Sunday, December 20, 2009


Step Up and MOVE!

(sent to the New York Times) I am writing in response to the article on August 5, 2007, in the Arts and Leisure’s section called “Often on Point But Rarely In Charge”, by Claudia La Rocco. Having worked in the ballet world for nearly four decades as a dancer, choreographer, artistic director, producer, as well as having viewed thousands of performances in dance and theater disciplines, I found the article lacking in many ways.

Female choreographers and directors have always played vital roles in ballet. In fact, many ballet companies were founded by women – American Ballet Theater, Britain’s Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, The Australian Ballet, The National Ballet of Cuba, Ballet de Monterrey, and ballet companies in Atlanta, Pennsylvania, Boston and Houston, as well as many others.

Perhaps an even more relevant topic would have been, what is missing in current artistic leadership and how that impacts the future of ballet as a performing art. I believe the essential ingredients of vision and relevancy, are not always there.

An artist of vision produces a product that is fresh, vital, alive, engaging, provocative, illuminating or disturbing, and most of all ‘memorable’. Two aspects of vision in a ballet organization are its identity (we are a company that produces dance), and its character (defined by the artist). An artistic director should lead a ballet company to discover and nourish its distinction, its flavor, its relevancy. In so many ways distinction is missing today. Dance is about movement, and without vision the field has become mired in sameness - stuck. I believe that this lack of vision is in direct proportion to the loss of audience.

What is absolutely essential is the necessity for education in all areas within the field. Audience development and board education, especially when it comes time to select a director, are key components. The all too frequent challenges of tenuous financial support, mismanagement, and board control only defeat the quality of the product.

My point then, is twofold. The first one is that there are qualified women of vision out there to be considered, if so recognized. This allows more opportunities for identifying leaders with vision. The second point is that if men are at the helm of the current artistic leadership in ballet, then they are also responsible for what is lacking.

What’s my advice? Women step up! And, those at the helm - take your head out of your butt, and move forward!

Vision and Relevancy


In dance, in theater, in the roots of entertainment. The scariest thing is not to see a future. How can one have vision if they are afraid to see? Vision, be it personal or organizational, requires looking. In an arts organization the mission is the identity -- an organization that produces dance; but the character or real vision of that organization is defined by the "artist" -- who with vision, creates a distinct product. This is done by artists employed, programs done, collaborative endeavors sought. Speaking ballet, its is hard to find any distinction today. All companies are doing the same works. All follow the model Robert Joffrey set in motion - eclectic. Communities support the arts in proportion to their readiness. But, whats new? Whats new are works that evoke our time. Vision sees what is not there but the case today is that either those in charge don't have vision, or if they do, that vision is controlled by the limitations of the boards who hire them. Vision is connected to relevancy and relevancy is connected to topic of the human experience in relationship to those social, political or psychological experiences of the current times. With globalization - the unity of all forms has been set in motion. Works of ross-pollination, cross-genre, cross-media, collaborative fusion, blending and merging, are all relevant. Sameness emerge out of differences. Vision is intuitive - look around. Relevancy borrows from the old and blends it with the new or presents the known given in a different setting......Be, Stomp, Blast, De La Guarda, Do Jump, Thwak, Drumstruck, Riverdance, Contact, Movin' Out, Edward Scissorhands, Baz Luhrmann's "La Boheme", Broadway Underground, In the Heights, Spring Awakening, Absinthe.....

Choreographer or Movement Specialist?

What is a choreographer? I have a hard time assigning that word to both George Balanchine, and someone who does moves for a Gap commercial. Just as there are labels being created within the dance world to define genres of (and the various styles within)...."concert dance", "theater dance", "commercial dance" (which I find insulting that the ballet and modern world seem to have shrunk to a combined non-populist form called "concert dance"). I think there should be labels for types of dance creativity:
Why I would feel better if new labels were invented.....because anyone is a choreographer in the true sense of the word as long as the body does steps and those steps move in space. Movement is inherent in everyone. All cultures have their own indigenous dance forms (what is ours....Square Dancing?). And, when we get to professional dance - where people are paid to create in dance -- 1 or 2 minutes of dance movements on TV, does not require the same same talent, skill, dance history, dance education, dance talent or vision as creating a full-length ballet.

