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“Dance in the USA” – Pacific Ballet Dance Theater – In Review

September 12, 2012

The Pacific Ballet Dance Theater’s ambitious production, “Dance in the USA,” showcased the innumerable talent of their many dancers and director.  Spanning from the turn of the 20th century through to the 1980s, a whopping 31 pieces touched on styles as diverse as the cake walk, go-go and Michael Jackson with a hefty dose of ballet, jazz, swing and tap along the way.  Large screens on each side of the stage showed images from the decade in which each piece takes place, providing added context to the dance and times in which the music was from. Based on the roaring applause from the audience throughout the evening, I would say the show was a massive success.  All in all, a dazzling evening of dance with something for everyone and clearly an audience hit!

Starting with a take on Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo, the first act of the show progressed up until the 1940s.  As a fan of the early black and white musicals and someone with period and swing dance training, I particularly enjoyed the early part of the evening and the many homages to the dances and styles of that era.  Among the many highlights were:

  • “Cakewalk Parade” – A fun interpretation of the early 20th century dance.
  • “The Roaring 20’s” – An upbeat, zany large cast number with lots of capers and tons of energy.
  • “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” – The piece featured the amazing tapper Chris Trousdale and was a clear crowd-pleaser.
  • “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” – A beautiful contemporary solo by Allan McCormick brought this piece to life.
  • “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” – A touching and strikingly danced tribute to legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
  • “Milkman Keep Those Bottle Quiet” – A witty and delectable piece with a stunning solo by Carrie Lee Riggins.
  • “Sing, Sing, Sing with a Swing” – A high energy number by the Hollywood Hotshots, who injected their swing talents into the show with a grand effect.

The second act turned the clock forward, bringing the audience from the 1950s into the 80s with a perfect balance of humor, energy and artistry. Among the standout performances were:

  • “Beatniks” – The piece channeled the beatnik era perfectly.
  • “Come Fly with Me” – Much like the era of musicals, balanced well with live singing and beautiful lifts.
  • “60s Go-Go” – A purely fun piece that had the audience clapping and the dancer’s smiling.
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – A heartfelt number that truly played to the dancers’ strengths and was very moving.
  • “America the Beautiful” – Another incredible solo, this time by Allan McCormick.
  • “Proud Mary” – Tonya Vivian captured the essence of Tina Turner on stage.
  • “Love Shack” – An entertaining and enjoyable number that the dancers clearly enjoyed performing.
  • “Beat It” – A twist on Michael Jackson with hip hop and tap groups duking it out.
  • “Man in the Mirror” – Incredible solo performance by Alexander Frost.

I found the solo and duet pieces to be the most moving of the evening in their many forms and to an incredible range of music.  The larger-casted numbers brought with them a higher energy that quickly engaged the audience and the ear-splitting grins of the dancers plainly spoke to the fun they were having on stage.   It was clear when the choreography focused on ballet in particular, but also jazz and tap, that the dancers were fully in their element and their performances took on a heightened quality of excellence.  The dances were highly accessible to the audience and it was clear how much they enjoyed the performances throughout the show.

I personally was impressed with the breadth of the choreography and the steps taken the represent the various periods.  It is hard to do true justice to the incredible amount of dance and the sheer scope of the performance.  Although I have noted some of the many highlights for me personally, it is difficult to speak to every piece in such a limited article. I will, however, say this in summary; the dancers at Pacific Ballet Dance Theater provided a feast for the eyes and truly showcased the immensity of their talent to bring to life such a broad range of choreography.  I give kudos and my respect to Natasha Middleton, founder and artist director, for the immensity of her vision to tackle so much in such a brief show.  If you missed this performance, get yourself to their next show with haste because they are not to be missed.

