Monday, November 9, 2009

Sleepless Night Miami

So on Saturday night, Miami was host to an event called Sleepless Night. It is in its second year (with a year hiatus in between due to lack of funding) and everyone was anxious to see if the ambitious 6pm-7am festival would attract a crowd. Well... it seems that "free" was the right price for most of Miami, because at the little event I performed in (The Miami Beach Botanical Gardens), festival go-ers streamed in and out steadily.

I fully intended to take advantage of the free shuttle rides and comb parts of Miami that I haven't seen yet, but alas, a stupid catering truck servicing an out-going wedding reception at our performance site blocked my car in and Saul and I ended up hanging out in the garden for two hours past my performance before we could get the heck out. Then our tired bones drove home to Sunrise because the reality of 12:34am hit and we decided we valued our Sunday morning coffee time more than battling the traffic on the highway back towards the action.

So, what did I see: Well, I performed with Momentum Dance Company and a Video Installation Artist at the Botanical Gardens for a throng of on-lookers. I helped to shape a site specific dance mostly based on interactions with the crowd and with each other suited for a crowd-friendly and interactive performance space. The crowd enjoyed having dancers pause beside them or engage them in passing bits of film from the installation around. They seemed to stop in their tracks and really notice the installation as opposed to when we hid ourselves away in the building and the audience was free to ignore the film and wander (briskly) through the grounds and back out again. I think If I were to do it all over again, I would choose to sprinkle 5-7 minute dances every 10 minutes for an hour. It was a success as a longer piece, but as an installation, the ongoing performances would have served it better.

As a Miami newcomer, I was heartened to see the many art-goers. In the North Country, as I fondly call the upper Midwest, events such as this would be called an Art-Crawl and that Art would be mainly visual art as opposed to the myriad live events offered at Sleepless Night. I applaud Audi's funding of such a needed night that anyone could afford and which highlighted many of the underfunded live art groups peppering Miami. Hooray. Now, if only that nap had held my sleepiness at bay a bit longer because I am ITCHING to see South Beach!

Friday, October 30, 2009

GLCMA and Hedwig Dances in Chicago

I just returned from another weekend in Chicago. I go there once a month as a part of Columbia's Graduate Laban Certification in Movement Analysis Program.

I always try to catch an early flight on Fridays so I have some time before the 6pm class to visit another one of Chicago's many awesome museums, this time it was the Shedd Aquarium. The thing I love about the newer portions of the Shedd is that they have built these amazing sculptures, structures and other interactive learning tools around the tanks to teach you and the kids about 1. what you are seeing 2. how they eat, live, reproduce 3. how they effect their environment and how humans have an effect on them. Oh, and I love the Baluga Whales.

Learn more about Baluga Whales at the Shedd here:

Oh Chicago, you are quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

Well, class began with a bang. We had Karen Scherwood, BA, CMA , Director of Kinese in Bellevue, WA to kick off our Body Therapy weekend. My personal revelations for the weekend were 1. I can actually see what is going right or wrong in a moving body now and identify it in Laban Terms (this is harder than it sounds - you dance teachers know what I mean) and 2. I am obsessed with how this work can be taken right down to the nitty-gritty of body mechanics and am determined to put it into use both with turn-out and with alignment right down to the toes. I'll let you know how that's working out for me.

The other portion of Saturday and Sunday's classes were to prepare us to work with a partner Repatterning Projects: addressing their physical issues and prescribing movement exercises for them. I am working on varied use of Time (If I get excited, I move faster and faster and faster...) as well as using Space and Effort cues to train my pronated feet and inwardly rotated tibia/fibula into anatomical alignment. I am working on this outside of the question of hip turn out. This obviously holds many possibilities for integration into my technique classes.

To close out the weekend, I attended Hedwig Dances' Fall Concert on Sunday night.
I had heard of this company when I lived and danced in Wisconsin, but it an account of just one of their shows, and as we all know, one show can look like night and day to another. Well, let me tell you, I was enthralled.

