zoe | juniper’s “Clear & Sweet”


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During the October 5th performance at Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, zoe | juniper’s Clear & Sweet presented a highly specific answer to the question, “ What do we consider sacred?”

Co-Artistic Director, Set and Production Designer Juniper Shuey’s set transformed the space onstage into one that the company could consider sacred [per his own explanation, in a post-performance talkback]. In the center of a theatre-in-the-round, a round white fringe chandelier-of-sorts hung from the ceiling; directly below it lay a muddy opalescent sunburst with a bright white center. Iridescent light shone through the fringe fixture and onto the marley while dancers in light pink traced geometric patterns onstage, each of them crawling backwards, heads married to the ground.

In the meantime, four Sacred Harp singers greeted audience members in their seats, passed out Sacred Harp songbooks and offered vague instructions for reading the music inside. For those unfamiliar with Southern Baptist Sacred Harp singing, myself included, these instructions led to some confusion. Had I read the Song Book’s introduction, I would have learned that Sacred Harp music comes from The Sacred Harp, a 19th century hymnal that maps out shape note singing of four-part songs. The term sacred harp refers to the human voice, and the practice of Sacred Harp singing aims to be inclusive and non-performative. But a performance was very much on the horizon.

Clear & Sweet began with a brief solo by dancer Troy Ogilvie set to rippling electric guitar riffs. Ogilvie traced the center circle during a phrase of suspended movements, emphasizing the importance of the space before entering it with her hand outstretched to the sky. Ogilvie was soon joined by three fellow dancers who were led blindfolded into the space by Sacred Harp singers, and by Scofield, who stepped into the space and blindfolded herself.

After a section of unison floor choreography and some picturesque moments of pause, the female dancers removed their blindfolds and surrounded male dancer Dominic Santia. Santia then broke away to  perform a solo to dissonant heavy metal music.

While dancing inside the circle, Santia found a sense of flow, spiraling through his body in turns and falling into his backspace. In the moments he found himself outside of the circle, there seemed to be some sort of internal struggle – an internal conversation of sorts. Movement slowly built in his body – first he quaked while on all fours and then he moved quickly but specifically, angling his limbs as though he was being manipulated by some outside force. As the solo came to a close, Santia gestured to his heart and paused while resting his hand on his knee — a notably tender, human moment inside of an otherwise highly performative solo.

The next section began with traveling choreography done in a pack, with a newly blindfolded Scofield directly in the center of the group. Fellow dancers counted to keep Scofield as close to the movement combination as possible, and also gave her physical cues when she began to encroach on their space. Ultimately, this section devolved into each dancer giving verbal directions or cuing movement in an effort to get all of the dancers on the same page choreographically.  Though this section added some humor, it felt out-of-place in the context of the overall work up to that point. The script was not set, but the section felt over-rehearsed and the dialogue felt stale. Tongue-in-cheek onstage commentary about dance rehearsals has been put onstage by many choreographers, and when it came to Scofield’s work, this overplayed trope served only to distract from the choreographic themes and relationships that Scofield had begun to build onstage.

Two similarly narrative, dialogue-heavy sections told the story of dancer Ana Maria Lucaciu moving from Romania to Canada to study ballet; the first version of this scene featured Lucaciu performing an adagio of sorts centerstage as fellow dancer Troy Ogilvie told her story in English. The audience later saw Lucaciu dancing more physically demanding solo choreography as she recounted her own story in Romanian (with some key phrases in English). While these three sections – blindfolded rehearsal and Lucaciu’s story parts A & B – perhaps reflect traditions of physical practice that feel sacred to the dancers onstage, they felt less intimate and were not deeply emotionally accessible from an audience perspective.

But where Scofield relied on movement to tell the story, she had great success.

One such example came in the middle of the evening, when the fringe chandelier lowered to enclose two female dancers in its center. One dancer lay on the ground, poking, prodding, pushing and pulling the other dancer using only her feet.  The other dancer, taking movement cues from her partner, allowed kinetic patterns to ripple and spiral through her body, beginning with her hands and moving to her hips and back. Ultimately the standing dancer found her weight fully supported by her prone partner; she stepped on her partner’s chest and swiveled her hips to find a comfortable seated position atop her partner’s knees. Following this power dynamic reversal, the two women danced together, suspending one another like airplanes and then lying on the floor side-by-side like a pair of sisters sleeping. This created another example of a sacred space, perhaps, but this time, more emotional than physical.

In another emotional variation, the chandelier tilted to a downward angle to frame a duet between dancers Dominic Santia and a female partner. A blindfolded Santia began standing about ten steps behind his partner, who began on all fours. Santia used his head and body to orient himself in space before picking up his partner, though not without a fight. The pair engaged in this struggle multiple times to varying degrees of Santia’s success; every time Santia picked up his partner and began to dance, she found a way back to her original position on all fours. In an act of support and selflessness, Santia ultimately accepted his partner’s choice and assumed the same pose alongside her.  

