alight likes: Project Dance

Alight will be performing at Project Dance D.C. on the Sylvan Theater, near the base of the Washington Monument, on August 20, 2011.

Project Dance is a movement of dancers seeking to positively impact culture through artistic integrity. The movement was born ten years ago out of a desire to serve the people of New York City directly after the events of September 11th and it has managed to do just that. Each year thousands of New Yorkers stop to watch the concert held on a temporary stage on the corner of 44th Street and Broadway.

This year Project Dance is bringing their signature three day event to Washington, D.C. for the first time during this 10th anniversary of September 11th.  The weekend will be centered around an all day outdoor dance concert on the National Mall which is free to the public. The goal of the concert is to bring a message of  hope, joy and healing through the universal language of dance.

Alight Dance Theater is excited to be part of this year’s Project Dance event. We’ll be performing excerpts from Speechless as well as some sections from our current project, Truth Be Told.  If you want to catch us performing on the National Mall next month, be sure to make your way towards the Washington Monument on Saturday, August 20th. The concert runs from 10am-5pm, and Alight will definitely be performing in the afternoon hours. So, throw some water and sunscreen in your bag, and come join us.

alight likes: Thought of You

Thought of You – Behind the Scenes Preview – ROUGH CUT from Cambell Christensen on Vimeo.

“Thought of You” is a short 2-D animated film directed and animated by Ryan Woodwood.  The work blends figure drawings, 2D animation, visual Fx, and contemporary dance to evoke the movement and emotion of an intimate relationship.  Woodward has had a very successful career working on big distribution Hollywood films such as Spider Man 3, Iron Man 2 and Where the Wild Things Are, but this was a personal project, just something he’d envisioned for a while and wanted to make happen.

I discovered “Thought of You” when a dancer friend of mine, Sarah Anne Austin, posted it on her Facebook page, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.  Usually, when I think of dancing animation, I get visions of Disney movies like Fantastia or Beauty in the Beast in my head.  And, honestly, I am sucker for some good cartoon dancing of the sort where pink elephants prance and Bugs Bunny square dances.  That said, “Thought of You” is something all together different because it actually evokes the delicacy and power of modern dance in a way that strikes me much the same way as a live dance performance.

As a choreographer, it was clear to me from watching the finished product that Woodward had collaborated with some real flesh-and-blood dancers to work this magic.  I’ve posted above a short documentary of the process of making “Thought of You” (see the finished product HERE) because I loved seeing how this brilliant collaboration between the animator, the choreographer and the dancers worked.  For me, seeing the process through which any is work developed almost heightens the sense of magic and mystery surrounding the final performance or product, and this was no different.

In my own work, as well in the work of artists I admire, there always seems to be a bit of alchemy involved.  First there is the idea, the tiny seed of thought which becomes a vision and eventually evolves into plans with schedules and deadlines.  People come together to work, think, create, fail and regroup and finally produce this thing that was once just a thought.  In the process, the original idea remains both essentially unchanged and yet often radically altered by the touch of the particular artists working in concert.  In the end, every work of art is a bit of miracle. Something as elegant as “Thought of You” is the sum of its parts and yet completely transcends the nuts and bolts of its components.

Through the window

Most Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons alight is in rehearsal at the Greenbelt Community Center Dance Studio. The studio is a lovely space with blonde hard wood floors, floor to ceiling mirrors on two walls and a bank of windows on another. Just outside those windows is this amazing

rose garden.  The dance studio is located on the lower level in the back of the building, so the rose garden is sort of tucked away–not hidden but separated from the main walkways near the building. From inside the studio, through the old cloudy windows, the bright color presses up against the building,

a bit blurry like an Impressionist painting.  When I’m alone in the studio choreographing, I like to open the side door and peek out at the color and texture and fragrance just outside.  I love the contrast between the clean, open space of the dance studio and the overgrown, luxurious beauty of the garden.  Set side by side, they both feed my creative process.

The empty studio just cries out to be filled with movement, energy, laughter and a good sweat.  And, the garden is already so kinetic, so active,  so complete in itself that it invites stillness. It is a eloquent reminder that stillness is as much a part of the dance as silence is a part of music.  And, being the committed multi-tasker I am, it is a reminder I need.

alight likes: Crochet madness

Polish artist Agata Oleksiak creates a riot of color with crochet.