Stampede, by Marianela Boan was a physical puzzle. Dancers were clad in generic security/police/military guard uniforms and the stage was set with bright yellow stantions holding retractable caution tape. The piece was all about boundaries and how they contain, exclude, and tempt us to test and break them. The choreographer set up distinct physical puzzles for the dancers to explore in as many ways as they could throwing themselves over and under and around boundaries, pausing and throwing themselves again, but there was no wild flailing. It was a paragon of control and direction befitting its visage and context. This was the question of boundaries we've trapped ourselves with.

Moi Aussi by company member Michel Rodriguez was a debut. The first choreographic effort of a very talented dancer in the form of a tainted and tortured love duet. The form was very simple, A. Together and Contacting B. Solo by Michel C. Together in Unison Movement B1. Solo A1. Together and Contacting with Resolution. Less a revelation of deeper meaning and more an exploration of a feeling the work was satisfyingly simple and at points impressive, but Michel may have relied too much on his known technical strengths as a dancer to create his moments of self-torment and less on the truths of the question he was exploring to create his movement. Just a whisper of this came out in performance and I still felt impressed by his initial choreographic work. It shows only promise.

Rein, Bellow by Bill Young/Colleen Thomas was by far the show stopper. This is a work in the company's repertoire and their disappearance within the work reveals how well this work suits them. A complex physical and psychological piece about men, women, and control it tests the limits of their strength, timing, and ability to perform. It begins with a laugh and the torment of men-objects. How they are so easily put of and manipulated, reduced to "furniture movers" (this is a funny/ironic term applied to the usefulness of male ballet dancers within a pas de deux) and this is where the ingenious flip takes place, the men enter with furniture... tables to be exact and now "the tables are turned", after manipulating with a laugh, a yell, a look, the women are controlled by physical force. Placed upon a pedestal (one duet on one table reverses the gender role - it must be noted), the controller spins the form on the table about, setting them up into various pretty or merely prone positions. The grand finale is the famous table dance where the tables are cleared save for one with a lone woman on top and one underneath. The other dancers lift the table up and proceed to run around the room with it creating a rollercoaster ride for the woman on top and a stampede to avoid for the woman underneath. You can let your imagination run wild with what this means; It's too rich for words. The button on the event is merely a quiet moment made of shadows and light. A girl in the corner opening a box and seeing what spills out... If you've studied your classic literature, there are many images this conjures, I'll let you pick one.

The talk back post performance was lovely. Audiences are too timid to ask real questions of the dancers. The praise was deserved, but also a waste of time when you consider what you can actually ask about process and inspiration. I opened my fat trap a bunch of times and I wasn't sorry. I came away with lots to think about.

Home again I flew, back to Fort Lauderdale and a morning class to teach. My beginning adult students benefitted from my enthusiasm and the Karen Scherwood inspiration I brought with me. It's good to be home and with Saul again (I wish I could bring him with me!), but I can't wait to go back to Chicago.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Linclon in History and Dance

The Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth is fast approaching. We've been celebrating all over the place and here are a couple of ways we've been doing it...

Bill T Jones' "Fondly Do We Hope, Fervently Do We Pray" - a new evening-length work and what he means to us as a cultural symbol. Chiefly his challenge of accepted truths. That's a doozy of a subject!

Read, see, and contemplate here:

Locally, in Miami, WLRN's Topical Currents with host Joseph Cooper:
Thursday, October 29th 2009
"Topical Currents begins with word about regional events celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Miami is one of only ten cities hosting events under the auspices of the Congressional Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. The big town hall event is Sunday at the Arsht Center. And more . . . Linda Gassenheimer explores The Cracker Kitchen, with Florida author Janis Owen. How about some down-home hush puppies?"

Listen to their informative historical run-down on Lincoln here:

The Arsht Center in Miami has a lovely evening celebrating Lincoln through the music, memorabilia and topics of his time. Among the guest speakers include Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. who Saul and I heard speak in Milwaukee on the topic of the African Diaspora.