Other lasting visual images from this work include a variety of projections on the fringe chandelier- some of dancers, some of landscapes – and a movement series where the five dancers formed an interlocking chain of limbs whilst lying on the floor. Musically, some sections began in heavy metal dissonance and found resolution in Sacred Harp Singing. Transitions between sections often played out only to a chorus of voices. Though previously implored to sing along, audience members seemed tenuous in their participation.

The work’s final section featured Scofield dancing in the center of her peers, each of them seated in chairs, one near each section of the audience. Scofield’s movement here implied a searching of some kind – a desire to find a sense of control and a way to relate to those around her. Scofield moved one dancer out into the space to join her, only to have that dancer immediately sit back down. Scofield’s solo was gestural and frantic, but she seemed to find calm in moments of contact with her fellow dancers. A tender moment from a previous duet was revisited here, as Scofield found resolve seated on the knees of a fellow dancer. Scofield then walked away from the circle, with that same dancer trailing close to her heels before returning to her chair. In the work’s final moments, audience members were asked to join the Sacred Harp Singers and dance company members to sing “All Saints Bound for Heaven.”
Overall, zoe | juniper’s Clear & Sweet found success in its ability to project inquiries externally while searching for answers internally. After removing her blindfold, Scofield said in performance, “I’ve learned a lot about my choreography, and about you guys.” Ditto.

zoe | juniper

“Clear & Sweet”

October 5, 2016

Memorial Hall – Chapel Hill, NC



Birthing Bodies at Duke Homestead


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Murmurations Dance Artistic Director Nicole Dagesse believes that everyone has a story connected to birth – we were all born, after all. Dagesse’s site-specific work, “Birthing Bodies” features a group of five women – all mothers – engaging with their own physical memories of giving birth, their emotional experiences as caregivers and their family lineages of motherhood. Simultaneously, these same women engage with stories of site – both those of Duke Homestead and those within their own bodies – , support one another physically and emotionally, and respond to often-changing choreographic cues. Sound complicated? Welcome to the life of a mother.


Photo credit: Allie Mullin

Dagesse explained that “Birthing Bodies” grew as she negotiated pathways toward a balanced life as both a mother and an artist. Finding a community of women who were dancers and mothers, Dagesse said, was central to her own personal journey. The group she built includes performers Zoia Cisneros, Elizabeth Motyka, Danielle Brestel and Rebecca Drake.


“My casts tend to be a mix of people who consider themselves dancers and those who don’t,” Dagesse said. “In site work, contact improvisation, martial arts… any type of energetic work is really useful. There has to be a lack of care about getting dirty or about insects…and there must be a strong desire to explore and push boundaries.”

In a historic site like Duke Homestead, there must also be a consciousness of and respect for preserving the integrity of the space – a factor that can present challenges.

“There are specific rules that you may not anticipate in advance,” Dagesse explained, “like not hanging on a certain tree. You have to work to find a conversation with place that feels safe to the people maintaining it, but to not feel stifled as an artist because of the rules.”

Dagesse noted that the staff at Duke Homestead – Site Manager Jessica Shillingsford, specifically –  has greatly facilitated her artistic freedom by offering support and aiding in problem-solving.

Though this is the first time Duke Homestead has featured an artistic performance, the path the audience takes while viewing will be similar to the historic tours offered on-site. Shillingsford explained that this particular project is special because it zooms in on the women’s stories associated with Duke Homestead.

“Nicole’s concept of artistic engagement with local places and North Carolina traditions is exciting!” Shillingsford said. “It’s our staff’s job to interpret history with words and educational activities, and I was really interested to see how [Murmurations Dance] would interpret the past via movement.”

Duke Homestead

Duke Homestead

Shillingsford explained that Dagesse’s proposal sparked her interest in the unknown aspects of Duke Homestead’s history as a birth site for three Duke children.

“We have new research and new perspectives to share with our visitors, and we will use some of our proven methods to bring that information to life,” Shillingsford said. “ We not only want people to think, we want them to touch, see, smell, laugh, ponder, relate, and connect emotionally [to the site].”

In performance, dancers engage with multiple structures at the Homestead – from the trees, to the fields, to the home itself. Dancer Zoia Cisneros spoke a bit about her experience in the piece:

“The tree stump to me is significant,” Cisneros said. “It acknowledges the generations and the support between the circle of women dancing… A lot of this piece for me is about grounding, about centering. It is almost like I am calling to the mothers, to the women in my life, when I am dancing…The images of trees turn into a metaphor for the lineage of mothers in the past and future.”

Both Dagesse and Cisneros noted that there is a palpable energetic sense of Duke Homestead’s history, and that for that reason, it took a while for them to feel comfortable dancing near the home itself.

“We felt like we needed to be invited in,” Dagesse said.


Photo credit: Allie Mullin

Having previously performed a version of “Birthing Bodies” in Graham, NC, last year, the dancers have noticed differences in how the space has been informing their movement.

“The space will influence the piece, always… We adjust to the space,” Cisneros said. “We haven’t danced inside the house yet, and the room that I have been assigned for my solo is very masculine… I am already wondering how that will affect me in performance.”