I love color.  It makes me want to move. This kind of bright, vibrant, so electric it is almost offensive color, just energizes me.  It is like seeing music, like the intoxicating beat of techno music blasting silently, texture instead of sound.  Maybe it is the 64 Box Crayons syndrome. As a kid, opening a huge box of new crayons was always sort of magical, filled with the possibility and joy of densely packed color.  The work of mixed media artist Agata Oleksiak gives me that same feeling.

Agata grew up in industrial Poland and graduated from  A. Mickiewicz University with a degree in cultural studies.  After moving to New York City, she rediscovered her ability to crochet and just started wrapping everything around her chains of color.  She describes her creative process this way:

A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable. The movies I watch while crocheting influence my work, and my work dictates the films I select. I crochet everything that enters my space. Sometimes it’s a text message, a medical report, found objects. There is the unraveling, the ephemeral part of my work that never lets me forget about the limited life of the art object and art concept. What do I intend to reveal? You have to pull the end of the yarn and unravel the story behind the crochet.

Her process is one of accumulation, an overflowing of soft, chaotic color. To me, it is excessive and obsessive in the best way possible.  And, it reminds me again of the power of art to surprise and delight us.

Preparing for Wednesday night rehearsals with alight, I often find myself thinking about how I can use our finite time together most effectively, most efficiently, most productively.  That’s all a necessary part of the director gig i.e. managing time and resources thoughtfully.  And yet, Agata’s work reminds me that my most primary responsibility is be an artist that delights, surprises, challenges, evokes and celebrates.  Now, I feel like dancing!


You can overcome your application-phobia and still get your stuff into the Eureka Dance Festival before the new March 25th deadline!

Kate Jordan is a friend of mine and one of the co-founders of Eureka Dance Festival. We were chatting recently, comparing schedules and trying to find a time to bring Kate in to teach alight Open Company Class.  In the meantime, we also got to talking about a common ailment affecting young choreographers: application-phobia.

Every year Eureka Dance Festival selects a group of DC-metro area dance artists to create new works for the festival.  In order to be considered for this opportunity, choreographers must submit an application.  The deadline was recently extended to March 25th, so, if you are application phobic but interested in this opportunity, you still have time to apply.

As I am writing this, I am in middle of working on several applications for funding and performance opportunities all which are due in the next couple months. From experience, I know that applications like this are a lot of work and, of course, there is no guarantee that they will pay off in terms of real money or opportunities.  For young choreographers, I think it can be particularly daunting to put forth the effort to complete and submit such applications because all that work could just lead to rejection.

Last year, I was awarded the Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning Grant to create alight’s most recent work, Speechless, but, when I sent in the application, I just assumed I would not receive the funding.  I’ve applied for many things in the past with no results, but I kept trying.  As dancers, we know we have to hone our craft in class and rehearsals on a weekly basis if we’re going to improve.  Writing grant proposals and festival applications may not be as exciting as a good technique class, but those skills take practice too. You can’t expect to improve if you’re not trying.

If you’ve been thinking about applying for the Eureka Dance Festival or any other opportunity, don’t hesitate and just do it.  My advice is to take the risk.  Applications are a lot work, but they can also lead to amazing things…but only for those who actually meet the deadline!

P.S. Kate Jordan will be teaching alight OPEN COMPANY CLASS on Wednesday, April 13th, 6:30-8pm. Class is free and open to all intermediate / advanced dancers.  All alight classes and rehearsals take place at the Greenbelt Community Center Dance Studio located at 15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770.  Free parking. Public transit accessible: Take Green line to Greenbelt Station & transfer to the G12 or G14.  UMD-College Park students can take Shuttle 106 to Greenbelt.

alight likes: Tea with Liz Lerman & friends

This weekend the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange premiered their newest work, A Matter Of Origins, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park.   Described as “a performance, a conversation, a floor show, a game show and a chance to meet big minds,” the work begins in the theater and ends in with the entire audience moving to three nearby part rooms for “a 360-degree experience of dance, media, cake, tea, and provocative conversation.”

