

All the dance numbers were really polished and energetic with a high level of performance. Every item was appropriately dressed for the style, theme and era which made the students look very professional.

The evening showed that the ED5 full time students have been exposed to a wide variety of disciplines and have grasped all of them, with Jazz, Hip Hop and Musical Theatre high on the agenda. Many schools attempt to train triple threats but sadly miss the mark. This is not the case at ED5.

There were many talented performers, so much so that a few of them have already been employed in the industry. Emily Cascarino was absent from the graduation performance as she has been cast in Mamma Mia and talented all rounder Emma Watkins recently won the Sydney Opera House dance competition called My Mutation. There were also several male students, all with great potential, which is really exciting.

ED5 is proving to be one of Sydney’s leading full time dance studios.

Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching AcademyTanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy

Students from Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy took part in the Sydney City Youth Ballet’s performance of Nutcracker in early December. Tanya Pearson is the founder and artistic director of the Sydney City Youth Ballet which started in 1971.

Held at the Glen Street Theatre, the show was delightful, demonstrating to us that Ms Pearson has created a wonderful opportunity for young dancers to gain performance experience in a professional environment. It was a great family spectacle and possibly the first ballet experience for many youngsters in the audience.

The dancers gave us a grand show with impressive technique and performance level. There were countless talented dancers in the cast, particularly Evan Loudon and Annabelle Miranda.  Shayarne Matheson also gave quite a mature performance. The students were joined by guest artists Yosvani Ramos and Kristy Corea from the Australian Ballet at special performances, which must have been such a thrill for them.

Although the Glen Street Theatre is a wonderful venue, unfortunately the stage was a little small for this performance. It would have been nice to see the dancers really travel around the stage. However, Nutcraker was a magical Christmas treat. It showcased the prowess of Tanya Pearson’s many talented full time dance students who have exciting futures ahead.

 

Very top photo: ED5 International

Posted in International Reviews1 Comment