A Chance to Dance – a new dance reality show by Ovation TV

August 13, 2012

Sneak peak alert! I’ve been given the inside scoop to share on an upcoming dance reality series premiering on OvationTV on August 17 called “A Chance to Dance.” The show centers around acclaimed dancers and choreographers, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, formally of the Royal Ballet and founders of the Ballet Boyz dance company. Their challenge and goal is to audition and select members for a new dance company, and then prepare them for a performance at an upcoming gala, all in 28 days! The gala is hosted by Nigel Lythgoe of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame. Following the gala, the company will tour as the opening act to the “So You Think You Can Dance” tour.

Based on the previews I have seen, it looks to be an intense glimpse into the world of auditioning, rehearsals, and performance, peppered with humorous outings by Michael and Billy into the communities where they audition and shared words of insight and wisdom by these seasoned dancers/choreographers. Unlike many of the current reality dance shows which focus on popularity and an audience participation factor to judge candidates on a weekly basis, the format follows more closely a documentary form. I think this is a welcome change of attention, where the audience is directed to glimpse into the inner workings of how dance companies select performers and rehearse. It also allows the choreographers to actually produce a stage piece where the focus is on artistry over television-oriented tricks.

As a dancer I was particularly pleased by the dance tips shared as a source of learning. The following are some clips of tips from the show:
http://youtu.be/g8zZne07onc
http://youtu.be/s-bgaAqsgYM
http://youtu.be/Q4HAdEbvZcg

Although I generally avoid reality dance shows on television, I think this one has the promise of something more satisfying than the established competition dance shows that are currently so popular. I applaud Ovation TV for stepping outside the box in presenting dance on television and look forward to seeing if the show itself holds up to a higher standard.

For more information about the show, please visit: http://ovationtv.com/a-chance-to-dance/

Interview with Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre

July 31, 2012

Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre

http://www.pacificballetdancetheatre.org/
Download Press Release

When and why was the company started?
The new Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre was named after my father’s originally ballet company Pacific Ballet Theatre. It was recently started under the new name because director/choreographer Natasha Middleton wanted to expand her new work using a variety of styles with talented dancers throughout California.

What’s the underlying philosophy and purpose of Pacific Ballet Dance Company?
We are storytellers, entertainers and educators! We use narration in several shows to take our audiences on a fantastic journey. Taking ballet with contemporary to bring a bigger picture to the stage.

Has this changed since the company was first founded?
We have always been storytellers but now we are more than just ballet, but still follow closely in the tradition of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (the famous international ballet company my father Andrei Tremaine was in) and how they told stories through dance with elaborate sets and costumes by such artists as Monet and Dahli and new composer back then Stravinsky. We are working with new costume designer Elizabeth Nankin for Dance in the USA and are listening to works given to us by new composers for future projects.

What is your favorite piece of choreography to date?
Within the past 10 years of our working as a company, to this date my ballet “Carmen” is still my favorite with the excitement and passion in both the music and the dancing. I like to my dancers to be challenged in many aspects. Technique, acting and style…this ballet along with several others calls for that.

Briefly tell us about the pieces in your upcoming show.
“Dance in the USA” goes back 100 years and each piece takes us through the decade and how much we Americans have told the story of the last 100 years through our music alone. We will start in the Rodeo days and moving through with the Charleston, Swing, 60’s on into the Millennium with remembrance to such artists as Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. The 1929 crash played a huge point in our countries history and with former cirque du soliel dancer, Allan McCormick dancing my deep heart felt piece “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” is my way of reminding us all in this bad economic times we are in that “we can get back on our feet”!

What do you hope to evoke in your audience at “Dance in the USA?”
Pure enjoyment! To remember singing and dancing one time to the songs we all loved and to remind them we as Americans, especially the “wounded warriors” we will be inviting that USA is still the best country and we have so much to be proud of and how our music throughout the decades has changed the world! It was our music that inspired the Beatles and the Rolling Stones!

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see for Pacific Ballet Dance Company in the future?
Touring and more new dancers joining us!

Any words of advice or inspiration for other dancers?
Keep perfecting your craft. Know your weaknesses and fix them. It’s those weaknesses that are usually what is asked for at an audition. Class, class and more class! If you have something to say, then “say it” when you dance! Dance for them!