In preparation for this massive undertaking, Elizabeth Johnson, a long-time Liz Lerman company member, was given the task of recruiting fifty dancers to act as servers / floor show dancers for the tea room experience.  Myself as well as alight dancers Sarah Kramer and Monica Warren Schaeffer answered the call, so, for the past couple weeks, we’ve been rehearsing with this huge group of dancers including Liz Lerman company members, UMD students and professional dancers from all over the DC metro area.  Yesterday was our last show together, so I took my camera and did my best to capture some of my favorite backstage moments.  (You can click on any of the photos below for a larger view & my quick captions.)

alight likes: Dance in White House

On Tuesday, September 7th, the White House's East Room was filled with dancers at the invitation of Michelle Obama in honor of Ailey's Judith Jamison. The photo above captures a group of young dancers in action as they learned some Ailey repertory in the student dance workshop.

On Tuesday, Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever salute to dance at the White House.  Framed as a tribute to Judith Jamison, the long-time Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Michelle Obama invited members of Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor Dance  Company, the Washington Ballet, Super Cr3w and New York City Ballet to perform in White House’s elegant East Room. In addition, a select group of  dance students from dance schools around the country were invited to participate in a workshop with some Ailey dancers.  I particularly watching those young, enthusiastic dancers progress through their isolations and pliés in their leotards and sweats such a gilded setting.  It was a beautiful juxtaposition–the flexible, articulate bodies of the dancers framed by the stately setting with all its history, not to mention the stunning chandelier shimmering overhead.  The First Lady promised there would be more dance in the White House in the future, so we’re looking forward to seeing the White House get its groove on again in the near future.  Our only complaint is that we weren’t invited! Maybe next time.

To watch a clip of the White House Dance Series: Student Workshop, featuring kids from all over the country in a modern dance class with Alvin Ailey dancers, click here.

alight likes: Dance on Camera

Presented annually by the Dance Films Association and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Dance On Camera Festival celebrates the immediacy, energy, and mystery of dance when combined with the intimacy of film.

From time to time, I check out the short dance films on the Dance on Camera channel on  Last night I needed a brain break from my work, so I decided to watch a dance or two to clear my mind.  The films featured on the site are selected by the Dance Films Association and TenduTV to reflect the past, present and future of the art of dance on camera, so there’s a little of everything and a good bit of the unexpected.

I started off by watching a piece called “Little Ease (Outside the Box)” which took a 1985 Elizabeth Streb piece and moved it from the stage to an urban environment.  Interestingly, it began with video footage of the same work from various performances since 1985 layered over the present-day performer.  The original dance is a solo in a rectangular box, or perhaps more accurately a duet with a small space.  To translate the original choreography into the city environment, the dancer uses various different structures and surfaces that serve as one surface of the box or another.  The effect is that the city, instead of the box, become the container for the dance.  Fascinating, and occasionaly kind of uncomfortable.

Still taking my break from working on my own dance to watch others dancing, I double-clicked on another  piece entitled The Wall. To my surprise, this video was produced by Nejla Yatkin who was a professor at the University of Maryland-College Park while I was there earning my MFA.  I actually had the opportunity to  dance for her in a short film work called “Dancing with DC” while she was based in this area.  Also, the music for the The Wall was composed by Robert Novak who works as an accompanist for the UMD dance program.  It was a fun surprise stumble across the work of people I know and respect, and, sort of hiliarious that I had to watch a Red Lobster restaurant commercial before seeing their lovely work unfold across my computer screen.

In any case, The Wall reflects “the dynamic interaction between individuals, movement and the emotional impact of barriers” and was created as part of Yatkin’s Berlin Wall Project in 2009.  I saw the concert version of the work Wallstories at Dance Place about a year ago and was really touched by it.  Seeing this film version brought back that memory and reminded me of the simple power of the unfolding story.  It was just exactly what I needed to return my own work renewed.  So, if you’re looking for a dance distraction from whatever you’re doing, click here and enjoy!

alight likes: enjoying the SMALL things

This blog features the writings & photographs of Kelle Hampton. Many of her entries focus on her experience of caring for her youngest child, Cordelia, who was born with Down's Syndrome.