The Confluence of Mish-Mash and Realty Dance

So where are we at these days with dance on TV? It is the first time in history that dance has in fact been on mainstream network channels vs. PBS. Once something is in our TV homes it becomes integrated into our society. The fact that my young nephew knows the word "choreography" is a testament to that - not a lot of young men new that word when I was growing up. Our culture is dancing more than ever now, but what does that mean to people going to see dance - will it bring a new audience to the theater - or keep the old one? Now that people can see dance for free on TV, why get dressed up and go see in "live" - save for a show with the stars from TV. My original hope was that this new form of exposure would keep the performing arts alive, but now I am not so sure. After all, the arts are seminal to all forms of entertainment, and they make the commercial arena possible.

Here's a thought - what would SYTYCD be if A Chorus Line was never done? The Broadway classic opened a huge door of insight into the process of a dancer - in all ways. Simply put, it was a show about dancers competing to get a job - to make money. The audience got to experience the same sense of voyeurism as they do in "reality TV" - and hence the long lasting engagement of this hit show.
The story about the competing dancers on SYTYCD is the reason people can get interested in the choreography - plus the fact that it is explained to the audience. You get an insight into the process. In the dance world, we only do this for lecture demonstrations - and there is an arrogance about letting the public know too much. As if our work holds some sacred secret that if disclosed will kill the creative spark. Or possibly, creators don't really know what they are doing. The dance routines on reality TV (for that is what they are, routines from a dance class- not choreography) are spoon-fed to the audience.

To engage the TV audience more we have judges from who spew seemingly words of wisdom but who are not educated from any real substantive "artistic" arena - but put on a great show and allow for a fantastically arrogant criticisms. Most of which would not hold true for anyone working in the "concert" dance world. By the way, "concert" dance which means the entire ballet and modern dance world is considered insignificant to the commercial entourage. Mind you, I've had some of their choreographers solicit me for work in that arena, and anyone really good on the show has come from it.

The confluence of mish-mash on SYTYCD is pretending to educate, but in reality, it is using authentic forms of dance, that have been build over decades, as a means for developing a new form of entertainment, which is not reality. If the 1 1/2 minute dance routine where done alone, by itself with no background what-so-ever, the show would have been off the air long ago.

My point? We have a commercial and populist show that is an imitation of something authentic - and in order to keep one thing alive the other must be fed. Since the impact of their show comes from the arts - will there be a return. The arts need to be fed in all genres - in order to stay alive, and in order to continue feed more commercial forms of entertainment.

Is Bad Good?

Is Bad Good?
Today in the performing arts or any form of entertainment, something is considered "good" if it actually makes it to the stage and gets presented. People are a lot less critical about the quality of what they see, if it has a message at all, or if it is actually fact "good". No one knows anymore. On one hand it is hard to create something of meaning in today's climate of pick-up companies and lack of rehearsal time in larger companies. Allowing, for the natural birthing process to emerge more flowered results.
The challenge to create cohesiveness when working in a fragmented way is impossible. Because choreographers write with bodies - the subtle poetic messages meant to be artistically communicated -- through the body -- never gets heard. This higher-minded message that is Felt vs. intellectually realized, is missing. And it is missing because Process is missing. And it is missing because of lack of funds. And lack means there is no heart in the art..... which can only emerge through process. Art reflects life, and life is process.

All the more so in dance, where the work is physical not mental. The real work need happen in the studio on bodies. Dancers too suffer - they learn something, perform it and break. Not enough rehearsal time for the body to transcend the physicality of the steps, in order to get to the higher realm of artistic communication.

Back in the day, my day, no one got injured. Performing was a sacred experience, the studio a holy place. Good emerged out of what was authentic, real, felt on a soul/gut level, spiritual even. Now what is bad is considered good, and there is no turning back.

