Dance Theatre of Harlem

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Speaking of Dance with Virginia Johnson

A weekend of high expectations and potential grand jury announcement tension came to an end with resounding success. Nothing could have been timed better to heal the wounds that are hurting St. Louis than to have Dance Theatre of Harlem burst onto the Touhill stage and amaze the over 3,000 people that saw them.

A company that has celebrated 45 glorious years since inception and recently came back after an 8-year hiatus has been reborn and like a Phoenix, is flying high. I am glad that I waited a couple of years to bring them to St. Louis as they have matured beautifully and today can be considered, once again, a national treasure.

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Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven

Each of their works highlighted a different quality of their dancing to the audience. From the neo-classical mixture of New Bach and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to the poignant beauty of Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven and the energetic and demanding pace of Darrel Moultrie’s Vessels, the audience was taken for a ride.

Founding member and Artistic Director Virginia Johnson and her staff must be commended for the job they have done and the dancers for their talent, qualities and marvelous control of their craft.

We certainly hope that they will return sooner than later. It was a joy and one that we hope could be felt beyond the walls of the Touhill, so it could reach those in pain for the happenings in our city. How glorious would it have been for all to see how diverse Dance Theatre of Harlem truly is; a picture of what we hope America can be.

New Dance Horizons III Post-Show

It is almost impossible to express the feeling one gets after the final applause of New Dance Horizons has died out. The opportunity to see so many of the local artists, that we have gotten to know, grow beyond our wildest expectations and deliver performances that would be received with ovations anywhere in the world is a privilege. The idea to push the limit while inviting the local companies to join us and move forward is taking root and for it we are all better off.

An evening of diverse choreography, of diverse styles, and of diverse sophistications made for 2 hours of dancing bliss. And those who missed it, shame on them.

IMG_5772Roni Koresh pushed buttons, in more ways than one, working with MADCO. Points of Contact was a work of incredible energy, challenging the norm for MADCO and making them rise to the top as they discovered a different commitment to creation. It was a powerful opening that had people wondering how it would be topped.

 

 

IMG_6070The Big Muddy Dance Company was paired with Kate Skarpetowska to bring to life a work that I felt completely taken by. Inspired by the book “Awakening,” A Mariner brought to life, in a most sophisticate and poignant way, the experience of those mired in a state of mental limbo, brought to life for a few moments by a drug. It explored the pathos of feeling what it would be like to have experienced the moment and then be asked to revert back to a state of inertia. It was truly poignant and great compliment to Kate’s work.

 

IMG_6245Saint Louis Ballet brought to life Brian Enos’ work Bloom. This work surprised us all as it created magical moments that challenged not only the dancers but the audience as well. It took us on a journey that we were not sure where it would lead, but that once we arrived we could not help but scream for joy. I wish to thank our three choreographers, all of the dancers and the three companies for “making my day” and that of 1000’s of viewers.

 

*photos from New Dance Horizons III dress rehearsal taken by Steve Truesdell.

New Dance Horizons III

After having spent a summer vacation for the ages, as I think I said before, the excitement of New Dance Horizons III rapidly took over my office, our staff, and our spirits.

choreographers4BlogWith choreographers like Brian Enos, Kate Skarpetowska and Roni Koresh walking the streets of St. Louis and creating on the gifted performers of Saint Louis Ballet, The Big Muddy Dance Company and MADCO, Dance St. Louis’ purpose seems to be fulfilled at a higher level.

Nothing is more pleasing than to see the agonizing faces of dancers trying mightily to master new choreography, feeling perhaps their inability to it justice (It is a trait of dancers, we always feel that we are ill-equipped) and then magic happens. A smile crosses their faces, the sweat is accomplishment, the aches and pains become a welcomed reminder of an exquisite process and, before you know, the un-known is about to be unveiled.