Cisneros said that having an audience present deepens her experience by offering surprising moments of connection or interaction. She spoke of a moment during her solo in Graham where a child crawled into a small space and offered her a hand for support. That moment, she said, really touched her and therefore allowed her to connect with the performance in a new way.

Dagesse emphasized that this piece is more about process than it is about performance; she and the dancers recently invited community dancers to engage with them at a community workshop.

“We had about 16 people do the workshops and it was so interesting to see the rich artistic expression that came from this process,” Dagesse said. “We had two less-than-6-month-old babies, grandmothers, and people of various genders and in various types of relationships, which fed a part of the piece that felt like it needed more of a voice.”

Some of those same community members will participate in the upcoming performances on April 29th and 30th. Dagesse said that she embraces the opportunity to blur the audience-performer divide.


Photo Credit: Allie Mullin

“I hope that the audience is not afraid of interacting with what they are seeing in performance,” Cisneros said. “I hope they are fearless in expressing how they feel, and in embracing whatever feelings come up.”

Shillingsford echoed those sentiments.

“This is going to be a new, exciting, and multi-layered experience,” she said. “We hope that people will not only enjoy a beautiful performance and learn something new about history, but also that they will connect with other people, past and present.”

Birthing Bodies will be performed at Duke Homestead Friday, April 29th at 7 PM, and Saturday, April 30th at 8 AM, 12 PM and 7 PM. Additional collaborators featured in performance are Cellist Andrew Anagnost, Percussionist Yan Westerlund, and Poet Jaki Shelton Green.


Birthing Bodies

Friday, April 29th: 7:00 pm

Saturday, April 30th: 8:00 am, 12:00 pm, 7:00 pm

Duke Homestead – 2828 Duke Homestead Road, Durham, NC 27705

Tickets:  $15 plus tax for adults, and free for children 12 and under.
Tickets available online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/born-at-duke-homestead-featuring-birthing-bodies-tickets-23447093889

Tobacco Road Dance Productions strengthens the Triangle Dance Community


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When most people think about cities with vibrant professional dance scenes, they often think about New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, despite its established community of artists and arts advocates and its status as home to the American Dance Festival for the past 37 years, Durham, North Carolina, is not often one of the first cities to come to mind. Dance Professionals Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck and William (Bill) Commander aim to strengthen that synapse with the launch of Tobacco Road Dance Productions (TRDP).

Stephanie and Bill began working together in February 2014 after officially filing as an LLC in November 2013.Their first venture as a company has been curating and producing a concert of five short (read: not evening-length) works choreographed and performed by local artists. Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert will debut Friday, January 30th at 8:00 PM at Common Ground Theatre, and will have an encore performance Saturday, January 31st at the same time.

The importance of a show like this, Stephanie explained, is that it recognizes the value in works that are not yet evening-length, which may come to TRDP’s application process in varying stages of completion. By giving choreographers a platform for guaranteed performance, this type of show encourages younger or less established choreographers to submit work; it also gives established choreographers the opportunity to experiment with new concepts and creative choices without dedicating significant amounts of time to producing an independent show.

Diego Carrasco Dance

Diego Carrasco Dance. Photo credit: Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck.

“Most of the shared shows that currently exist in this area are [performance] by invitation only,” Stephanie explained, “so audiences end up seeing the same work over and over again, and often see work by the same choreographers…This is a much bigger problem for people who are new to the area or who are just young. It is hard for a new choreographer to get known.”

Stephanie noted that though the American Dance Festival now presents local artists, works submitted for performance there must have already been formally performed, which presents a problem for choreographers who do not have resources provided by a University, or who do not have grant funding.

The truly revolutionary thing about Tobacco Road Dance Productions, though, is not that simply that it offers a new kind of performance opportunity – it is that it provides its choreographers with an advisory board that offers informed feedback throughout the development of the work. Mandatory works-in-progress showings occur twice between application and performance, and thus far, they have been “fantastic”, Stephanie said.

Christiana Barnett-Murphy performs. Photo by Devin Kelley.

Christiana Barnett-Murphy performs. Photo by Devin Kelley.

“Everyone has invested so much into the works-in-progress showings…To be in the room, to see new dance ideas, and to be a part of engaging, intelligent dance talk has been so enjoyable,” Stephanie said. “We have gotten to hash out the nitty-gritty details of spacing and choreography, but we also gotten to go deeper into choreographic intention. It was ultimately us asking ‘How can we develop or improve something?’ and then going from there.”

Though the panel of experts will change every year – this year it was made up of Renay Aumiller, Nicola Bullock and Lightsey Darst – Stephanie hopes to maintain the standard set by this year’s panel.

“The three panelists have been making their phone numbers and e-mails available to the choreographers beyond the showings,” Stephanie said. “As an organization, we are committed to helping our choreographers make their pieces the best they can be.”

The ultimate goal is that the application and collaborative development processes will positively impact the Triangle Dance Community at every level. In other words, if a choreographer’s work isn’t selected for the concert, he or she has had the positive experience of applying and verbalizing his or her choreographic intent in an academic way; if a community member attends a critical feedback session, he or she is having an enriched dance viewing experience.