The questions were answered by Natasha Middleton, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre Founder and Artistic Director.  The company will be performing “Dance in the USA” at the Ford Theater on August 17.  For tickets, visit: http://fordtheatres.org/en/events/details/id/371

Dances Made to Order – A new way to experience dance

July 25, 2012

Kingsley Irons, founder of Dances Made to Order, had a different vision of how to bring dance to the masses while supporting local artists.  Forget television shows, YouTube or crowd-funding.  She has created a one-of-kind website designed to connect dance companies eager for audiences and audiences eager to experience dance.   The premise is simple and brilliant.  Members pay for either a monthly or annual pass to gain access to a monthly “show” of short dance films.  In turn, dance companies are paid a share of the revenues.  Here’s the twist – each month has a theme that members vote on.  The top three themes become the inspiration points to which the dance companies must produce a short film in the following weeks, incorporating all three themes.  And each month focuses on dance companies in a different city.  The result is a fun, easy way to access innovative dance while giving the audience direct influence on the pieces they see.   In turn, the dance companies get compensated and exposure to a national (and likely international) audience.

So what inspired this site?  Ms. Irons love of dance and frustration of living in the LA area where drives are notoriously prohibitive for attending shows of any distance (even within the metropolitan area). Instead she decided to bring the dance to her, rather than the other way around.   As an added bonus, she gets to watch small dance companies from around the country without having travel.

This month I checked out the site myself and I must admit I love the world of dance that it opens up.  Not only could I cast my vote for future films, but I had the freedom to watch short dance films at my leisure and with upcoming scheduled films to look forward to.  I loved being able to watch choreographers and dance companies I had never heard of and from around the country where I may never get the chance to travel to. I loved that should I ever go to those cities, I have a dance company to look up and connect with.  I loved the innovative use of film as a medium, on a much smaller scale than say Dance Camera West and other dance film festivals.  I loved that dance companies were getting exposure to audiences that actually appreciated and enjoyed dance.

In short, Dances Made to Order comes highly recommended if you enjoy dance and want access to and the opportunity to support small dance companies and choreographers around the country.   I hope to see this platform grow in the coming years and to see how Ms. Irons will continue to build a community of dancers and dance aficionados through her site.

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On July 25 the Minneapolis edition films make their debut and voting for the Philadelphia edition begins!

The Philadelphia edition is presented in partnership with Philadelphia Dance Projects and curated by d. Sabela Grimes.  Featuring: Niki Cousineau, Gabrielle Revlock and Raphael Xavier.  Select the three themes you like best. A ticket is required to view the full films.

Tickets are 20% off until August 2. Use the discount code:PHIL12

Check it out at: www.dancesmadetoorder.com

**Note, I am not affiliated with nor receive any revenue from sales made through this site.**

Contra Tiempo – Big!World!Fun! in review

July 18, 2012

This weekend Contra Tiempo performed the first of its show for the summer. The BIG!WORLD!FUN! show was part of a family program at the Ford Amphitheater, and as such, was amended to keep the younger audience engaged and having fun. Six “highlights” were performed from longer pieces, giving the audience a taste of what Contra Tiempo has to offer the Los Angeles community. Pieces were paired together thematically, with three separate segments. And if that is a taste, I would love to indulge in the full course meal.

Contra Tiempo – Photo by Tyrone Domingo (all rights reserved)

Although the pieces were short, they gave a good overview of the range that Contra Tiempo has to offer. The first two pieces, “The Duet” and “The Fight,” showcase partner dancing, mostly in the forms of salsa and rueda. Full of energy, partner switching and flashy tricks, it was a fast-paced visual feast. I liked that each of the partners were engaged in different choreography than the other sets of dancers at any given time. It gave more visual interest to the choreography and broke away from the synchronicity which can pull down formation partner dancing. Intermixed in this flurry, was a slowed paced duet, which focused on two dancers dancing separately and yet together. It pulled into focus how partner dancing is a communication form that transcends touch.