NCI: Art vs. Entertainment

I recently did a choreography workshop with NCI (National Choreography Initiative), created by Molly Lynch which is something we need more of in the dance world (workshops to develop material). I decided to do a piece about the process of doing a piece - something I've always wanted to do. And indeed it served as a seed for a larger project. Each day I decided to chisel out some time to talk with the dancers - to ask questions about things like.....why they danced, magic moments in theater, something Michelle Obama said at an ABT gala (that it is important to support the arts because they breed creative thinkers, and we need need creative thinkers more than ever now to solve the problems of the world); intuition, dance on television and so on. These great group of dancers came from ballet companies all over the country. Then the question of what was art popped up.....vs. entertainment. I love that question. In whatever medium creative artists are making work, it is all entertainment. Art is often rough around the edges and not in a neat tidy box. But what makes the more clear distinction about what is "art" boils down to what you take home with you. What you remember. What lives in your memory forever. That's art. The other is fun for the moment and easily forgettable.

Creating in Today's Climate - Ouch!

How to Create in Today's Pick-up Climate


I've learned over the past decade what it means to be a freelance choreographer, have a freelance company and juggle freelance creativity. No different than it was in the 1980's, only then, it was easy to get studio space. Now, there is a dearth of space in New York City - and you can never get anything spur-of-the-moment, let along a week in advance. I direct a big dance-Show benefit each year. Everyone knows, that benefits are perhaps the hardest thing to assemble - because everyone is donating their time. For some reason, under the circumstances, artists feel like they are entitled to behave unprofessionally such as not returning calls, showing up for rehearsals or canceling after making a commitment, and then simply not doing the gig they signed on for (understandably if it was in substitution for paid work). Creating something new is almost entirely impossible, not just in assembling artists busy with other things, but mainly to actually get the studio space to do so.

I decided to create a dance that was piece Mixing dance styles. A multi-disciplinary-cross-pollination of talents in a variety of dance genres. My Mix included a pioneer Street Dancer - Mr. Wiggles, a Tap Dancer - Jason Samuels Smith, a multi-talent - Anthony Bryant (Julliard graduate), an Acrobatic duet couple formerly from Cirque du Soleil - Sara Joel and Kevin Gibbs, pre-professional Ballet dancers from the Joffrey school, the New Jersey World Cup All Star Cheerleading group; a female Hip Hop group - TruEssencia, and a DJ - DPOne - who does Break Dancing, and a Drummer - Dylan Giagni, who Wrestles.

I started the rehearsal process working with Anthony, at the Julliard Studio’s in May – a couple of 2 hour days. Quickly we set steps with his baton, hoop, ribbon and ball. The composer, Miguel Frasconi, came in one day – to create music for one of his magic-bag-of-tricks dances. I taped what we did and set the time for when next to see him in August.

August involved 3 days – I booked and paid for studio space at Studio 5-2. But, they called the day before my first rehearsal claiming a ‘computer glitch’ and canceled my first rehearsal. Mr. Wiggles was flying in from Europe - for this week of rehearsals – and this was our first day. I e-mailed Studio 5-2 – saying that I “did not appreciate the computer glitch – and would remember not to book space with them in the future”. Scrambling for last minute studio space, I found something at the dependable New Dance Group (which no longer exists). No sooner did we confirm, that they called to say the time they thought they had was wrong. Since I had already e-mailed the group of dancers who all had their own individual work schedules and commitments, I tried to keep the hours the same - because I knew it would be impossible to re-schedule everyone at another time. With much effort, I ended up with less time and less space but at least some kind of space - at another studio.

The next day would be better I thought – we had space booked at Ailey – an even more dependable place, because they make you fill out medical forms, do a financial back ground check, and have to see your passport, birth certificate, drivers license, and take your finger prints, as well as check to see you have valid credit cards in order to book space. We were confirmed for - and paid for space each day from 12 – 2. Several dancers were called and confirmed the days and times. When I got to Ailey at 11:30 I was told we didn’t have space at all. After more research and phone calls, they discovered that we did indeed have space – from 2 – 4 p.m. - different then what the contract said I had with them. "Impossible, " I said – "we have an invoice that says otherwise". Needless to say, with much effort, they were able to squeeze us in somewhere for that day from 12 - 2, but not the other days.