All three companies will meet at the Touhill to make sure the lighting is right, the costumes are right, their timing is correct, and their performances are up to the standards of the choreographers. You, the audience, will begin to take your seats and the reason for being there will happen as the curtain rises to the magic that is dance and to the beautiful unknown that is the creation of new works.

I am truly excited and I hope you are too, do join us.

New Dance Horizons III 
Touhill Performing Arts Center
October 10 & 11     2014
All tickets just $30!
Click here for tickets or call 314.534.6622

My Summer Vacation

Usually at this time I would report on some exciting dance event that I had seen somewhere in the world. Usually I go to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and am excited about a new artist they showcased, but that is not the case this year.

After the last curtain call for SPRING TO DANCE® 2014 had finished and the last applause died out, I prepared for our final board meeting and looked at making sure our finances were in order for the summer. After that I began to concentrate on an extended vacation that my entire body and soul needed. In over 50 years of dealing with various aspects of the dance world, this was the first time I was going to shut myself out and work on re-energizing for the next 50 years.

The success of 2014 had been obvious and the excitement for what the upcoming season would bring was exhilarating. So I closed my house, had some dear students of mine at Webster look after it and headed to Mexico, Oaxaca to be precise, to be with my wife, her daughter and her family to enjoy the beauty of its people, the magic of the landscapes and the history of the surroundings. It was great! I tried some writing that still leaves a great deal to be desired and managed to establish a pet like relationship with “Salma Hayak,” a chicken that two years ago landed on our backyard in Suchilquitongo, where Flor’s parents have a home, and adopted it as mine. We had great conversation and became close friends until she decided that the best place to lay eggs was in my little office and especially behind the computer. It was fun for a while, but her constant cackling while finding the right position started to get on everyone’s nerves.

When I said I saw no dance, that was not entirely true. La Guelagetza, an incredible feast that happens in Oaxaca each July/August. People come from all regions of the state to show their dresses, dances, and products. It is incredible and the joy they possessed as they danced, sang and played instruments through the “andador” was awe inspiring. But…

All things come to an end and after the four weeks were over I was driven early in the morning to catch a flight back to St. Louis and was able to spend a week in the office before I headed elsewhere.

With all in order at work, we packed again, this time for winter, and headed to Chile. There, my brother had prepared a true love fest as the entire family, with the sad exception of my daughter and her family, got together to baptize a small sail boat he had built in the “chilote” style of the southern islands of Chile. It is a beautiful boat and he gave it my mother’s name “Lola.” For three days by the lake we sang, we talked and we ate and ate and ate all day long. My nieces’ husbands are great cooks so from ceviches, to incredible meats, to paellas, to special Chilean corn dishes, we kept on eating. Family soccer games broke out and the close to 10 grandchildren my brother has brought shrieking laughter and joy to all.

When that was done, we returned to Santiago and were supposed to head up the mountains for two days of skiing. Fortunately, reason prevailed and we took a one day sabbatical while enjoying the streets of Santiago and cursing the incredible traffic jams, that cars on loans that will be hard to pay, fill the streets. But on the following days we ventured up with Sara, trying for the first time to master the slopes. Thank heaven for that so we could take it easy and not pretend to be younger than our actual age.

We also visited the Ballet Nacional Chileno’s office, a company my father had created. They have a new director and it is much smaller than before. A few “old” faces where there to say hello and made me feel welcome. But, minutes later, down in the streets we were, too much to see and too much to shop for.

As if all of this was not enough we headed to the shore with some dear friends of ours Pedro and Daniela whose company we thoroughly enjoy. She is a former dancer classmate of mine and has always been involved in the arts and so has he. He now has a program that brings to life Pablo Neruda’s writings. If all goes well we shall have them be part of SPRING TO DANCE® one of these years, as she interprets those poems beautifully in movement. We had glorious food at quaint rocky resorts, where fishermen bring their fresh catch. A couple of hours at Neruda’ s home in Isla Negra and two days were gone. So we hopped in the car and went to Valparaiso, an incredibly beautiful port, and Vina, its sister resort. We were just passing by as we headed to a place my nieces have further north. There, we gathered most of the clan again, walked the rocky and sandy beaches, told tales until late at night as new dishes were being cooked by the husbands of Francisca and Ale. A final lunch at a restaurant by the beach and off we were to face the traffic to Santiago. It was a long holiday weekend so we expected the worse, but it was not too bad.

