Sunday, August 29, 2010

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world....

August 29th

In 1997 Apple was the technological equivalent of Ronald Reagan's "dustbin of history." Its stock was trading at around $4 a share. Today its around $247 a share. Put another way, if you'd dropped $10k on Apple stock when Steve Jobs came back to Apple you'd be a millionaire today.

Why? Message and purpose. Quality and value. Innovation. If you think that doesn't have everything to do with dance, then you're part of why the field is fading not the solution to how we make it vital and alive for a new generation of viewers, dancers, artists and funders.

Talk about a guy who gets it.....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Staging Esplanade. Inside Look Chapter 3

August 28th

Chapter three of the Inside Look series by Ludovic Jolivet takes us inside the steps of "Esplanade" with Patrick, showing the rehearsal process and footage of making the dance come to life.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ludo's trailer

August 25th

Ludovic Jolivet has been family since 1998 at CityDance. His first two dances for the Company, "Salam" and "Roger & Lucie" remain among the finest and most popular in our repertory. "Roger & Lucie" has been on every major tour we've had, and returns for our upcoming trip to Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

More than just a gifted choreographer Ludovic is a great film maker. When we needed trailers to send to our presenters I turned to him. Here's the 60 second spot he made. It has no text or titles (none of us have much facility with cyrillic)....

The dances are by Paul Taylor ("Images" and "Last Look") and Christopher K. Morgan ("+1/-1)....


August 25

In late June and into the first full week of July two colleagues of mine, Christopher K. Morgan, our Rehearsal Director, and Amikaeyla Gaston, singer, songwriter, friend for a decade and one of our favorite collaborators, worked in Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West Bank with an extraordinary group of young vocal artists. 

They were there at the invitation of the Sabreen Group, and equally remarkable group which organized this program to train young Palestinian vocalists. We'd had the opportunity to work with them when were were in Ramallah in April, with Christopher, Alice Wylie and guest artist Kyle Lang doing two workshops to facilitate these singers comfort level in moving. The goal was to empower them in movement as they were being empowered in voice, and to give them the self-confidence to take the stage physically as the would vocally. 

The follow-on in July brought Amikaeyla, one of the great vocalists, teachers and human beings I've ever known, to work with Chris in preparing the Sabreen kids for their major stage debut. It was inspiring, challenging, unexpected and wonderful. 

Today the online publication "Scoop, Independent news" picked up a story about the Ghaneeha experience. I'm sharing it here, and including some of the images I shot of Christopher, Alice and Kyle working with the Sabreen students in round one in Ramallah. 

Palestinian Talent And American Experience Launch Ghaneeha
Tuesday, 24 August 2010, 5:42 pm
Press Release: US Department of State
Ghaneeha singing contest draws Palestinians from around the West Bank
By M. Scott Bortot | Staff Writer
Washington - A partnership that brought together Palestinian talent and American experience has literally given West Bank youth something to sing about.
The Ghaneeha competition, held in July, was the first-ever televised Palestinian talent-search show. Initiated by the Jerusalem-based Sabreen Association for Artistic Development and supported by the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Ghaneeha was broadcast locally and internationally by the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.