A couple weeks ago, I shared a video clip of my interview with the Bonanno family who I met when I visited New Jersey in late July.  Entitled “Intense therapy & alot of love,” the clip features parents Anthony and Michele describing the process of coming to a diagnosis for their daughter, Serena.  In response to that post, a good friend of mine, Sharon Evely, shared one her favorite blogs.  So, I’m passing it along to you…

Kelle Hampton is a a blogger, photographer and mother of two lovely girls.   In her blog Enjoying the Small Things, she talks a lot about her experience as a mother, particularly the joys and struggles of caring for her youngest daughter, Cordelia, who was born with Down’s Syndrome in January of this year.  One of the most moving of entries tells the story of Cordelia’s birth–the moment by moment elation, pain and disillusionment of Cordelia’s birth and Kelle’s own realization that Cordelia wasn’t quite what they expected.  Kelle’s recounting of her daughter’s birth story is both heart-breaking and inspiring.  In one of her most honest moments, she is nursing her new baby for the first time while still coping with her disappointment: “I just kept envisioning this other baby…the one that I felt died the moment I realized it wasn’t what I expected.”

It is honest.  And, true to what I’ve heard for years from my own family, my cousin Taylor’s parents, as well as from the other parents I’ve interviewed for the Speechless project. My aunt Bonnie frequently talks about the constant need to allow herself to grieve what Taylor is not, may never be, in order to get about the business of accepting who Taylor is and enjoying the perfect child she has.  Like Kelle’s little one, Cordelia, Taylor isn’t a typical child, but she is perfectly and joyously herself. She just isn’t, and can never be, the child that perhaps we imagined her to be before she was born.

Inevitably, all parents have all kinds of expectations for their unborn children, natural and well-intentioned expectations, which are disappointed slowly over time and usually seamlessly replaced with the vision of that child who that child was created to be.  Lots of parents unconsciously expect an athlete or a brain trust like themselves, and, instead, find that they were blessed with an artist or a class clown or a mystery instead.  For parents of special needs parents, like Kelle Hampton and my aunt Bonnie, this process of abandoning expectations and embracing the experience of that child must begin immediately, even as the body is still exhausted and emotions raw.   And, Kelle’s writing captures this reality with pain-staking, crystalline detail and challenges me to face my own dashed expectations with more grace…less anger…

alight likes: Art21

Art:21 is a PBS program that focuses exclusively on contemporary visual art and artists in the United States.

When I’m doing work around the house, I often listen to music or the radio.  Recently, I discovered the PBS program Art21: Art in the 21st Century on, and it has become my new favorite thing to listen to while I’m washing dishes or sweeping.  Each one hour episode is loosely organized around a theme, like paradox or play, and profiles several artists actively engaged in their art-making process and/or managing the installation process of a new work.

The program focuses exclusively on contemporary visual artists in the United States and gives the viewer an opportunity to see the artists at work in a way that seems oddly intimate.  Perhaps the best thing about Art21 is that it allows the artists to pretty much speak for themselves.  The programs are framed with quotes from the artists that relate to the theme of the program.  For example, the “Paradox” episode opens with a quote from artist Mark Bradford, “I’m a builder and a demolisher. I put up, so I can turn down.”  This articulation of his own identity as an artist certainly echos with paradox, and, thankfully, Art21 leaves it at that without adding editorial comment to the artists’ statement.

Entitled Kryptonite, this is one of the works Mark Bradford discusses in Art:21 / Paradox. Working in both paint and collage, Bradford incorporates elements from daily life into his canvases such as remnants of found posters and billboards and hairdresser’s permanent endpapers.

While I am listening to artists like Bradford at work, my hands are busy with small mundane tasks, but my mind is full of the poetry of their art-making language.  And, all of this renews me as an artist.  This morning I’m cleaning my kitchen, but tonight I’ll be in the studio making countless little decisions that will shape my work.  Hearing other contemporary artists talk through their sources of inspiration and their artistic influences is fascinating, but hearing them detail the intricate, exhausting process through which they create is comforting.  It reminds me that this is part of the beauty of the artist at work–that moment when all the skill, focus and knowledge are honed in on one brushstroke or gesture.  Art is so concentrated.

To watch the episode with Mark Bradford, click HERE.  Prepare to be inspired!