The following day, a lunch with “locos,” a Chilean seafood delicacy was offered by my brother’s wife in honor of Flor’s birthday. And after a short nap we were headed back to the airport with memories to last a lifetime and renewed energy to face the excitement that is Dance St. Louis.

Needless to say, all this was tempered gravely by the news of events in Ferguson that had everyone in Chile worried. We could not quite judge the magnitude of the events until we landed here. Now our job is to find the healing process through the only thing we know, dance. And realizing we are one of the most integrated art forms, we might in partnership with all the local dance companies, help in the process.

Next one will be about dance, so I hope not to have bored you with my overindulgence in the beauty that my life in general has offered me and is offering me.

2013-2014 is coming to an end…

2013-2014 is coming to an end and the applause our artists were showered with during the year is now a warm memory from a successful artistic year. We are making sure all dollars and cents have been allocated properly and that the future looks even brighter.

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Oklahoma City Ballet

The 7th Annual Emerson SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL once again captured the audience’s imagination and the companies appearing seemed to have sensed the love St. Louis has for the event and their performances were magnificent. We discovered new friends and marveled at their creativity and now we are currently in the process of accepting applications for next year’s event which will surely continue creating a bond between the artist and the audience member.

New Dance Horizons II dancers

New Dance Horizons II dancers

Throughout the year a variety of companies and styles were presented. New Dance Horizons and its new creations on our own local companies gave everyone an appreciation for the unexpected and saw the incredible improvement our local dance companies are showing. Shanghai Ballet was a delight, not only in that many of their administrative members were former dancers that I had the pleasure working with in 1986, but their new generation showed a command of technique and style that excited all. Ballet Memphis, an audience favorite in our past Spring to Dance Festivals, brought their “Wizard of Oz,” a charming production done in most simple terms that appealed to young and all. It was nice to see Steven McMahon’s work and it was a great prelude to the marvelous work of his that they brought to our SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL. DIAVOLO captured the imagination of a large, excitable audience that got everything they asked for and Alvin Ailey, under new direction, showed some marvelous dancing and the paths they are searching for. What was disappointing throughout was that the number of attendees we expected were smaller than hoped for. Even Ailey, a sure fire thing, did not meet expectations. Let us hope it is simply a glitch in time and space.

Now we embark on 14-15. There will be new choreographers at New Dance Horizons III to amaze us (Roni Koresh, Kate Skarpetowska, Brian Enos). Dance Theatre of Harlem returns after an almost 20 year absence. Tango Buenos Aires, who some 8 years ago rocked our audience, is back. Aspen Santa Fe with its beauty and sophistication has been clamored to return by our audiences. Compagnie Käfig, a company out of France with dynamic dancers from Brazil, will enlighten us to the theatrical possibilities of Hip Hop. And we will finish our season once again with the 8th Annual Emerson SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL, but with some new twists to wet everyone’s appetites.

So, with work behind, work ahead and some fascinating projects developing in my mind while I search for the funds to make them reality, I embark on a much need R&R. 52 years non-stop involvement in professional dance takes it toll and when you see yourself talking and arguing with yourself it is time to take a step back and recharge the batteries. So, Flor and I will spend time in Mexico assisting her family and looking at our second home and then we shall travel to Chile to be with my brother and family while taking care of the memories our parents left us with.

Michael’s Travels

Michael’s travels, a bit like Gulliver’s travels, have taken me through highways and airports in search of the dance we cherish.