“Our choreographers…have been handed this group of people who are respected and educated that can provide brand new eyes for [their pieces] from start to finish…so they are going to see a better final product than they would if they were working in isolation.” Stephanie said “I think our [work development] process is so different that it has to result in a different product.”

A new work by Helen Hickey / Photo Credit Paula Court

A new work by Helen Hickey / Photo Credit Paula Court

And this year’s choreographers tend to agree; recent Sarah Lawrence Dance MFA Graduate Helen Hickey said her experience working with TRDP has been “amazing” so far.

“Coming out of [Sarah Lawrence], which is such a specifically dance-centric community, I was concerned about not being able to find the same level of thoughtful dance feedback in the real world…School is not the same as life,” Helen said. “It has been great to talk to the [TRDP] panel and to get feedback not just about my movement, but also about overarching concepts in my work. It has made me question how I see my own work and alter things accordingly.”

So what can viewers expect to see in January?

When the TRDP selection committee assembled the show lineup, its members looked for proposals that stood out as promising works, and also considered what would make the show feel complete.

“No one wants to see just solos or a bunch of grim pieces in a row,” Stephanie said. “The pieces in our show run the whole gamut of moods and ensemble sizes… I think it will be a pretty satisfying night of dance.”

This year features a solo, a duet, a trio, a quartet and a dance-for-camera piece with about 20 featured dancers, and highlights local artists Anna Barker/Real.Live.People.Durham, Christiana Barnett-Murphy, Diego Carrasco Dance, Helen Hickey, and Natalie Teichmann/ANAHATA Dance.

A dance for camera work by Natalie Teichmann/ANAHATA Dance. Photo credit :  KP Wee Photography

A dance for camera work by Natalie Teichmann/ANAHATA Dance. Photo credit : KP Wee Photography

“I think [TDRP] adds a lot to the Triangle Dance Community – especially for people who are new to the area – those returning as adults or those who are just new in general,” Helen said. “My experience with the dance scene here before was just as a student – as a local girl who liked to dance. This show has helped me to see and be involved in the community as a creator and choreographer instead of just as a dancer. I am grateful for the opportunity because I don’t know how I would have re-integrated myself into the scene otherwise after being away for so long.”

Stephanie and Bill plan to keep opening doors for local choreographers by making Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert an annual event – a sign of their lasting dedication to dance in the Triangle.

“If everyone steps up their participation a little bit more, our Triangle Dance Community will be a little bit better than it was before,” Stephanie said.

If it’s participation they need – let’s give it to them. Tickets for Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert are available at www.tobaccoroaddance.org, or at the Common Ground Theatre beginning at 7:00 PM, January 30th and 31st.


Common Ground Theatre

4815B Hillsborough Rd

Durham, NC


January 30th @ 8 PM

January 31st @ 8 PM


General Admission: $15

General Admission: $1

Wedding Dance Medley


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First, I want to start with a quick apology for being M.I.A. for the last year – my life has been incredibly busy between work and planning a wedding, but I am happy to say that I will be writing much more in the coming months! In the meantime, I want to share a few photos from the wedding, and of course, our first dance:

Click here to see it!: Alyssa and Ian’s first dance

Ceremony Recessional - me and my husband, Ian

Ceremony Recessional – me and my husband, Ian

Our full wedding party

Our full wedding party

My dress!

My dress!

Force of Nature


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Katherine McPherson’s dance-documentary, Force of Nature, exposes viewers to risk-taking behavior of the most positive kind. In it, Contact Improvisation artist Kirstie Simson explains how she learned to live life less carefully and more consciously through dance. And having spent about thirty years exploring a world where the abilities to observe, listen and palpate with sensitivity are King, Simson has a lot to offer long-time CI practitioners and newbies alike.

Force of Nature

Kirstie Simson // Photo from Force of Nature DVD Cover

Early on, Simson explains that her inspiration came in the early ‘80s after attending a performance by CI founder Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson. “I had never been to a performance where I felt people were taking a real risk in going out there in front of people…and that risk was to reveal their humanity, and to in some ways celebrate their humanity with the audience,” Simson said. So she decided to take a risk, too – after only two lessons with Paxton, Simson began teaching contact improvisation to others.

Throughout Force of Nature’s 75 minutes, McPherson frames Simson’s informative and sometimes vehement words with video of the artist at work and at play. Footage from a performance in Scotland and an outdoor dance class in Italy feature extemporaneous choreographies that are enjoyably intricate and skillfully executed.


In an interview clip from 2006, Simson explained that contact improvisation helped her find her voice. “It was as if I suddenly was given a space to live in such a different way,” Simson said.  “In practicing improvisation, you are practicing making your own choices…you become the creator, in that moment.” So why not transfer that bravado to the real world?

The completeness of Simson’s opinions and the directness of their delivery will speak to dancers and non-dancers with equal fervor. Topics like insecurity, creativity, personal growth and healing are addressed, in addition to more dance-specific and global issues. Like all great documentaries, Force of Nature informs and captivates viewers while challenging normative thought. Simson says, “[Contact improvisation] is not just another technique that you learn, but something you discover.”  And if you are interested in broadening your creative palette, I would encourage you to discover this film.

