Special Weekend Wrap-Up: Dancing, Dining…and Snow?

What an incredible weekend! The snow Saturday had some people staying home instead of venturing to the Touhill, but those that did attend enjoyed an exciting evening. The performances that took place were world class and the house rose to their feet as every number came to an end.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Friday and Saturday performances were perfect! They were also fitting for our Ballet Ball Gala which took place Saturday evening. We’ve spent weeks preparing for this special occasion, amid the possibility of inclement weather. Friday evening had no hiccups and over 800 people came out to enjoy and applaud an outstanding performance. But the threat of a possible snow storm loomed over us, and, boy, did we get it.

All day Saturday we debated what would we would do. Our policy is not to cancel unless the roads are legally closed. The caterers were setting up, the tables were being placed, the dancers in place and it was decided–the show must go on.

Midday more bad news came our way. Raymond Parks, director of Central Visual & Performing Arts High School’s Dance Department, had been rushed to the hospital with a mild stroke. The CVPA students were to perform at our Ballet Ball a new work choreographed especially for them, during the Tango Buenos Aires residency, and he was bringing the 8 students to and from the Touhill. With the students without transportation, Janet Brown got on her horn and soon she had managed to find two drivers that would bring the kids and take them back. By 6 PM, they had arrived and we had the privilege to watch as their eyes grew with awe and excitement. Seeing their entire demeanor change when they donned their costumes and then become awestruck when watching the dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet get ready. It was truly a fantastic moment. But what was even more fascinating is what took place moments before they were to take the stage.

It has become a theatre tradition for many, if not all, dance companies that visit to gather center stage prior to the start of the show. They encourage one another, give themselves extra power and strengthen their bond for the show to come. As I was delivering opening remarks out front, I was unable to see what took place behind-the-scenes. Kimberly Klearman, our stage manager and lighting designer for the CVPA student’s performance, shared with me how special and emotional the moment had been. The dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet had invited the young performers to join their inner circle. The dancers shared inspiration and encouragement and it rubbed off. Their performance was out of this world! Thank you dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet!

Of course the snow had created havoc. Of the over 1,000 people expected, we had perhaps 600 brave souls that were not going to miss this for the world. And lucky for them, they did not. During Saturday’s show we honored two remarkable women who have made an imprint in St. Louis as Executive Directors of two major arts funding organizations, Jill McGuire with Regional Arts Commission and Beverly Strohmeyer with Missouri Arts Council. They were our 2015 Swan Award honorees.

At the Gala dinner everyone sat down overseeing an incredible Currier and Ives picture like setting as the fresh snow covered the hills that surround the lobby. The large windows allowed everyone to capture the light and feeling of an evening shrouded in elegance and beauty. We purposely shortened the post-performance festivities so as to get everyone out and home safely. Those that came, gave generously and the program is to continue for many more years.

One more touching thing that came out of the snowstorm on the night of the Ballet Ball is that over 50 dinners remained unserved. Instead of trashed, they were taken to an organization that serves the homeless, Feed the People.  As life would have it, a few days ago one of the people living in Tent City, wanting to warm up, started a fire and accidently ignited his tent. He did not survive. He was known as “Hardware” and his memorial just happened to be held the day our dinners arrived. They were served to those who needed them most. So, always some good comes out of something that goes wrong.

Again, I can’t thank you all enough. We look ahead to Compagnie Käfig and Spring to Dance to wrap up this incredible season and then launch head-on to our 50th Anniversary celebration!

What a life!!!!

Let’s Tango!

Tango Buenos Aires arrived in town like a breath of fresh and warm air! Excited audiences filled the Touhill and swayed to the marvelous music of 5 incredible musicians and were fascinated by the intricacies of tango. The 10 performers made it to look so effortless and sensual. The idea of having a narrative woven through the action was a great one.

The men took the audience to new heights with their Malambo. Their use of the Boldeadoras had everyone on their feet. A marvelous number that was followed by some incredible duets that conceived actions and reactions unfamiliar with our concept of the tango.

The Saturday Matinee was followed by a Milonga, a free for all with tango in the center of it all. Classes were taught by the choreographer and one of the leading ladies from the show. A few steps were enough to confuse me. But close to 300 people stayed to watch and dance and by 6 PM the Touhill had to ask most of them to leave. Otherwise, they would still be dancing!

For Dance St. Louis what was most special about the event was seeing so many of the students that have been partaking in our Educational Outreach taught by Diego Blanco and Ana Padron. For weeks, they have been learning how to tango and the history of Argentina. They all took to the floor with flare and style!

It was fun had by all.

New York, New York

Every year, when the cold consumes NYC, a convention of artists, presenters and some funders takes place in Manhattan. APAP. It is an incredible ordeal that makes me feel thankful that my passion and only purpose for being there is to see as much dance as possible.

Each year one goes with the expectations of seeing new things. Exciting new things and much too often disappointment ensues. But there are those incredible moments that brighten the days and warm the spirit that make it all worthwhile.

I was there for three and a half days and was running around all over town. Mostly sat at City Center’s Studio 4 but did venture downtown to see Susan Marshal, an artist I admire greatly, but who seems to be at place in her development that does not suit our needs. Because of tight schedules or wrong addresses, my wanting to experience Kyle Abrahams was shot down. I still managed to see some great stuff.

Aszure Barton is a remarkable artist. With passion, invention and creativity second to none. Camille Brown puts forth a dynamic and enthralling set of images that transcend the vocabulary. Bill T Jones, with his majestic and genius like control of the environment, compels you to sit and pay attention to a marvelous creation.

However, some other major artists disappointed me greatly. Others I did not get a chance to see. I saw many of the smaller groups and some new discoveries were absolutely terrible. Some of my older friends offered their established quality of creativity and some surprised us like Ballet X, Philadanco and a new group comprised of young men from Algeria living in France that have sprung out of hip hop. Similar to our upcoming Compagnie Käfig that will showcase these marvelous men that have come out from the Brazilian Favelas.

Overall, cold aside, it was fun. I had a reintroduction to the stage when Rosie Herrera, a former student of mine at New World School of the Arts, asked me to assist her in a new project she was developing and needed someone who could translate to English. It was a marvelous encounter. A fun moment. I am still smiling about it and those in attendance seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

And now, let’s focus on the Heat and Passion of Tango Buenos Aires.

See you at the Touhill on January 30 & 31.

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.