The next two pieces pulled deep from the Cuba roots the group draws from. The male partnering in “Moros y Cristianos” was particularly enjoyable, if only for the fact that men are not often partnered together and the dynamicism that comes out brings the energy level to a whole new level. The company director, Ana Maria Alvarez, came out to explain some of the influences and history, to help the audience understand what they were seeing. “Yemaya y Oshun” showcased the women in contrast to the male dominance of the previous piece, with vibrant costumes and clear influences of Afro-Cuban dance.

The final two pieces, “Suave Remix” and “Muchos Somos” were my favorites of the show. The opening movements were captivating and seem to capture a deeper spirit of the troupe. Dressed in white and synchronized beautifully, the dancers transitioned effortlessly into the second piece which pulsed with a fast and furious energy. I particularly like the use of rueda, but without the actual touching of partners.

Overall, I found the show whet my appetite for what this Urban Latin company has to offer the dance community and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to see them perform a full evening work. For those of you with families, the rest of the Ford dance series, which runs through the end of August, offers cheap seats ($5 for adults and free for kids) and the opportunity to sample some of LA’s finest dance companies. For more information on the series, please visit:

For more information on Contra Tiempo: http://www.contra-tiempo.org/

For more information on the Ford Big!World!Fun! series: http://fordtheatres.org/en/events/category/id/36

Interview with Contra Tiempo

July 11, 2012

Contra Tiempo

http://www.contra-tiempo.org/

Contra Tiempo: Photo by Tyrone Domingo

When and why was the company started? 

2005 it was founded – The company grew out of my work in graduate school – at UCLA where I was exploring how Salsa could be used as a metaphor for social and political resistance. I was trying to figure out how to create work that embodied my hybridized experience growing up – cross culturally and with a strong social justice background. I was interested in the ways in which dance could be both subversive and entertaining.

What’s the underlying philosophy and purpose of Contra Tiempo?

To transform the world through dance! We represent voices that are not traditionally heard on the concert stage and by challenging, educating and entertaining audiences we bring serious issues to the forefront – issues that people would sometimes rather not talk about but are important to deal with… we are committed to using our movement, performance work and education/community work to challenge perceptions  – racially, culturally, socio-economically and across gender lines!

Has this changed since the company was first founded?

Not really – more it has just gotten clearer and stronger and better articulated! We started with this purpose and are only more passionate about the importance and impact of our work.

What is your favorite piece of choreography to date?

I feel most proud of “Full Still Hungry’ which is our newest piece – I continue to evolve as a choreographer and the company continues to evolve and I feel like the most recent work reflects more accurately this idea of “Urban Latin Dance Theater” – the genre that we have created – I felt so scared performing this work at the premiere – which made me realize that I was doing something right as an artist.

Briefly tell us about the pieces in your upcoming shows, “BIG! WORLD! FUN!” and “Son of the Drum.”

BIG!WORLD!FUN! is all about families and community building with youth and their parents/families – this show will be a series of smaller pieces and experts of longer piece – showing the range of the co. and also educating the audience about the different kinds of dances we work with – from the traditional to the contemporary. There will be a lot of audience involvement and the dancers will even come into the audience to dance with them! It will be a fast paced, fun show!

Son of the Drum will be less of a typical CONTRA-TIEMPO show and more of an opportunity for our dancers to respond to an amazing new sounds of CubHop – which is Cuban fused/influenced hip hop- like we are creating a new dance genre – the producers of Son of the Drum are creating a new musical genre – so having us come together on stage will prove to be an exciting night!

What do you hope to evoke in your audience at “BIG! WORLD! FUN!” and “Son of the Drum?”

Our goal is always to inspire and uplift  our audiences – to leave them wanting more and thinking about things in a different way!

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see for Contra Tiempo in the future?