My Cirque dancer assured me that not only would things come together, and that she could e-mail me a video of her partner (who wouldn’t be with us until a couple days before the event) on YouTube – so that I could pick and choose various Moves that he does --- that I might want to use, in the dance. Gee, choreography by YouTube. Maybe I could just pull excerpts from the various artists video's and make a film and project that instead of creating something new and "live".

Next I was to discover that Jason, would be in Hawaii the week before the show – meaning that I would have to finish and set the final version the week before that - and there was an issue with his Tap platform. Where would it "live" once he brought it in from New Jersey?

TruEssencia can only work only work in the evening – and the 3 Ladies had totally different work schedules to work around. The Cheerleaders could only come into the city in the evening – but at times to avoid the NJ traffic - and in a studio space with high ceilings for their "throw-lifts". The ballet dancers were not yet committed and Anthony joined a company for the Fall and had a limited time to be available for rehearsals. Part of the Cirque couple lived in NY and the other in Las Vegas. I'd have to find a day with Kevin was in NY to set the piece. The DJ was in and out of NY with a touring schedule, and the drummer arrives a week and half before. I will go ahead and get space anyway, I thought, and demand that they show up. That idea did not work.

All in all, the piece never came together until the actual show itself. That is when I saw it for the first time. Lesson? Don't do something new on a benefit unless you have a working company and your own studio space.

Oh, Jason's manager got me another Tap dancer to work with will he was gone, and we worked out with Andre at City Center to let the platform "live" there the week before the show. But, we could not take it downstairs from the studio directly -- into the backstage door of City Center or we would incur $1,000 in stagehand time. A rule of the theater, if performing artists are rehearsing in the complex building. We ended up avoiding the cost by having my assistants take the platform outside the building the morning of the show, and bring it back in the loading dock -- the next door down the street - to come into the building as a prop. By doing this we saved money.

A Show withTap Dancers

"I know you say you are musicians - instruments - but when you walk out on stage I see a person, not a piano or a horn. You are performers in a theater. Respect the fact that an audience pays not just to hear you tap, but to see you share who your are...." As long as people are performing in a theatrical setting the goal is to entertain an audience, engage them, be there to serve them.

“Its a road to nowhere”, a famous theater personality said about Tap. I saw the truth in the comment as I ventured into my experience with that community. I was determined to get eclecticism, diversity and performance out of the show I was working on - Thank You, Gregory is.

Now, the show is not “about” Gregory Hines, but honoring what he did for the tap community - his openness as an artist, his respect for history, his influences and how that effected the future of tap. After much viewing, I actually could not see the progress following the doors he opened. There was in the ’80’s a successful Broadway show - The Tap Dance Kid where the young Savion Glover learned choreography from Danny Daniels and his son Danny Giagni. Savion went on to create Noise/Funk but brilliant as he is, offered little to his work that was meant to engage an audience since. With eyes to the floor, his type of performance, it seems, could happen with or without an audience, and his influence is wide-spread over the current community. I find that his influence is more felt today......then that of the great potential of tap as a performing art genre, that Gregory did further, that could - if followed - have greater influence and longevity now.

Burn the Floor

Whatever you think this show might be in your head, that is what it is. Nothing new, all been done before. They do deliver a fast-paced slick presentation of it all though, hence "burning up the floor" but the 1st act is like the 2nd act and they could have done 70 min. with no intermission to be even more impressive. No big flashy lifts though like you saw in Swing. A more contemporary spin with drumming and tennis shoes. Though it wasn't bad, this review I found kind of sums it up:


Let's call it "So You Think You Can Step It Up and Dance Your Ass Off With the Stars of America's Best Dance Crew." While ballroom blitz "Burn the Floor" has been touring internationally for 10 years, its arrival on Broadway clearly aims to cash in on the resurgent popularity of dance on television reality shows. But if you're going to invade the turf of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett, you need to bring something beyond adrenaline and aggressive sizzle. Something like grace, style or wit. While there's only about 15 ounces of collective body fat onstage, there's also about 15 ounces of imagination.