Faye Driscoll – You’re Me


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The lobby of Durham’s Reynolds Industries Theater looked sparse during the ten minutes prior to Faye Driscoll’s evening-length work, You’re Me. But the absence didn’t indicate a small crowd. Ushers urged audience members lollygagging in the lobby to find their seats quickly, so as not to miss what they referred to as “The Melting Section”.

You're Me Promo photo. Photo by: Christy Pessagno. / No copyright infringement intended

You’re Me Promo photo. Photo by: Christy Pessagno. / No copyright infringement intended

Adorned with bright, cascading fabric stuffed with loose wigs, fruit and jewelry of all sorts, Driscoll and dancer Jesse Zarritt stood high atop pedestals like Greco-Roman statues. As the dancers’ accoutrements slowly fell away from their bodies, they appeared to be melting – more like candles than like the Wicked Witch of the West. Like attentive altar boys, two stagehands periodically knelt at the dancers’ feet to collect discarded garments, and then stoically carried them away on serving platters.

In the soundtrack-less section that followed, Driscoll blended facial animation, rich vocalizations and intricate choreography to bring images to life onstage. As, animalistic, Biblical and sexual imagery blended, Driscoll emerged as the dominant onstage personality. Zarritt was at times Driscoll’s hissing pet and at other times her romantically subpar boyfriend; he was noticeably always onstage to support the shifting fantasy that Driscoll was living. A pas de deux section here seemed out of place* but spoke to the work’s overall examination of the projected ideal self (in these moments, Driscoll alluded to the expectations that audiences often have for onstage performers). Despite the seemingly disjunctive nature of this balletic choreography, it spoke to the technical prowess of both performers.

You're Me. Photo by: Steven Schreiber

You’re Me. Photo by: Steven Schreiber

*The aforementioned pas de deux was also one of the work’s few moments that possessed archetypically feminine energy, which was an element of note. Maternal images like a mother bird (Driscoll) feeding a baby chick (Zarritt) and a mother giving birth were seen later in the work, but both had distinctly strong, abrasive energies.

In an ongoing examination of self vs. self, Driscoll and Zarritt continuously altered their physical appearances using props like spray paint, wigs and strategically-placed oranges, each of which triggered behavioral change.  During the work’s third section, “not…not”, dancers sprayed paint on the most vulnerable parts of their bodies, re-routing the pain to fuel strength as their inner arms, throats and groins met freezing streams of paint.  This visually and emotionally striking section examined the willingness of members of modern society to self-modify to fit Western social constructs – specifically those related to beauty and gender.

You're Me. Photo by: by Stephen Schreiber

You’re Me. Photo by: by Stephen Schreiber

The performers also examined the identities people project onto their loved ones through a sometimes humorous intimacy training session. In the work’s second section, “If you pretend you are drowning, I will pretend I am saving you,” Driscoll coached Zarritt in an effort to correct his hugging and kissing techniques. Body language suggested that Zarritt was unenthused.

Taking their onstage relationship one step further, the dancers explored sexuality through erotic behaviors that were, for the most part, disassociated from any mimed sexual acts. In one memorable image, Zarritt thrusted his hips, pounded his thighs, beat his chest and grunted in one corner while Driscoll played the disenchanted recipient of his hyper-masculine and sexual energy. Driscoll’s emotionally lackadaisical solos during these moments made a joke of Zarritt’s machismo, further enhancing her onstage dominance.

You're Me. Photo by: Steven Schreiber

You’re Me. Photo by: Steven Schreiber

The climax of Driscoll’s identity crisis came during a section titled, “Gnosis Kardias, Kardias Gnosis”,  a Greek phrase that means “knowledge of the heart”.  During this segment, Driscoll stood atop a white bedside table that was attached to two long pieces of white elastic tape. As driving, bass-heavy music by Chris Giarmo pounded through the speakers, Zarritt dug through the costume trunk-like contents of the table, passing Driscoll a seemingly endless supply of props. Driscoll, with facial animation to rival Jim Carrey, incorporated new props as fast as she tossed them away, assuming a new character with each acquisition. The props, coordinated by Emily Roysdon, further littered an already destroyed stage, creating a final tableau of utter physical chaos.

And emotional chaos wasn’t far away. During the work’s denouement, Driscoll and Zarritt grappled while tangled up in a long, white sheet of paper, creating a sexual assault-like auditory experience that proved difficult to endure. Though the performers recovered from these final physical blows, they left this audience member with lasting unease. And in this particular instance, that indicated a performance well done.


A major takeaway about choreographic work that incorporates extreme performance elements and subject matter is that the dancers must be committed to fully living out the artistic director’s vision. Every moment in this conceptually, emotionally and choreographically dense work was carefully considered by Driscoll during her creative process; she then engineered this abundance of images and life situations into a brilliant exploration of how to define one’s self-identity in a world of excess. Had she and Zarritt – who have performed the work on-and-off for the past two years – allowed themselves to get bored with the subject matter, You’re Me could have easily sent a less powerful message to the audience. It is a testament to the talent of these seasoned performers that they know exactly how to meter their energy and enthusiasm onstage to prevent overacting or uninspired performance quality.

