Sunday, October 19, 2008


If there were ever a moment when the word "team" takes on a special meaning, it's been the one that has spread out over the past 48 hours. There was no time to make the concert at Terrace a success.

But it was.

That's because of Julie Dobo, our lighting designer and technical director, who engineered a miracle. It's because of Christopher Morgan, who has day-in-and-day-out run the studio in a way that perfectly positioned the company to be at their best -- not just in dancing, but in the psychological space that is every bit as important as technical skill. It's because of Tish Hays, who every day handles all the details that no one ever sees and ever knows about, but without those details being handled everything falls apart. It's about the 10 people who danced, and our three guests, actor James Denvil and John and Andrew, who played beautifully tonight. It's about Marija, Kristina and Kyle, who created exceptional costumes. It's about Rebecca, who in her first gig with us as our production manager kept everything on the rails.

I could, and should, go on, because, in the end, it's about everyone associated with CityDance. It takes a team and that team has to be at it's best through and through. It is, and this weekend it was.

It's a remarkable thing to have your expectations exceeded day after day. And that's what's happening. A great moment.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NEXT stop: Terrace

CityDance at the Kennedy Center.
Saturday, October 18th at 7:30
Terrace Theater.

The last rehearsal is done. The choreographers changes complete (barring the chaos of the "five minutes before curtain" change that so often creeps into dance). The show is tight and ready and in the top 2 or 3 the company has ever staged. Friday is a day of madness getting into the Kennedy Center in far too little time for far too much money. As great as it is having one of the world's most famous venues in your hometown, they don't make it easy for anyone to present there. But we've built the show to be technically simple (which is the only way it's remotely affordable) but highly sophisticated in the dancing we're doing.

It really bears considering that one of the main reasons there is not more dance in the great venues in Washington -- a city replete with them -- is that the costs of
getting into them is just this side of completely impossible. That's a mistake, and it's something a place like the Kennedy Center needs to consider as it asks what kind of venue, and what kind of support, it wants to be and provide.

Selling out guarantees only a smaller loss at the box office.

Regardless, the show will be something to remember. The company has never looked better, danced better or worked better together. The credit for that lies with each of them and with Christopher Morgan, the rehearsal director and glue behind it all. Gonna be a blast come Saturday.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


By Paul Gordon Emerson

I write often in this column about the need to think outside the box. Mostly that's about art, but sometimes it's about things which, on the surface, have nothing at all to do with art. Most of the time, those are actually the most important places to think. Staying inside "what's comfortable" is exceptionally limiting, particularly when that comfort zone is pretty darned small (which it is by definition when your comfort is contemporary dance).

The same thing holds true in business. The traditional ways, the comfortable ways, have led us to some of the most damaging practices in our treatment of the environment. Changing how we do that is of paramount importance. It's also hard, hard, hard. So when the Washington Business Journal, a bellweather publication in the private sector, decided to create an award celebrating Green Business practices I had two thoughts: 1) it's a great way to motivate good work in the business community; 2) I wanted in.

Thanks to great nominations from our good friend Lee Poston at the World Wildlife Fund and K. Williams at the Harman Center, CityDance was named a finalist in the First Annual Green Business Awards. Our category was education. The list of businesses nominated as finalists reads like a who's who in DC business. Akridge, Pepco, WC Smith Group and many others. We were the only arts organization even nominated. Tonight, CityDance came home with the plaque naming us a winner. That's an exceptional honor, and also remarkable to be in such distinguished company with these great businesses. It's a testament to the WBJ that they took us seriously, and also that they reached out to recognize the impact art can have on awareness and education in how we change the way we live on this planet.

This Friday the WBJ is publishing a Special Edition on Green. We'll be right there in it.

There are two reasons: a great staff of people dedicated to the issue (Betsy, Asanga, Tish and Dina in particular) and having a belief that we belonged with that group of A list businesses.
The next steps are to build on the partnerships made possible at the reception, and to team up with forward-thinking businesses to raise our impact, our opportunities and the synergy which should exist between art and business. It's a remarkable honor.

Monday, October 13, 2008


By Paul Gordon Emerson

The October edition of Washingtonian Magazine was a giant shout-out to the arts.

Among the features was one called "Showstoppers -- 20 artists not-to-miss." CityDance's Jason Ignacio was named one of those 20, an exceptional honor for him and for us. We're very proud of Agent I, as we call him, and heading into our season debut this Saturday, October 18th at 7:30pm at the Kennedy Center we thought we'd share his video profile with you.


Saturday, October 11, 2008


By Paul Gordon Emerson

Doors and windows. As in opened and closed. The old saw "when God closes a door he opens a window." Religious allusions aside, I've always seen that metaphor by noting that walking out of a door usually lands you on a threshold. Stepping outside a window....

This probably has something to do with growing up on the 11th floor of a Manhattan high rise. The flip side of course is you can see a lot further looking through the window than the door.

For whatever reason this is basically what went through my head when I picked up a message about two weeks ago from the Director of Education of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It was hard to tell if she had been thrown through the door or out the window, but it wasn't pretty. But the call for help opened a window to a chance to dance with one of the great orchestras in the world. Two new dances, both for a kids program, to the music of Tchaikovsky and Ravel. Not much money, but enough. Not much time, but....but...but...enough?