"We thought that it would be a good idea to get the kids more excited about music if they could get on TV and win prizes," said Norah Shaqur, public relations director at Sabreen. "It is all part of motivating the kids."
Ghaneeha's 10 finalists performed in Ramallah on July 3 before a panel of judges and 800 spectators. Noor Freitakh, a 16-year-old from Nablus,won the competition with a stirring rendition of a song by Syrian-Egyptian singer Asmahan, "My Sweetheart Come Back to Me."
"What I loved the most about this competition is that I was actually able to do the thing I love to do most in life, which is singing," Freitakh said. "My voice is better, I am a better person and my self-confidence is much higher now."
The competition featured 70 children ages 12-18 from all over the West Bank. Over a four-month period, the youth participated in workshops to improve their skills in the hopes of reaching the final competition.
Cynthia Harvey, cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, said Ghaneeha is one of the largest cultural programs ever undertaken through the consulate.
"We came up with this project as a way for young Palestinians to engage in an activity that would inspire creativity, promote self-esteem, and encourage nonviolent means of self-expression," Harvey said. "In the end, all of the participants in Ghaneeha were winners. They inspired other Palestinians to dream big and strive to reach their full potential."
The project was coordinated with the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Education, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Most of Ghaneeha's funding was provided by the consulate, which also sponsored American trainers from the Washington-based modern dance ensemble CityDance to work with the singers.
Said Murad, director-general of Sabreen, said international partnerships such as the one with CityDance play an integral role in many of the organization's programs.
"In Ghaneeha, we have established a strong connection with CityDance. Their vocal and movement specialists, along with Sabreen trainers, succeeded in training the students and helping us achieve the goals set for the program," Murad said.
Performers with CityDance coached the finalists the week before the Ramallah show. Paul Emerson, Director and Co-founder of CityDance, was impressed by the young Palestinians.
"These kids didn't have a lot of formal training, but you want to talk about some people who can sing - they were incredible!" Emerson said. "Just to watch a group of young people who just weren't sure what they could do and how they could do it, and literally using the cliché 'to find their own voices,' was really something."
CityDance's Amikaeyla Gaston, who is also executive director of the U.S-based International Cultural Arts and Healing Sciences Institute, helped the youth improve and preserve their voices. As a vocalist and a voice teacher, this is her specialty.
"A lot of children were singing from their throat and getting really raw and raspy voices because they were pushing so hard without amplification and without proper breath control," Gaston said. "[I was] trying to really guide them on techniques to use to save their voices so in the long run they can always sing beautifully."
Voice control is only part of the training process. Another aspect is how a singer holds the body, which can be just as crucial as training the vocal cords. Christopher K. Morgan, rehearsal director and choreographer-in-residence at CityDance, helped the young singers master their poise.
Morgan works the "physical modalities" of the body to maximize performance.
"It was really about just getting them to have ownership over their performance and to fully embrace self-confidence as they sing their song," Morgan said. "It wasn't a lot of dance movement - it was mostly just working on their stage presence."
How the young people took to new ideas presented by foreigners impressed the American trainers.
"The kids were so open and ready for information and assimilated ideas really quickly," Morgan said. "I think that is the benefit of youth."
Freitakh benefitted from working with Morgan and Gaston.
"They helped us a lot in improving our breathing skills and our presence on stage. We can now own the stage when we sing," she said. "They made us see and discover new, beautiful things and talents that we never knew we had in us."
"The improvement in the posture and position of the kids onstage was obvious and remarkable," Shaqur said of the effect of the American trainers on the young people. "Not only did they gain confidence but also they learned to loosen up and relax onstage and offstage."
Ghaneeha is not Sabreen's first program for Palestinians. In fact, this program is the latest chapter in a two-decade history of helping young Palestinians to find expression through music.
The Americans praised Sabreen's efforts in the Palestinian Territories. And Emerson is looking forward to continuing the relationship between CityDance and Sabreen.
"They are a really good choice for a partner over there. ... We are going to be doing stuff with them in the future," Emerson said. "I am a huge fan of theirs and a huge fan of the project."
Apparently, the Americans may get another chance to work with Palestinian youth. Since the competition, aspiring contestants are reaching out to Sabreen via phone, e-mail and the organization's Facebook page.
"The very positive feedback that we have gotten from people has inspired us to do Ghaneeha again next year," Shaqur said.

Esplanade part three: A talk with Patrick Corbin, part two

August 25th

As we head into the home stretch with Esplanade there's so much to be happy about. The company looks great, the dance is coming together at an incredible pace. They past two Taylor works have really prepared them for the work and the challenges, even of a dance as frenetic as this one. Most of the room is very happy, and those who aren't as much are still doing great work in rehearsals. Amazing to watch this dance so close up. 

Anyway -- here's episode two of Ludovic Jolivet's interview with Patrick --

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Staging "Esplanade." Part Two: A Talk with Patrick Corbin

August 22, 2010

The first week of "Esplanade" is in the books. Patrick has been cooking along, and our master documentarian, Ludovic Jolivet, sat down with him for a series of video interviews we'll share over the next few days.

Chapter One features Patrick's thoughts on bringing a classic to life for CityDance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Esplanade: Part One

August 18, 2010

It's one of those words  -- no descriptor required; to dance what "Michael" is to basketball or "The Great One" is to hockey. It's dance royalty -- the unifying piece of choreography that is so universally adored that people who treasure dance love it and people who have never set foot inside a dance studio or a theater until that moment love it. Human in every way yet subtly so complex that you can study it and study it and study it and discover new layers every time. How often can one say that? 

And on Monday it walked (appropriately enough) into our lives. "Esplanade," one of Paul Taylor's enduring masterpieces, is 35 years old. That makes it older than any of the dancers in the studio who are at this moment immersed in it. Yet it is so fresh it cold have been in process of staging, not re-staging. Taylor is the artist who kept me in dance. Watching his "Last Look" 20 years ago I found a depth and honesty that I think I'd longed for but almost never discovered in the field. The journey that set off continues to this day, and as deeply as I treasure the great choreography we have the pleasure to dance, its constantly Taylor to whom I return. "Esplanade" is our third Taylor work in three years -- something we have never done outside the work I do and our resident choreographers do. The dream of one day doing an all-Taylor program becomes a real possibility now -- "Images," "Last Look" and "Esplanade." Not a bad program....

The Taylor website says this: "An esplanade is an outdoor place to walk; in 1975 Paul Taylor, inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus, created a masterwork based on pedestrian movement. If contemporaries Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg could use ordinary “found objects” like Coke bottles and American flags in their art, Taylor would use such “found movements” as standing, walking, running, sliding and falling. The first of five sections that are set to two Bach violin concertos introduces a team of eight dancers brimming with Taylor’s signature youthful exuberance. An adagio for a family whose members never touch reflects life’s somber side. When three couples engage in romantic interplay, a woman standing tenderly atop her lover’s prone body suggests that love can hurt as well as soothe. The final section has dancers careening fearlessly across the stage like Kamikazes. The littlest of them – the daughter who had not been acknowledged by her family – is left alone on stage, triumphant: the meek inheriting the earth."