Though this work might be difficult to digest for new modern dance viewers, I highly recommend it to art enthusiasts everywhere.  Because the test of what’s “good” or “bad” in art is not necessarily what a person likes or dislikes; rather, it is whether or not you find yourself thinking about a piece of art after you walk away from it. And trust me when I say that You’re Me will stick with you for a long time.

Have you seen this work or others by Faye Driscoll? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts! 

Faye Driscoll – You’re Me

Reynolds Industries Theatre, Monday, June 24, 2013, 8 PM

Choreography and Direction: Faye Driscoll

Performance and Material Generation: Faye Driscoll and Jesse Zarritt

Dramaturgy: Nina Mankin

Costume and Prop Consultant: Emily Roysdon

Sound Design and Original Music: Chris Giarmo

Original Music Engineered by Yair Evnine

Presented by: The American Dance Festival



605 Collective – Audible


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In Vancouver, BC, circa 2006, three artists with a shared artistic vision formed the 605 Collective. Since then, these artists – Lisa Gelley, Shay Kuebler and Josh Martin – have collaborated with their dancers on all produced works without any one person acting as the Artistic Director of the group.

This year’s ADF crowd was introduced to the 605 Collective through the performance of the group’s first evening-length work, Audible. This performance featured dancers Scott Augustine and Maiko Miyauchi in addition to the Collective’s three co-founders, in an effort to translate the increasingly invasive, ever-expanding digital world into a physical form.

Born in 2009, Audible addressed issues that, even then, would have been about three years past their prime relevancy.  Though the ideas explored in this piece have been hashed and re-hashed in nearly every intellectual community since Facebook and Twitter exploded between 2005 and 2006, the 605 Collective addressed them in a unique way.  With the creation of Audible, this group melded highly physical movement vocabularies and explored complex choreographic structures in a way that felt fresh.


At the very top of the piece, dancers established a “watching” dynamic; the five performers looked at one another without really seeing one another in a walking pattern with occasional stillness. Humorous choreographic episodes later in the work sustained and deepened this voyeuristic trend.

In an exploration of the way that individuals accrue “followers” on social media sites, Martin performed a solo while gradually accumulating mimics just out of his range of vision. When he turned around to see what was happening behind him, the other dancers quickly adjusted their actions to stretching, looking elsewhere and even polishing the floor. The laughs continued when Martin’s flock suddenly overtook him in his choreographic phrase; it was then Martin who was struggling to keep up. This change of events spoke to how easily control and ownership of original content can get out-of-hand on the web.

Later, a back-to-back duet performed by Martin and Gelley physicalized the world of online dating and relationship-building. After approaching one another facing backwards, the pair moved like water through moments of dragging and lifting, and during a back-to-back waltz. The dancers had a natural chemistry when facing away from one another, but could not make sense of their connected bodies when they turned around. These moments served as a metaphor for the way that relationships can advance quickly online, but that chemistry can fade when meeting someone for the first time. It is notable that despite their staged incompatibility, the pair had the most believable emotional connection of any of the performers onstage.

Gelley and Martin perform their duet. Photo credit: American Dance Festival. No copyright infringement  intended.

Gelley and Martin perform their duet. Photo credit: American Dance Festival. No copyright infringement intended.

I mentioned earlier that the 605 Collective draws from each of its members for choreographic inspiration; knowing this, it came as no surprise to viewers that the movement vocabularies showcased in Audible were both diverse and numerous. The work’s movement language drew from physical practices including hockey, capoeira, judo, football, Aikido and Gaga, and it was sometimes difficult to decipher where one form ended and another began.

Highly physical choreography throughout the work showcased the dancers’ abilities to move seamlessly in and out of the floor, to jump with abandon, to stabilize their balances during inversions and to physically support and manipulate fellow performers in lifts. In one inspired moment, dancers performed a set of choreography for a second time, this time “rewound” to create gravity-defying illusions and unnatural movement patterns.

These complex choreographic sections gave way to more barbaric, less conversational forms of communication in Audible’s later moments, which featured the dancers performing football drills and hockey checks, and grappling with one another while sporting wrestling headgear. Was this a commentary on abrasive social interactions among men, or simply an opportunity to highlight the collective’s brasher repertoire of physical trainings?

I can’t say for sure. What I can say, though, is that this piece is worth a view despite its somewhat tired subject matter.  I especially recommend this work to dancers and choreographers who need a break from conventional movement patterns, because I found myself wanting to watch these dancers move long after the show had ended.

Did you see the show? Let me know your thoughts in a comment below!