A few weeks ago I drove to Chicago to view an exciting performance of three major works from my favorite living choreographer, Jiri Kylian, danced by Hubbard Street. It was an exciting evening of fabulous dance showcasing three different periods of the artist’s creative life. One could settle for one or the other and be marveled that it came from the same individual. It is nice to see our choreographers evolve, to see the growth at Hubbard, and to know how our audiences have clamored for them. I am hoping to have them be part of our 50th anniversary season.

I was also fortunate enough to catch a performance of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre from Taiwan, a company that captures images that haunt the soul and mind. They have been on my radar for years and somehow our paths have never crossed. The performance was a major theatrical achievement that required incredible concentration and commitment from the dancers as well as the audience, who, once the piece concluded left the theatre feeling special.

Back in St. Louis I saw the birth of Dawn Karlovsky’s new company, a valiant effort that needs to be supported and encouraged as she is a gifted performer with creative ideas. As a young enterprise it gave us good first steps and I look forward to seeing how she is able to convey her own dancing qualities and vision to her dancers to build a solid company.

Rushing back and forth, I packed again and flew to Miami where I represented Webster University in a recruiting effort but also searched for companies of the region to come to Dance St. Louis’ SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL. It was an exhausting weekend as the festival had over 1,200 high school students from all over the country participating and thirsting for knowledge. I was honored to be asked to give a lecture, with my friend and colleague Daniel Lewis, on the legacy of Martha Hill, founder and developer of the Juilliard School of Music Dance Department and teach two ballet master classes. I was thrilled with the process and delighted to perhaps have given something to the students who amazed everyone with their talent. I am glad I am not a dancer today. Wow, such talent. I was also able to see two interesting groups that will surely be presented to you before too long, Dance Now Miami and Ballet Flamenco La Rosa. Yet the highlight of the performance was the dancing of two former students of New World School of the Arts and present members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Masha Dashkina Maddux and Lloyd Knight. Those of you who attended the Graham company’s performance in St. Louis saw them dance. They have matured to become truly magnificent artists.

So, the quest and search for dance continues. As I discover and am thrilled, I plan to bring them to you. Life is good.

Chicago Sights & Diavolo This Weekend

I just returned from 48 hours in Chicago immersed in dance. It was nice to escape St. Louis and surround myself with individuals that do what we do to share ideas, compare notes and view work with different eyes.

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Compagnie Käfig in “AGWA”

Compagnie Käfig and The Joffrey Ballet were the two major attractions I saw and each, with a different point of view, was exciting. Compagnie Käfig with its sophisticated Hip Hop based language surprised everyone, especially with their work AGWA. The Joffrey Ballet, following in the tradition of their founders, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino with Ashley Wheater pushing the envelope, presented three varied and exciting works. Each piece had its appeal to me, one more than the others, but what was fascinating to appreciate was the versatility and commitment of the dancers to all these new works. The audience was also taken by it all.

I also saw part of a Master Class by Kyle Abrahams, a distinct new voice in the dance world. He is a charming and talented young man which we hope to bring to St. Louis to create on our companies. I could not stay for the entire thing as I had scheduled myself too tight, but I understand that what I missed was superb.

Conversations with Julie Nakagawa and Andreas Böttcher of DanceWorks Chicago and Liz Silverstein of Siegel Artist Management, made for heated discussions, lots of laughs, and a greater understanding of the art form, reassuring us all that we are in the right place doing the right thing.

So, scarf around my neck, hat on my head, and gloves on my hands, I braved the cold wind of Chicago on Sunday morning. I stood on the platform waiting for the Orange Line to take me to Midway so Southwest Airlines could get me to St. Louis, where the excitement of what is to happen this weekend began to build.

Dance St. Louis, Diavolo, Transit Space, photo by Julie Shelton2DIAVOLO, having just returned from an incredibly successful tour of Australia, is about to burst into town. Their creativity, physicality, and vibrancy will rock us all I can’t wait! Hope you will join us Friday, February 28th and Saturday, March 1st at the Touhill.