The trick to making dances for kids is that you can't be afraid of them. And that, in turn, means being willing to let them laugh. It also means romance and beauty. Or, as Liz put it the other day, Disney by Numbers. That might sound cynical, but it's not. We love Disney films for a reason. How many of us are to this day traumatized by Bambi's mother being shot off camera, or the forest fire? We see things through 5, 6 and 7 year old eyes with such wonder.

It's far too easy to get complicated when you make dances "for adults." I still don't know what that's about, though I fall prey to it just as much as the next person. But when it's about kids you get to strip that away and remember that honesty, leavened with a bit of slapstick, is what you need.

Welcome to "Beauty, the Beast...and the three ducks." Take Jerome as the handsome prince, Liz as Beauty, put them in elegant and classic costumes. Add in Kate, Maggie and Daniel, and put them in....well...yellow unitards with orange feathers and big butts. Any guess what it means to ask professional dancers who spend years training to be graceful to go out on stage in front of a world class orchestra and a couple thousand kids looking like a cartoon? Yeah.

But they nailed it. There's really nothing like the sound of laughter from little people. It powers a room even if you turn off the lights. Jerome walked out and there was a collective sigh from the girls. Liz entered and there was more. The ducks came out, and Daniel bounded onto the stage and crashed to the floor and there was....laughter; which went on until he left the stage 5 minutes later.

It's what you live for. Something you can hear for days. Through an open window and a closed door.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

WAR: Entry Three

In the last of CityDance's video series on Austin McCormick's War, Ludovic Jolivet talks with Mr. McCormick about his motivations in making the dance, and on the questions that he hopes it may raise.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

WAR: Entry Two

Videographer/choreographer/documentarian Ludovic Jolivet's behind the scenes look at CityDance's choreographers for Next continues with his second entry for War by Austin McCormick, who is joined here by his colleague Yeva Glover.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A talk with Christopher K. Morgan

CityDance Rehearsal Director and Choreographer in Residence Christopher K. Morgan sat down with Ludovic Jolivet and talked about art, choreography and the path to DC. Mr. Morgan is staging his Ties That Bind for CityDance's season opening concert Next on Saturday, October 18 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Showtime is 7:30. Tickets are available on the Kennedy Center website (

WAR: An Introduction

As CityDance heads towards it's 2008-2009 season opening concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Saturday, October 18 at 7:30pm in the Terrace Theater) we're posting video documentaries with our choreographers. We start with Austin McCormick, whose work War has it's Washington premiere with us at the Terrace Theater.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mass Transit

By Paul Gordon Emerson

So, buses.

Scarce marketing dollars. Getting the word out. Market differentiation. Visibility.

The conventional marketing wisdom is that, for dance and dance concerts you advertise in the Washington Post on the weekends or, if you really muster the monetary muscle, on an extended four or five day run.

The premise is simple: buy ads in a place where people are already predisposed to buying in the general area (or market segment) of what you are selling. Makes sense. Except that ads in the Post are madly expensive, and dance, even when you are as successful as CityDance is, has a very limited concert run, and that means limited ticket revenue to compensate for the costs of those ads. By definition, you lose money on major advertising. But you have to do something, right?

Yes, but what?

That depends on your outcomes. Yes, if you want to hold concerts you want an audience at those concerts. To get that audience you have to make sure people, you know, know, you're having a concert. But they also have to care that you're having a concert. Teeny tiny ads in the Washington Post don't do that just 'cause they're there in print. People have to know who you are, think what you are doing is cool, or interesting, or at least worth a look. And in dance the core beginning to that level of interest lies in visuals. That's what the art form is: visual. An ad in the Washington Post that's large enough to have a real photograph at a significant size in it can cost as much as the concert does to produce. That's not simply impractical, it's impossible.

One of the great problems with dance in DC is it's inability to think outside the norm, the box. We try too hard to fit inside the conventions of what we think works. We don't get on television because we don't think we can. We don't do radio because we don't think we can. But those reasons are exactly why we have to. Find the unexpected way to get noticed, because that, in and of itself, can generate interest.

So, buses.

If you want a very large place to put photographs -- really large photographs -- you need something equally large. Those are hard to come by. And if you want something that people are looking for, well, buses are something a lot of people look for -- or look out for.

In and of itself that's not enough unless you can buy a whole lot of buses. We couldn't. But thanks to a donor we could buy some. Five to be exact. You need to build the buzz around those buses if they're going to have more value than a random drive-by.

So today we're launching our collateral campaign. "Have you seen the bus?" We're all camera phone obsessed these days. We can take a picture anywhere at a moments notice. So anyone who sees the bus, and gets a photo of it, gets that shot on the CityDance website and gets a chance to win two tickets to our January show, Entangled. It's about building buzz overall, buzz for the upcoming show at The Kennedy Center but, more important, building brand that carries over. Everyone is out in September and October when the weather is warm. No one is out in January when it's cold. So the decision to put the buses on the street in September and October had to carry-over to the key concert to promote -- January.

So, between now and the end of October keep an eye out on Wisconsin Avenue for the CityDance bus. Grab a shot, or send in a sighting to, and get a shot at tickets to a show.