605 Collective – Audible

Reynolds Industries Theatre, Durham, NC

Sunday, June 16, 2013

White Mountain Summer Dance Festival – Reader Qs answered


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I’ve gotten a lot of reader questions about my time at White Mountain Summer Dance Festival in response to my Summer Dance Festivals and Conferences (Part 1) post, so I wanted to provide a bit more information here. I was at White Mountain in the summer of 2008, which was the first year that the Festival was held at Sarah Lawrence College. That was the summer after my sophomore year studying dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Festival came at a perfect time in my dance training. I found that the instruction I received at this festival helped me understand some of the concepts I was studying in school in a different way, and I left the festival feeling like something had finally “clicked” in my body.


As far as the training went, it was definitely rigorous. When I attended the festival, we started the day at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. with an hour of Pranayama yoga, which involved performing up to 12 sets of sun salutations to wake up the body. After breakfast, the other dancers and I attended a sort of conditioning/physical therapy class to get our muscles prepared for the long day of movement. Technique classes happened back-to-back after that, and both were an hour and a half; students alternated every other day starting with ballet or modern, and then attending the opposite class. There were two modern teachers and one ballet teacher, so I found that it was refreshing to get two different styles of Modern (one more Horton-based, one more based in release technique). I found the ballet class appropriately challenging, and I am sure that it could be taken en pointe should a dancer wish to do so.

The rest of the day was spent in an hour-long Laban Notation class (I sometimes skipped this because getting some rest was far more appealing), a second (longer) yoga class (which was taught by the AMAZING Sarah Irmhoff-Jones) and then a repertory rehearsal. After dinner there was an anatomy class and a group activity.


Teachers were available to students for questions before or after class, and they gave individual feedback during class as well. For less technique-centric student concerns, group activities in the evenings presented a great opportunity to ask the festival faculty questions about the professional dance world, about their teaching experiences, and about life in general. I found all of the teachers to be very friendly and knowledgeable.


There were a few showings throughout the festival – one at the end of each week if I remember correctly – so there were opportunities to perform in both individual work and reconstructed works by known choreographers. I didn’t personally participate in the Choreographic track at the festival, but if you leave me a comment, I can put you in touch with some dancers who did.

High School Participants

In the summer of 2008, there were students at the WMSDF who were in high school, and (if my memory serves me correctly) most of them took the lower level technique classes. It appeared that all of these students bonded well and that they learned a lot by the end of those three weeks.

In my opinion, this festival is a good introduction to college-style dance for high school students, and also to what it is like to have a vigorous schedule full of dance-related curriculum.  If a dancer isn’t familiar with modern dance, this festival will be an introduction to some of the concepts he or she will encounter in the future. Even if a dancer ultimately pursues ballet, contemporary choreographers often incorporate modern dance concepts, so having familiarity with modern dance will be helpful.


Food-wise, the college lacked a sufficient amount of healthy food to feed all of the dancers, but I believe that was rectified in the last few years. As I mentioned above, I attended the festival in its first year at Sarah Lawrence College, so there were still some glitches that were being worked out. That being said, it is possible to buy one’s own food, too, so the college dining plan isn’t necessary. BUT I will stress that having the meal plan is way more convenient than making one’s own food.

If a dancer gets the Sarah Lawrence Meal Plan, he or she will eat with a lot of the other students. Only the students not on the meal plan (these were generally the older students) didn’t eat with the festival participants at meal times.


I made it into New York City on weekends, but I also took that time to rest!! This festival really taught me how to pay attention to my body’s needs.


Summer in New York is VERY HOT. Most of the dancers stayed in dorms without A/C so a fan was necessary. I also grew to appreciate cold showers during my summer at WMSDF.

If you have any questions that I didn’t answer, please leave me a comment below! Happy dancing! 🙂

Duke Performances : A Month in Review (Part 4)


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Savion Glover / Image from Duke Performances (No copyright infringement intended)

Savion Glover / January 23, 2013, 8 PM / Page Auditorium                                    Image from Duke Performances (No copyright infringement intended)

On January 23rd, Savion Glover’s SoLe Sanctuary performance had its Page Auditorium audience abuzz before the show even started. And that’s not surprising.

As one of few living tap masters, Glover has been featured on television in shows ranging from Seasame Street to Dancing with the Stars. Glover has performed all over the world since his career began around 1985, and he is certainly no stranger to North Carolina audiences. SoLe Sanctuary brought the Duke audience something new; this show focused more on the physical practice of tap than on the form’s often performative nature, inviting the audience into a moving meditation.

In this work, Glover paid respect to his craft and to those who came before him. At Duke, Glover and his colleague, Marshall Davis Jr. tapped on a raised stage; above them hung photos of Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines and other legendary tappers, creating a living altar of sorts. Behind the raised stage, performer Kietaro Hosokawa meditated, heightening the widespread sense of calm onstage.

Glover began the performance with clasped hands and a downward gaze, dropping his heels and toes alternately and traveling in a circular pattern. As the hoofer picked up speed, those same small foot movements created a ripple effect through his lower legs and up through his knees. It was here that the audience first encountered Glover’s uncanny ability to maintain a sense of calm in his upper body while outputting a flurry of sound down below. And it was in those moments that audience members may have begun to wonder just how many beats per minute this tap master could muscle.