A measure of its enduring power lies in the words of New York Times Critic Alistair McCauley, whose 2009 review of it said “'Esplanade,” whose spontaneous joy creates so powerful an impression, has always contained sorrow. And if you examined and described all its fleeting human incidents, you’d have enough material to furnish a novel with multiple plots."

Taylor's website contains this: 

“When I left the theater… I was thinking that I’d seen a classic of American dance. It confers a mythic dimension on ordinary aspects of our daily lives – it’s unfaked folk art. The dancers, crashing wave upon wave into those falls, have a happy insane spirit that recalls a unique moment in American life – the time we did the school play or we were ready to drown at a swimming meet. The last time most of us were happy in that way.” – Arlene Croce, The New Yorker
That it lives now in our universe is something hard for me to take in; a measure of Paul Taylor and all in his world's extraordinary grace, kindness and trust. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A new place....

This past Friday Kathryn and Syd and I had a chance to do some shooting for a good friend, colleague and partner, Perry Schwartz over at the new Montgomery College Takoma Park Performing Arts Center. Incredible building and theater with an elegant studio and a fascinating design. Its a partnership that took two years to develop, but one full of promise.

There will be a lot more on that to come, but for now, a few photographs of two great dancers in motion....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fan Mail

Just before 9am this morning there was the most unusual and remarkable sound rippling down the hallway at the studio. Day one of the 2010-2011 season, a company heading into an exhilarating period of touring and travel, of challenge and far, far too much uncertainty, and through the halls was the peel of laughter. To find that sound at that hour was to remember that there is an endless amount to be thankful for. To watch people find each other after a summer apart, of work and adventures which took us thousands of miles away, and to hear them so utterly happy to see one another, to be back in each others company.

CityDance has had so many extraordinary moments these past years, but that sound, and its richness, may well be my very favorite. It was the reminder we all need sometimes of "why we do what we do." And it was the depth of it that caught me, because it was a depth born of experiences that change each of us as we move through life, experiences that you can only have when you do what we do  - when you dance through challenges and troubles and triumphs and falls. I felt that way standing on the stage in Ramallah at the end of the "+1/-1" collaboration having watched two totally disparate companies do the impossible because Christopher threaded an equally impossible needle and made something exquisite which honored everyone and pandered to no one. I felt it this summer watching Jason and Liz dive into teaching those same artists, and so many young ones emerging, in the studios there in Ramallah. Felt it listening to Amikaeyla sing in the Jerusalem Hotel and felt it as she and Chris recounted their stories and their work with the Sabreen Group in Bethlehem, teaching novice artists with brilliant voices how to command a stage. Felt it when the young actors from Bahrain shook of their nerves and found their place with us on stage in "Jungle Books." Felt it watching people I treasure - Daniel and Sydney, Kaitlin and Kate M, Kate J and Noelle and Alana -- in CityDance2 pull together and mount a concert in May that took each of them -- and the audiences they entertained -- to new places despite enormous odds and resistance. Felt it watching a dance in the Student and Youth Concert which leapt out from all the others and realized it was Maleek's. Felt it seeing Kathryn emerge as an artist of grace and endless beauty and compassion and insight as she absorbed the horror of a populace of displaced Iraqi refugees and translated it into a work that left all of us in tears as it moved us to understand that we had to do better. Felt it sitting on the floor in the big studio (405) a week ago as Giselle and William showed me and Kathryn the dance they'd devised for a benefit we'd been asked to perform at and realized that I adored what they'd done, and the pride of working with them that came in that moment. Felt it when Alice said "another year," because she's my touchstone and my anchor and an artist with so much yet to say.

There are so many moments. 

All that was contained in the laughter that sailed around the studio today, the hallway this morning, and my head and my heart all night. 

We turned a new page today, turned to a page called "Esplanade." Yes, that "Esplanade." Another person we treasure, Patrick C. launched 2010-2011 with one of the great and most utterly joyful and reaffirming dances of all the world, a gift on an endless number of levels from Paul Taylor, a man who has shown us kindness and grace in a way I could never adequately describe, that he has let us share with the company, with our friends and colleagues, with audiences around the world; that is given to us step-by-step by Patrick, who lights a room in a unique way. 

There are an endless number of challenges facing us -- facing the world. Even a glance at the front page of the Times as it updates on my screen, or a reflection on the utter havoc of what climate change is already so visibly doing. Yet in moments when your heart sinks, there is a thing that reminds you of the possible. For me, for a long time to come, that's the sound of laughter, ringing down the hallway on a simple, single humid Monday in the deep summer. 

Turning the page to a new season, remembering the utter grace of the last one, I see the faces of these remarkable people, and wonder at the fortune of it.