A Brazilian Tsunami hit St. Louis! What a weekend!

Our 2014-15 season is coming to an end. Though our thoughts were on the future, our expectations for Compagnie Käfig were flying high and they were rewarded! The cast made it to St. Louis and they had those in attendance completely fall in love with them. Not only was their physicality something to admire, but their theatrical timing was impeccable and their personal charm contagious. The two works Correria and Agwa flowed with incredible facility. Each of them receiving standing ovations from our audience.

Saturday evening concluded with a Brazilian Carnival style festivity where our audience, free of charge, was invited to dance amongst the dancers themselves and some of our local performers! For almost two hours everyone gyrated to sambas, zumbas, capoeiras and hip-hop tunes. The majority of us making fools of ourselves. What was amazing to see was how the dancing and the music connected everyone. Soon the locals and the Käfig dancers were exchanging dance moves on the marble floor of the lobby. Without any malice, one trying to outdo the other and then, out of nowhere, like a secret language known by dancers all over the world, they would start dancing the same steps to the tune that was being played. It makes me really wonder why on earth people don’t get along in the world. For these two hours — love and caring reigned supreme! It’s with no greater joy than to know and see what Dance St. Louis brought to the Touhill.

My only regret was that our audience was not any larger. I’m sorry that many of our African American audience members that frequent the shows of Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Complexions and others, couldn’t join us for Käfig! They would have loved it, as everyone there did! Well, we can hope that they and those who attended will be joining us during 2015-16. Many, many things to enjoy.

March Madness

Every year I try to travel and see as much dance as I can. I’m lucky to do this a few times a year, but I never have enough time to see it all. Of course, Flor, my wife, has begun wondering if we will ever see anything other than dance. I have to say no sometime soon.

Last week, we survived the rotten weather in both New York City and Chicago but were able to get our fill of dance. As usual, some works were brilliant and others left a lot to be desired. But what I’ve noticed that has really developed over the past 15 years is the caliber of the dancing. You seldom see bad dancing anymore at a professional level. When you do see that standards are not met and the works are not of the highest caliber, your patience is exhausted. That was not the case last week.

I was at David Koch Theatre in New York watching two pieces by Paul Taylor’s American Dance Company. He shared the program with the Jose Limon Dance Company who performed Doris Humphrey’s “Passacaglia” and then with Shen Wei Dance Arts who danced his “Rites of Spring”. Both works opened the program and certainly they were seen by audience members that had never seen them before and perhaps would never have. Whether they would go see them now is still in the air. It would be nice if they did. The Limon Company danced well. Perhaps, unfairly on my part since I was a dancer with the company in the 60’s, I felt the performance devoid of any passion. Shen Wei’s work called for concentration and commitment, which he got, but I felt the show got lost on the large stage.

Paul Taylor’s company danced a series of different works which shows us the immense talent of Paul and the crazy way his brain works. “Beloved Renegade” premiered in St. Louis and was beautifully performed once again here. The live chorus and orchestra added a subliminal touch. “Big Bertha” a sarcastic, somewhat grotesque work which audiences not always appreciate was, for me, a great addition and followed by the frolicking nonsense of “Troilus and Cressida” the inclusion made sense. The second night the revival of “Diggity” brought more of Paul’s humor and appeal to the stage and the closer “Promethean Fire” showed us of what a great master he is. An incredible work of invention, beauty and power. One not to be missed! Those of you coming to our 50th season next year will not miss it, they will perform it both nights in October of 2015.

Then it was early call and flight to Chicago, through some weather delays we were able to make it to a showing of a commissioned work from Thom Dancy. A young choreographer and performer with The Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis who was staging the work with DanceWorks Chicago. He has come up with a whimsical duet that shows a new facet of his talent. DanceWorks Chicago is an experimental company of only six dancers so three casts performed it and it was revelatory to see how each one brought a different quality to the work.

Later that evening, we attend Giordano Dance Company. A Chicago fixture based on Jazz Dancing. Here the performers were completely devoted to the material provided for them. Though disappointed on the work of Mia Michaels and not very kin on a new work commissioned for them dealing with the problem of living with Hepatitis C, they got down to dancing what is best associated with them. I loved Autumn Eckman’s duet because it was out of their comfort zone and allowed them to truly shine. An evening filled with beautiful dancing and beautiful people.

Our next stop was River North Chicago Dance Company at the Auditorium. Here again, the new acquisition of Ivan Perez left me cold. Inventive, no doubt, marvelous material but it went nowhere for me. The opening, an exquisite sculptural work for only male dancers by Frank Chavez, started the evening very well. The highlight came from a new choreography by one of the dancers, Hanna Brictson. I loved it. She showed her dancers, all women, in the most dynamic way and it was obvious they wanted to do well for her. The other world premiere was by Adam Baruch, again inventive, again creative and once more, as it happens to me with many new works, I left with an ambiguous feeling as to where all of this was going. The evening closed with Frank Chavez’ popular Habanera, the music of Cuba and we all left with a smile.

We made our final hellos and goodbyes amidst the cold wind blowing throughout the streets.

Arrived home to St. Louis on Sunday. Glad to be back.

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.