Archive | Dance Festivals RSS feed for this section

‘Dance on the Lawn’ – Community Dance Festival Sets Standard

11 Sep
Randy James' "Ten Hairy Legs." Photo: Tony Turner

Randy James’ “Ten Hairy Legs.” Photo: Tony Turner

I had the privilege recently to attend a dance festival a bit different from the norm — not one produced by an established organization, or part of a regional effort, or one of the well known dance festivals found in nearby New York City. This dance festival, billed as “community-based,” took place the first weekend of September in the New York City suburb of Montclair, New Jersey. This “first annual Dance on the Lawn” outdoor dance concert was held in a simple yet perfect setting, the front lawn of the local Episcopal Church.

The key components of the performance space — a festival banner, a marley covered platform stage and a great sound system – were complemented by a backdrop of trees, grass and the beautiful stone church to the rear. Add a warm, sunny day to the mix and the stage was set for a multi-faceted dance program for whomever dropped by to watch, lawn chairs and blankets in tow.

Alvin Ailey scholarship student Christopher Taylor - Photo: Tony Turner

Alvin Ailey scholarship student Christopher Taylor – Photo: Tony Turner

Teachers, students, artists and choreographers participating all generously donated their time, and the program was offered to its audience free of charge, something rare these days. Designed to help support dance and culture and “celebrate the arts in our own communities,” Dance on the Lawn hopes to become an annual event.

A diverse group of artists from New York, statewide from New Jersey, and some of Montclair’s own were among those who performed, including New York’s Seán Curran Company & Brice Mousset’s Oui Danse, and New Jersey’s Maurice Chestnut, Donna Scro’s Freespace Dance, Randy James’ 10 Hairy Legs, Nancy Turano’s New Jersey Dance Theater Ensemble, Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts’ Performance Workshop Ensemble, and Kathy Costa’s DanceWorks & Company. Contemporary dance, contemporary ballet, tap dance and modern dance were represented.

Seán Curran Company. Photo: Adria Rolnik

Seán Curran Company. Photo: Adria Rolnik

I was touched by the sight of a group of children, jumping and dancing, attempting to copy what they saw on stage. Job well done… isn’t that what it’s all about, inspiring and exposing the next generation to dance?

Directed and curated by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater faculty member, dance performer and historian Charmaine Warren, and hosted by Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, former Ailey principal dancer and now head of national outreach for Ailey’s Arts in Education & Community Programs, Dance on the Lawn has been a heartfelt project long in the making.

I sat down with Charmaine to better understand what it takes to produce a community-based dance festival, and how her model can inspire other towns to do the same.

Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

(L-R) Charmaine Warren and Nasha Thomas-Schmitt. Photo: Tony Turner

(L-R) Charmaine Warren and Nasha Thomas-Schmitt. Photo: Tony Turner

What made you decide to produce Dance on the Lawn?

For more than two years I’ve wanted to share my love of dance with fellow Montclair residents so I began planning this event. There are other arts festivals in Montclair, so it just made sense to bring dance home and offer a dance festival too!

What are some of the difficulties faced in curating this project?

Because I’ve performed with some of the artists (I’m a curator and because no matter what, dance is part of my world), curating was not as difficult as it could have been. That said, I reached out some fabulous artists and asked them to perform without pay, and they said yes! The difficulty came when I, as an artist, knew how difficult it was for them to donate their time, so I set out to get financial assistance.

How did you find sponsors?

I am a Montclair resident, so I simply asked some wonderful people I know in the community for assistance. They signed on and donated their services (Toni’s Kitchen, Studio042, Tony Turner Photography and IMANI, a community-based non-profit that offers educational support programs to promote high achievement for all students in the Montclair Public Schools). One company led me to another, and so on. For example, Donna Scro’s Freespace Dance was an original company member of Seán Curran Company.

How can Dance on the Lawn serve as a role model for dance festivals in other communities?

I’ve been a curator for quite some time now – Harlem Stage‘s Dance Series, EMoves and The Wassaic Project Festival – so the curatorial part for me is not new. Being the producer/artistic director, though, is very new. The challenge was bringing all the pieces together and for the most part I was a one-woman-band. I don’t recommend that route, but I will say that having good friends and supporters is a must. Stick with those in the community that know you and trust you. Talk to friends and supporters who you know will be there for you, no matter what!

Brice Mousset's "Oui Danse"

Brice Mousset’s “Oui Danse”

This story first appeared on the Arts & Culture/Dance page of The Huffington Post, on September 10, 2014.

MY FAVORITE “MEN DANCERS” IN NYC – JAN 2013

30 Dec

An outstanding cast of dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars will appear together this January in NYC, in a special production of “The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth.”  Spanning all ages and traditions, this diverse group of performers will join together to dance and share personal stories with the audience, with big names in the dance world participating.

Lar Lubovitch in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Lar Lubovitch in The Men Dancers, Jacob’s Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Former NYC Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard, master choreographer Lar Lubovitch, former NYC Ballet principal Jock Soto,  acclaimed dance figure Gus Solomons Jr.  and Trent Kowalik (one of the original “Billy” performers from the musical Billy Elliot) will be among the cast of 30 — Bessie and TONY Award winners, Ernie Award recipients and dance legends will share the stage in this four-day event.

Last summer, a special all-male version of From the Horse’s Mouth premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in honor of Ted Shawn, the festival’s founder. Inspired by the success of that production (part of the Pillow’s 80th anniversary season), The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth is back!