More info here:

Pepe Hevia Master Class, Barcelona, Spain

I just attended the Pepe Hevia Master Class at the Byron Carlyle Theater in North Miami Beach. It was graciously hosted by CCEMiami ( who made it possible for artists to attend the workshop AND performance for FREE. I cannot say how wonderful and important it is to have quality (and international!) experiences like this at such a *reasonable* price! I was elated.

Company Website:

Choreographic Example:

Deciding to try Pepe:
My midwestern, somatic and contact improvisational dance self has been beaten down by the ballet-based "modern" dance classes of South Florida and I was positively ITCHING for something more my style. I clicked on a You Tube video of the group and it took all of 10 seconds to realize they were just what I wanted. Floor work. Enough said. This was a company that knew how to use their WHOLE body, had a relationship between extend and release, and weren't afraid to get down. No pretty, pretty dancy dance here. Don't get me wrong - they were lithe and dream-like, gorgeous and free, but you're not going to see sequins or saccharine duets here. HOORAY.

Arriving at the class:
I flew down the highway from Sunrise to North Miami Beach and managed to make it into the building at exactly 7:00pm having squeezed the hour and a half trip into an hour and ten minutes. Whew. The company regretfully informed us that Pepe was still in Mexico (their tour had stopped there and was going back for the next leg) and that they were to teach the class. "No sweat" I thought - after all, the company members often have the most articulate way of describing the movement because they've already translated it into their own bodies. They graciously spoke in English even though I was the only one who might not have understood Spanish and away we went.

About the class the Short Version: The class went easily from the floor warm-up to mobilizing the whole body within spiraling floor-work to flying across the floor diving in and out of it using the hands, feet, legs and torso to skim across the floor. lots of spinal articulation finding the difference between concave, neutral and convex as well as inverted floor work. If you don't know how to use your core or are afraid to put your head down below your pelvis, you might've walked away with self-inflicted bruising, but for those longing to swim on land, it was heaven.

About the class in Long Hand (SKIP DOWN TO "Afterthoughts" IF YOU DON"T CARE): We started on the floor using a (Laban/Bartenieff lingo) Core-Distal movements focusing on ease in the joints. The thing I picked up on and am going to use is that they took plenty of time to warm up the distal joints (hands and feet) through improvised articulation. I often if not always neglect this (especially in the hands) within my classes and/or only concentrated on set, muscular articulations instead of released articulations.

We then mobilized the floor work through various Cross-Lateral patterns both released and extended. Lots of Head-Tail in the form of spiraling, leading with the head to transition from the floor to sitting and back to the floor. We also transitioned from the floor to sitting and even to a mid-level jump back to sitting by both Body-Half mobilization and by a Cross-Lateral impetus.

The standing exercise took all of the aforementioned and moved it on the feet. The main focus was Sagittal versus Horizontal planes of movement. Just a smidgen of Vertical plane movement. The combo as a whole moved very logically between shifting weight forward, backward and side to side with one foot to another or both. Then initiating a turn or change of direction using the arms or body half to open or close. There was a focus on creating a distinction between rounding concave to neutral extension to convex hyper-extension articulations of the spine in preparations for the lyrical jumps and floor work the group uses so fluidly. It was all on the feet, but the weight was grounded and released through the easy and frequent exchanges of weight and wide seconds and extended first positions. The speed of the movement required an easy, weighted release of the hip-joints.

The final combination was a full conversation between standing, turning, and three different inversions (hands on the floor, feet or hips flying through the air). I'm late for a date walking my dog, otherwise I'd elaborate...

To sum it up, I was glad to let go of my turn-out for a day (I have none to speak of, but I work tirelessly for the benefit of my Ballet-based company... yawn) and trust the basic organization of my WHOLE body to create beautiful, fluid movement. I may not make it to their free performance tomorrow night if my rehearsal goes long, but I hope to. I'm sure it'll be lovely and that I'll want to move to Spain...

The University Center for the Performing Arts, Davie, FL

I've found another place nearer to home. The University Center has nothing to do with a University, it is a studio, but it is a Performing Arts center. There are classes in acting, dancing, and music for both kids and adults alike. I have only been able to take one type of class - a Beginning Modern class with the former owner Barbara Sloan. It's their only modern class so far and too easy for seasoned dancers, but at 9am it's a nice "good morning" class to wake up the body.