ABT Spring 2009 Season

New Works

Whats new at ABT is old (but whats new?). The new works looked lost in a time-warp. The evening started with Prodigal Son (although the program said the Ratmansky piece - which came last) the admirable Balanchine classic, and the fact that he took risks on the crotch showing and seduction, a bit shocking for the 1920's. But, it looked dated. Next came the Kedulka piece - his first one after retiring his career and becoming a baker. It looked like he pulled 3 duets from his full-length Romeo and Juliet or from any of his other ballets - strung them together and had group-work in between both upstage and downstage - doing non-dance steps. It was all in shades of pink/purple (the usual somber) with a backdrop of the Moon and stars - or maybe just a couple of stars. The tone was all the same and the feeling of waltz music was the same. Some of the movement was good but in general it was like one long continuous duet, going on too long. The best part of the piece were these flakes that fell from above - like a falling stars, every now and they - they seemed to be timed with the music. I wanted to find out how that was done, very magical! Later I found it it was random Cherry Blossom flakes from the next ballet, that accidentally fell from the rafters.
Finally the piece (Dnieper) we were all waiting for looked like something choreographed 20 years ago. He was telling (or trying) to tell a kind of Tudor-like story about 3 people. A soldier, his girlfriend and is new found love. Nothing happened. What often happens with us choreographers is the story stays in our heads. This piece was no different, I did not get it despite the fact that everyone in the piece did. They say I saw the wrong cast. But I am looking structurally, writing-wise. What I saw was simple choreography - groups moving in and out and between the lovers tale. There was nothing to take home, no passion or moments to engage you or a reason to come again (unless paid to do so). By the end of the piece I was waiting for something to happen....nothing happened. Oh, did I say nothing happened?

A Tap Show

A Tap Show at the Kitchen:

1. Opening number: 3 ladies come out onto the tap platform in unflattering costumes - a kind of black unitard only - the left leg is in clown white making them physically unattractive. Each had their hair up and tied in a knot. The choreography consisted of tap steps done in the same spot -- never moving forward or back, to the left or to the right - or back to front. They just danced straight front for the duration.

2. Next a horn player appeared, behind a little scrim on Stage Left with his silhouette on Stage Right. Someone else was reciting a poem while he played music.....something about the heart.....that felt artificial. The horn player played for about 30 seconds more after the text stopped.

So far, I have no idea what the piece is about.

3. Then the 3 ladies come back and do another Tap routine that looked exactly like the first one....which is followed by one of them doing a Solo

5. Then the Horn player is back - in the same place, and we hear more spoken text about something - something about "showing those other musicians" how to do it....not sure what it meant...

6. Then the 3 ladies come back again - they had all black (unitard) on with some odd Fringe pieces attached. This time they did 2 numbers that looked like the first one.

7 Then the Horn player came back again - and the speaker had more unclear text....where did the text come from? What was it about? Who was it about? Why were we hearing that particular text? What time period did it come from? Why do we want to care? Oh dear, we don't care!

8. Finally one of the girls comes out and does a really fun and quirky solo. Followed by the other two girls in solo’s meaning to show off their skills.

Not sure if the Horn player came back again because I was checking by Blackberry for messages. There used to be open sides and an open back on the sides of the seating scaffolding at the Kitchen -- where you could climb down and slip out unnoticed...but not now. Drat!

As I looked up, the girls were back doing another “same” routine, followed by the Horn player doing more of his same.... the text said something about Bebop

10. Two more routines for the ladies (the same) wearing feathers and black shinny tights.

I still don't know what the piece is about, or if it is just supposed to be a recital for 3 female tap dancers.

Groovaloos: Groovey?