But no one was speedy enough to keep stats. When the bass dropped, Glover quickened his tapping, introducing scraping sounds and syncopation into his footwork with crisp precision. Glover’s meditative beats kept the audience hushed, especially when he began to tap one foot so fast that it seemed superhuman.

Auditory accompaniment during this part of the show layered heavenly “Ahh” sounds beneath a deep voice. Metered musings poured out of speakers in honey-like tones, warm and smooth with signature slowness. Glover kept the beat as the voice explained, “Tapping is like the rhythm of words…words overlap and repeat.” And for Glover, tapping is an extension of the soul.

This dancer’s ability to variate his volume and tone were undeniable as he performed both complicated combinations and basic beats, both solo and in unison with dancer Marshall Davis Jr. Throughout the evening, the two men played off of one another in a multitude of ways – one minute challenging each other in a dance battle of sorts and the next minute dancing in perfect unison. It was clear from his visible smile that Glover began to enjoy himself more thoroughly when joined by his colleague.

Savion Glover / Photo from Duke Performances (No copyright infringement intended)

Savion Glover / Photo from Duke Performances (No copyright infringement intended)

In this section, more showy material such as turns and wings elicited cheers from the crowd. There were also many solo moments, with a strong utilization of the sagittal plane of movement (upstage to downstage and vice versa) and a downward-facing V shape in the arms. As time progressed, the dancers began sweating through their clothing, creating a visual cue that this performance was a serious test of physical endurance…and of mental endurance, too.

SoLe Sanctuary, which was billed as 80 minutes with no intermission, stretched to 120 consecutive minutes. Though the audience certainly enjoyed watching the show, its visual appeal lagged more than once in what can perhaps be interpreted as improvisation gone overboard. Ultimately, though, the men made up for their long-windedness with their charisma and technical prowess.

At the evening’s end, the two men appeared to be in a Zen-like state. As audience members rose to their feet, the men embraced, bowed once and left the stage. I want to note here that Glover’s performance etiquette – both during and following the show – speak to his humility. As someone who watches a lot of live performances, I appreciate that Glover does not need extensive bows to confirm his excellence or success. Instead of presenting a show to members of his audience, Glover shares it with them. That alone truly makes a difference.

Have you seen Savion Glover perform? What was your experience like? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

Meow Meow – Beyond Glamour


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February 13, 2013, 8:15 PM  /  PSI Theatre in the Durham Arts Council

February 13, 2013, 8:15 PM / PSI Theatre in the Durham Arts Council

Imagine watching a live performance and feeling like your mere presence annoys the performer. Imagine feeling like the show itself is a huge inconvenience, and that the performer can’t wait for it to end. Then imagine being blown away by that very same performance, and you’ll have an idea of what it is like to watch Burlesque artist Meow Meow do her thing.

I had the pleasure of viewing Meow Meow’s evening-length show, Beyond Glamour, on February 13th at the Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theatre. And the pleasure was certainly mine, not hers…or so she made it seem.

At the top of the show, Meow Meow hurried in the door, smoking two cigarettes and dragging luggage behind her. She explained that she had had “a bit of a shitty afternoon,” after being dumped by her boyfriend and held up at the airport. Because her dancing boys were absent, Meow Meow had audience members carry her props to the stage while others hastily removed her layers of pleather and glittering garb. And with that shot-out-of-a-cannon style entrance, Meow Meow set the stage for a raucous, unpredictable evening.

From Meowmeowrevolution.com. No copyright infringement intended.

From Meowmeowrevolution.com. No copyright infringement intended.

Meow Meow spent the night letting the audience know how the show would have played out if it were in its top form. The captivating performer often gave lighting cues, requesting ‘political lighting’ for dramatic moments and blackouts when she felt humiliated; she also noted choreographic changes…may of which substituted less impressive moves for showy leaps and splits.

But no one in the audience was complaining.

Meow Meow’s performance quality was beyond seasoned; she spat out sarcastic remarks and crooned with perfect deliberation, all under the guise that she was having an “off” night.  From the singer’s ear-piercing shrieks to her haunting whispers, she had the audience members eating out of the palms of her hands – which was great, because she often asked them to get onstage.

Choice audience members found themselves helping Meow Meow undress, sharing her wine and performing onstage as her backup dancers. Meow Meow also occasionally requested that members of the audience translate her song lyrics, which ranged from French love songs to more ‘political texts’ in German or Italian.  And, in a heart-melting moment, Meow Meow slowed down to sing Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.”


Meow Meow’s command of multiple languages – her ability not only to speak them, but to imbue each one with genuine emotion – gave Beyond Glamour universal appeal; regardless of an audience member’s native tongue, Meow Meow can speak to him or her. And beyond her glamour and her well-tuned vocals, it is that ability to touch hearts that gives Meow Meow so much allure.

Meow Meow’s Beyond Glamour was a joy to watch, and I left wishing so badly that it had a surprise second half. You can rest assured, though, that Meow Meow let everyone in the audience know that she was contracted for only 70 minutes. And that was all we got.

Have you seen Meow Meow, or any other burlesque performer, in a live show? What was your experience like? Leave me a comment below and let me know!