The class is an eclectic mix of modern with its heart in Limon. Beginning on the floor and transitioning up to standing there is an emphasis on spiraling, releasing the head, and suspension. I've found it a hospitable place, much to the credit of Barbara, a friendly teacher who hugs students before or after each class. She used to be the owner, and used to have her own company, but made it clear that South Florida is a tough market for modern and even harder for improvisation. She says they're just not curious enough for anything "new" (even though we know it's anything but). Hopefully when I get back from the Midwest I'll be able to take another type of class there and see what else is going on.

Oh yes, and for professionals, classes are $13 each.

The Passing of Merce

Just heard Terry Gross' interview with John Cage from last year to commemorate Merce Cunningham's passing this last weekend. The two things that stuck in my head were that he witnessed and strove to make his dances more asexual but at the same time found that subtle and intricate differences between men's and women's movements revealed themselves; and second, that through many terrible back injuries, he basically said: screw it, I am dancing anyways because I'm probably tougher than most.

I just want to say, "yes, wow, and me too."

Terry Gross' interview:

Weekend Edition's Scott Simon:

Classes at Miami Contemporary Dance Company

Okay, so I have taken my first dance class since hurting my back at the beginning of May. I have lost so much muscle and flexibility, I was very apprehensive, but I was itching to get out and DANCE, so I picked a class, hopped into the car and told my husband Saul not to expect me home for dinner.

Miami Contemporary Dance ( has the highest internet and newspaper visibility of all the modern dance companies in the South Florida area, so I have has my eye on them for a bit. The director is Ray Sullivan and evidently, he's developing his own technique because all of the Modern classes are advertised as "Sullivan Technique of Contemporary Movement" levels 1-3. Hmmm.

I chose the Thursday night level 2 class taught by the company's Assistant Artistic Director Soledad (a firey little woman from Argentina). First off, the classes are held in a residential building/hotel (Suncoast Suites) on Miami Beach in what undoubtedly must have been the ballroom/conference room at one point. If they have admin offices, they are not in sight. You have to ask the desk manager for the building where the heck Miami Cont. Dance is to find the place because there is no obvious signage on the outside of the building (which, by the way, has seen better days). But once you are in and warming up on the stained salvaged carpet, you feel like you are, of course, in a place where struggling artists make art.

The class - obviously leans HEAVILY on the Bartenieff Fundamentals and Graham technique which makes me wonder why he's trademarking his technique... Why not just build a curriculum based on the principles you've gleaned from your training?

Does this sound familiar to anyone? A modern class that starts on the floor and progresses to standing with across-the-floor exercises towards the end and jumps as a tag-ending. Floor-work includes homologus, core-distal extensions and leg-swings that move from body-half to contra-lateral. Then contraction work that builds from stationary, homologus contractions to moving contra-lateral.

Center work begins with foot work from parallel, to turned-out first position through fourth on your axis building to off-axis.

Across the floor work combines turning and on and off axis as well as fast foot work releasing into the ground and launching out of it.

A through-line of the class is attention to the core (lower abdomen muscles as well as the illio-psoas group) as a means of initiation. Emphasis on releasing extraneous muscle groups thereby developing the muscles closest to the bone and building efficient fast-twitch response. I suspect the performances of this company include powerful, yet graceful jumps and amazing petite allegro.

So, sounds familiar, right? Again... why do artists feel the need to put their name on techniques? I may eat my words later if I find that the company has conducted much research and published based on the Sullivan Technique. We'll see.

End-note. I've bought a package of classes because I enjoyed Soledad's instruction very much and the class very much. But when I asked for advice on other classes and other companies to check out, she conveniently didn't know of any other Companies or studios to recommend even though she just gave a young man from Dance NOW! a free class and told him that she wanted him to dance for MCD instead. Hmm. This, in my opinion is not a friendly artist way of operating. Artists should help each other out, not try to be blood-sucking businesses. That's not why we do what we do. I hope they redeem themselves because I need a good place to dance, but so far, not an awesome first impression.