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The Mourners Are Dancing Too – Dance Presentation at LACMA

June 25, 2011

For the past few months I have had the pleasure of assisting Jamal, an award-winning, Los Angeles-based choreographer in a commissioned dance work for the LA County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) special exhibit, Mourners. I was asked to join the group as the “ballroom” dancer for a mixed-style piece which combined a range of dance styles including classical Persian, classical Indian, Afro-Haitian, and contemporary in addition to ballroom. Unfortunately I was unable to participate directly in the show due to my commitment to the dance scholarship I’m in, but I was able to provide my expertise and training to the other dancers for the ballroom portion. I have to admit, it was a fantastic experience to work with Jamal as well as the rest of the professional and lovely cast of dancers.

The work debuted last weekend at LACMA, and is scheduled for a reprisal performance in the fall. The piece may travel with the exhibition as well. The piece itself was designed to reflect the artistry of the sculptures being presented, as well as the diversity of the Los Angeles dance community. Rather than focusing on a single style, he brought in dancers with diverse areas of expertise to collaborate and teach one another. Each specialist was highlighted performing in their specialty, while the remaining cast echoed the visions and style for that portion. At the same time, it mirrored the solemnness and story of the sculptures, which originally adorned the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy.

What most impressed me about Jamal, in addition to his vibrant and humble spirit, was how much he encouraged his dancers to create with him. Watching the piece on stage at LACMA, I was touched not only by his story-telling, but how he allowed each of his dancers to shine.

Jamal will be presenting another work, Shatranj, at LACMA’s Bing Theater on June 25 & 26 at 8pm. Tickets are free and available one hour before the performance time. This narrative dance performance, will explore the origins of chess (shatrang) and backgammon (takhta-i nard) as told in the Iranian national epic, the Shahnama, and featured in the Gifts of the Sultan exhibition.

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