GROOVALOOS is a fun piece for anyone who wants to see good break-dancing and a lot Hip Hop dance in one sitting. The Show is especially good for anyone who has not seen anyone spinning on their head. I worked with the creators of these moves over 20 years ago, so little impresses me, despite the fact that what they do is impressive, and need be appreciated - finally - for the skill required to do so. Extraordinary.
What was wrong with the Show was the storytelling. Having worked with real Hip Hop pioneers, I didn’t buy any of their stories about struggle. But, none of these kids had any real struggle, as in the creators of the moves they now execute. None of them know what the revolution was. None of these kids understand the art of invention, and where that authenticity comes from. Certainly not joy, but the pain from which joy is found - there is a difference.
This hybrid-show is pretentious from the start. My date for the evening (being from the Broadway community) felt the say way. We really did not care about anyone whose story was being told, they were contrived and trite. And, the insight into dancers didn't come near as insightful as the show it borrowed the idea from - A Chorus Line. Especially I don’t care about someone from an upper class family having problems with their parents because instead of going to college, they are finding the meaning of life dancing with the Groovaloos.
More odd, WHERE was the "live" DJ, and why were the stories on Tape - and presented as voice overs? In a piece of theater I want to hear the actors talk about themselves. The stories got confusing and hard to follow them by the end. The show comes out of an LA mentality, glitter-ally and commercially.
The styles they sought to educate us with....old school Popping and Locking for example looked lame and inauthentic. Styles within the genre blurred. In the end, I thought it strong with dance elements with a narrator tying to be poetic, but very weak as a piece of theater. Def Jam is more insightful, and what ever happened to Jam on the Groove - the first Hip Hop show by Rock Steady Crew (Mr. Wiggles, Crazy Legs, Fabel and company) in 1995 - now that was the real stuff.


Great Section of FELA on Stephan Colbert - this is the show...

Review: FELA 12/2/09
It is hard to comment on this relentlessly moving docu-show, FELA. And, I don’t mean moving-to-tears kind of moving - but rather, full of dance movement and joy (is joy a real thing?). I saw a version of it at NYU’s Skirball a few years ago - on Bill T. Jone’s company. It was unmemorable, and not being a fan of his, I hesitated when I received an invitation to go see the show that recently opened on Broadway. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and especially theater-goers who spend hard earned money to do so - and I mean no malice. I was surprised to love the music playing a great beat as we walked in and a fantastic colorfully busy scenic design that covered the outer walls of the theater as well as on stage. Masks, photos of political figures, a portrait of Fela’s mother, images that I am sure were significant in some why, that I didn’t understand but it didn’t matter. Great and fun collages. The upbeat African dances and dancers were refreshing. A free-form kind of movement ensued and we met the storyteller - Fela himself. The show was about his journey - kind of stream-of-consciousness, told through text and song. He talked about who inspired him musically and how he wanted to create his own sound. Then he showed us a break down of his music from drums to bass to “moving the pelvis”. He went to Europe to work and the US (where he didn’t understand the whole attitude against black people), but kept returning to Nigeria. He looked for guidance from his dead mother who would appear to him at times in the piece. The first was like a Vision - she standing in a glow of light above - through her and streaming out of her. It would connect with the photo image of her out in the audience glowing, shedding light it what looked like streams of falling tears. Another time she sang a powerful song - but the staging of it at the end was odd. When she reached the powerful ending guys were moving the staircase she stood on to the side - not good staging - it made your power moment and impact weak. Then there was an audience interactive segment where Fela makes everyone stand up and move their pelvis - learn the moves - using numbers around a clock to reflect the pelvis movement. The idea sort of worked.
All in all the music never stopped - the lead character never stopped with his storytelling and the dancers kept moving. If anything, it felt like a party that was never going to stop and at a certain time I wanted to go home. Some people did leave before the 2nd Act was over - which was less focused than the the first and had a decent scene that wasn’t clear why it was there. We didn’t find out too much about his personal life - except that all his wives and mother were killed by the police for some reason, that wasn’t clear.
I would edit both the first and second act a bit more - in fact a 90 min. version with no intermission would be move even more.

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