I would like to see us have  an Arts Center – a place where people are welcome -to  all people – all levels, ages, cultural backgrounds, abilities etc etc. I see our company salarying our artists, providing them healthcare and a sustainable future; hiring a strong and dynamic staff to help implement our powerful arts programs and help us to book more tours and performance engagements to share our work more widely. I see us performing in incredible venues and our work is seen as innovative and masterful. We are respected one of the most dynamic and cutting edge dance companies. I see other dance companies coming up – imitating our work – that we create a legacy of this kind of work…

Any words of advice or inspiration for other dancers?

Never let anyone tell you you can’t – you can do anything you decide you can do. Also study a variety of forms and become a versatile dancer because it will make you more masterful of your craft! Intern and apprentice with companies that you are inspired by – to develop relationships and for the experience!

To purchase tickets, visit: http://fordtheatres.org/en/events/details/id/533

Free dance in LA – J.A.M. sessions

July 9, 2012
tags:

If you live in LA and are looking for some fun and free ways to experience dance, look no further than the J.A.M. (jazzed and motivated) sessions presented by the Ford Amphitheater.  There are events all over the county in the month of July and check it out and get your groove on!

J.A.M. SIX NIGHTS A WEEK IN JULY

Move, groove and play at FREE participatory music and dance events in

Hollywood, East L.A., Willowbrook, San Fernando, Whittier and Santa Clarita

 

LOS ANGELES — For three weeks starting July 16, folks can channel their inner artist for free six nights a week at locations throughout L.A. County. Monday, July 16 you can play klezmer music at Ford Theatres in Hollywood with professional musicians selected by the L.A. Jewish Symphony. Tuesday, July 17, get in a fiesta mood with Mexican folkloric dance led by Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet at Amelia Mayberry Park in Whittier. On Wednesday, July 18 the beat of West African dancing and drumming of Balandugu Kan beckons at Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (MLK MACC) in Willowbrook. Thursday, July 19, learn to salsa with CONTRA-TIEMPO in Old Town Newhall Arts District in Santa Clarita. Experience the joy of joining in a drum circle directed by Chris Ramirez at East LA Civic Center on Friday, July 20. Cap the week with Brazilian samba as taught by Viver Brasil at Recreation Park in San Fernando.

The moveable feast of outdoor fun continues into August and September. For a complete schedule go to www.FordJamSessions.org or call the Ford Box Office at 323 461-3673.

J.A.M. (Jazzed and Motivated) Sessions are designed for everyone, from the completely inexperienced to the amateur and professional. All sessions are free.

The J.A.M.s, presented by the Ford Theatre Foundation, have been a draw at Ford Theatres in Hollywood since 2008 and this summer expanded to five additional hubs in L.A. County. Support for the expanded schedule of J.A.M. Sessions has been provided by the Metabolic Studio, a project of the Annenberg Foundation, through a $150,000 grant to the Ford Theatre Foundation. The 16-event J.A.M. series at the Ford continues to be supported by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

The Ford Theatre Foundation, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1994, supports performing arts programming at the historic John Anson Ford Theatres complex. Foundation programming, including the Community Bridges program, J.A.M. sessions and the Big!World!Fun! family series, addresses both the rich diversity of the performing arts within Los Angeles and maintains the Ford as a site for communities to gather for affirmative cultural experiences.

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Laura Zucker, Executive Director, provides leadership in cultural services of all disciplines for the largest county in the United States, encompassing 88 municipalities. The Arts Commission provides leadership and staffing to support the County-wide collaboration for arts education, Arts for All; administers a grants program that funds 350 nonprofit arts organizations annually; oversees the County’s Civic Art Program for capital projects; funds the largest arts internship program in the country in conjunction with the Getty Foundation; programs the John Anson Ford Theatres and supports the Los Angeles County Cultural Calendar on ExperienceLA.com and SpacefinderLA.org, Creative Spaces for Creative People. The Arts Commission also produces free community programs, including the L.A. County Holiday Celebration broadcast nationally, and a year-round music program that funds more than 120 free concerts and participatory arts events each year in public sites. The 2012-13 President of the Arts Commission is Mattie McFadden-Lawson.

For more information please consult the Arts Commission online press kit: http://lacountyarts.org/page/pubnewspress.