Following is a conversation with Jamie Cunningham, founder of From the Horse’s Mouth, about this extraordinary production:

Jamie Cunningham in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Jamie Cunningham in The Men Dancers, Jacob’s Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

How did you come up with the idea for Horse’s Mouth?

I have known Tina Croll, co-founder of From the Horse’s Mouth, since 1966, when we were young dancers and choreographers at Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. Fourteen years ago, I attended an Al-Anon meeting where each person spoke for three minutes about a problem they were having and how they were working to resolve it. I kept thinking how this process was “real theater.” Upon leaving the meeting, I happened onto a sign in front of Yoga Institute, reading, “one truth, many paths.” And that’s when then idea for From the Horse’s Mouth came together… to create a piece featuring many dancers and choreographers doing many different things. I immediately phoned Tina and told her it would be interesting to put together a piece where dancers could talk about their lives and their work — whether serious or funny — exploring their own style of dance as well as interacting with other people working in quite different styles, ie. an Indian classical dancer interacting with a Spanish flamenco dancer; a ballet dancer interacting with hip hop.

Do you see a historical value to this personal story telling?

Yes, indeed. When we introduced the production 14 years ago, our friend Sharon Kinney,  a former dancer with Paul Taylor, asked to do a documentary of the piece. Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts  also shot 10-minute interviews with each of our dancers from the original production, which is now part of the Library’s permanent collection.

Why are dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars drawn to perform in this piece?

What has made this piece so successful with dancers and the audience is its diversity and variety — we are all a part of this process of theater and dance… part of a larger, common humanity. It’s a common ground that we all have. From the Horse’s Mouth is like the UN — although it started out with our friends in the modern dance world, it has evolved over 14 years to include all races, sexes and cultures. It reminds the participants that they are not separate — they are all a part of the greater field of theater and dance.

How will the NYC production of The Men Dancers differ from the one presented at the Jacob’s Pillow 80th Anniversary season in July, 2012?

There will be some changes — for example, former NYC Ballet principal dancer Jock Soto will be joining us and dance critic Jack Anderson and his partner George Dorris, together for 46 years, will participate, talking of the changes they’ve seen in the role of male dancers over many years. We are delighted to see the return of former NYC Ballet principal Charles Askegard (now artistic director of Ballet Next) and master choreographer Lar Lubovitch to The Man Dancers for the NY run.

What’s in store for the future?

An all-tap version of Horse’s Mouth is planned by the American Tap Dance Foundation in NYC in April 2013. There will also be a production in Boston to celebrate the beloved teacher, choreographer and dancer Martha A. Gray.  Next fall, Horse’s Mouth will be in San Francisco honoring choreographer and dancer Margie Jenkins. Also on the fire is an all male — and all female — version of Horse’s Mouth for the 2014 World Pride Celebration in Toronto, Canada.

We are also planning a production in 2015 connecting the arts and sports, sponsored by the University of Toronto — we’ve been dying to do a piece with athletes!

About From the Horse’s Mouth

Adria Rolnik is helping promote The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth, Jan. 10-13 at the newly renovated Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), New York, NY 10003. Gala celebration and performance on Jan.10 at 8 p.m, with performances continuing on Jan 11/12 at 8pm and on Jan 13 at 3pm. Visit http://themendancers.brownpapertickets.com/for tickets

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post Dance Page, December 17, 2012.

MODERN DANCE CELEBRATED AT AMERICAN DANCE GUILD FESTIVAL 2012

24 Aug

Dawn Robinson in “Phoenix: The Rising”– Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

Modern dance lovers take heed: There are big doings this September at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in NYC, when the American Dance Guild (ADG) hosts their annual Performance Festival with more than 30 artists/choreographers featured over four nights. Living legends of modern dance Dianne McIntyre and Elaine Summers will be honored with tributes, and works by Molissa Fenley (also performing), Harald Kreutzberg, and performances by John Pennington and Joseph Mills included. Festival dates are Sept. 6-9.

Dianne McIntyre. Photo: Larry Coleman

Ms. McIntyre, a champion of dancing to live jazz music, will be presenting Life’s Force, a signature work of Sounds in Motion, the first company Ms. McIntyre formed in 1972. This time the presentation will feature a reunion of past dancers and musicians, with jazz trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah leading the band along with a cast of 20 dancers who worked with Ms McIntyre both recently and long ago – a celebratory reunion!

Elaine Summers, an innovator since the 1960’s as a choreographer, teacher, filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist, was an original member of the workshop that spawned the Judson Dance Theater. Some know her as the person who filmed Trisha Brown walking on the walls of the Guggenheim.  We’re excited to see Windows in the Kitchen, her 1976 vanguard intermedia work featuring Douglas Dunn performing live with composer/performer Jon Gibson, alongside dancer Matt Turney on film. Ms. Summers work is currently being archived at the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection of the NY Public Library at Lincoln Center.

Elaine Summers. Photo: Jeff Fox

ADG is an organization that has served the dance field for 56 years, and Festival ’12 continues their tradition of bringing together artists from across the nation and internationally. “What makes us distinctive is that we honor the past and promote the future,” says Mary Seidman, Festival co-producer.

ADG promotes the new, and preserves the living history of modern dance as an art form.  That is something special modern dance lovers won’t want to miss!

Adria Rolnik is helping promote ADG Performance Festival 2012, September 6-9 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, 405 West 55th Street at 9th Avenue, NYC. Performances are 8pm Thurs/Fri/Sat, and 7pm on Sun. Visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/253476 for tickets.

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post Dance Page, August 23, 2012.

%d bloggers like this: