Every December I make a month-by-month year-in-review update to tuck into the Christmas cards we send to all our friends and family this time of year. Today as I dropped a nice, big stack of holiday cards into the post office box, I thought it would be fun to start a new holiday tradition celebrating another year of working with alight. I hope you enjoy our first annual alight year-in-review photo gallery. Lots of people like to do retrospectives things like this during that first week of January, but I think the holiday season is all about taking time to reflect on where you’ve been and we’re you’re headed. So, this is where we’ve been this year. We hope you enjoy taking a glance back with us as we are already busy preparing for our first performance of the new year on January 21, 8pm and January 22, 4pm at Dance Place. See you soon?
Special thanks to Gregory Miller, husband of alight dancer Heather Creek, for these amazing shots of us performing on the outdoor Sylvan Theater stage with Project Dance DC on Saturday, August 20 along with about 100 other dancers from all over the country. It was so hot out there that the black dance flooring on the stage was practically melting, but the dancers managed to give a beautiful performance despite the crazy conditions. Not sure how Greg got such great shots out there in the sun and elements, but it was a treat to get photos in the my inbox. Enjoy!
For a few more minutes, it is still 9.11.2011. Since I woke up this morning, I’ve been aware that I know what day it is. I know why this day matters, and, like so many others, I listened to President Obama, former President Bush and Mayor Bloomberg reflect on the weight of this day at this morning’s memorial service in New York City. I listened as the names of the victims of the 9.11 attacks were read aloud by loved ones who mourned them. As they paused for the first moment of silence at 8:46am, I wept. Really wept. Maybe you did too.
Like every American of over a certain age, I remember 9.11.2001 in quite vivid detail. Like you, I have my own story to tell of that day. I was on my way to teach dance at a small studio on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. I arrived at the studio and saw just what I expected–lots of eager little girls dressed in their pink leotards and tights ready for their first day of creative movement. But, I also saw something I didn’t expect. The mothers were all huddled around the small television in the lobby in stunned quiet. The first plane had just struck. I didn’t watch. They barely noticed as I took their little girls downstairs into the dance studio. When the second plane it, I was running and jumping with a room full of smiling, giggling little dancers.
I have lots of other memories from that day. The sky was so blue. I sat on some rocks in Central Park with my now husband, Ben, watching bomber jets circle overhead Manhattan. In the middle of the park, it was incredibly peaceful, too peaceful. That much quiet seems unnatural in a place like New York City. I remember a lot about that day, but it is the morning after that still unnerves me.
I couldn’t go to work. We weren’t allowed back into the Citicorp building yet. I couldn’t go to class. All the places I took class–Cunningham, Limon, Dancespace, Peridance–were all below 14th Street which was blocked off. You couldn’t get past Union Square. Like most, my life in New York was usually loud, exhausting, a bit on the chaotic side. Like today, I woke up on 9.12.11 still not understanding what had happened but knowing that it had happened and that it mattered. I felt restless. I should have been pushing my way onto a subway train, eating my bagel as I walked to class at the Cunningham studio and then racing uptown to get to my admin job at the Martha Graham Center. I couldn’t just sit at home.
Ben and I decided to go down to the Flatiron Building where he worked at the time. And, this is what I remember most about 9.12 The streets were practically deserted. We walked right down the middle of Fifth Avenue with hardly a person or a taxi in sight. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. It was a bit hazy and smokey, but otherwise in the valley of the streets, between the buildings, it was just quiet. And, I think that’s why the moment of silence this morning brought that flood of tears. That’s what I remember. Walking slowly down the middle of Fifth Avenue, not saying a word. There was nothing to say and, I just kept thinking, “So, what do we do now?”
SAVE THE DATE!
Event at the Dance RINK (1750 Union Avenue #D Baltimore, MD).
Doors open at 7:30pm and entertainment begins at 8:00pm.
Tickets are $25 (includes food & one drink ticket). Starting September 15, tickets will be available for purchase online at www.alightdancetheater.org
This summer we’ve been on-location a few times shooting footage for our current project, Truth Be Told. Through the guise of a live-action “reality” show, Truth Be Told is the story of 5 women with 5 secrets who are competing for one prize and the chance to keep their secret safe. We’ve been having a lot of fun with this wacky concept, and our latest adventure was filming on-location at the Jefferson Memorial last weekend.
First of all, it was hot! I mean, really hot, like there was a serious heat advisory from 10am to 10pm last Saturday. All of us met at the Jefferson Memorial at 8am. I was carrying some bulky camera equipment (courtesy of Greenbelt Access TV) as well as dragging an even heavier cooler loaded up with ice, water and lemonade for the scorcher ahead. The dancers arrived one-by-one looking fabulous, and dancer / video artist Dianamaria Adams (pictured above) came looking cool, comfy and ready to get to work. Our reality show inspired challenge was to give a faux sincere D.C. press conference style apology for the camera on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. (And, no, we didn’t get arrested; the police on-duty were really friendly and just asked us to be respectful of other visitors.)
Dancing on marble in the heels in crazy heat is no easy task, but Michelle, Monica, Valerie, Caitlin, Sarah and Wayles braved the conditions with style! Dianamaria Adams and I will be pouring through the footage and editing our three hours of shooting into one action-packed 5-7 minute dance sequence which will unfold live and on-screen during Truth Be Told. You’ll be able to see the rough cut of the sequence at our first annual gala preview concert on Saturday, October 15th at the Dance Rink in Baltimore.
This Saturday we’ll be filming on location in Greenbelt, Maryland near the Greenbelt Community Center where we rehearse every week. If you’re out and about in Greenbelt’s Roosevelt Center this Saturday morning, you might just see us out in the sun again, looking camera ready and shooting the opening sequence of Truth Be Told.
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.
So, I love this photo of alight dancer and choreographer, Monica Warren Schaeffer, all geared up, snazzy headlamp and hard hat and all, ready to head into a cave in the Austrian alps.
The scale of these mountains is incredible. It is hard to imagine Monica moving through the earth under such masses in her pink and purple jacket and just walking out unmarked by the experience.
And, she didn’t. There wasn’t any dramatic cave collapse or television movie worthy moments of harrowing escape, but the experience left its mark on her.
Next weekend, you can get a sneak peek at her new work, Shadowmark, which was inspired by her experience of following a narrow beam of light through the darkness that lays under the weight of the world. You should come–unless, of course, you have plans to go caving the Austrian alps yourself next weekend.
“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.
By the age of eleven, I had some regrets. Ever since I could remember I had wanted to be ballet dancer. By third grade, I had read every single book in my elementary school that even mentioned word dance. No exaggeration. The librarian told me that herself.
All that reading had taught me three very important things. First, ballet dancers were ideally between 5’4 and 5’6 so that even on pointe they would not be “too tall” to be partnered. Secondly, ballet dancers had to start very young at about the age of seven. And, finally, they needed to train everyday, preferably somewhere like New York City or Moscow. Though I kept praying to be no taller than 5’6, I kind of already new I wasn’t going to make it in the world of ballet.
My eventual height wouldn’t change the fact that by eleven years of age I was still living in Kentucky and had only taken a few YMCA dance classes. My parents couldn’t afford fancy lessons, and, even if they could, there weren’t any distinguished schools of dance in my hometown. As if that wasn’t enough, I had flat feet. The books were very clear; flat feet were not ideal for a ballet dancer.
Now, fast forward to last Friday when I performed an excerpt from Speechless for the Women’s Day at Springhill Lake Elementary. Sitting in the audience, at a school cafeteria table, I am nibbling at the breakfast food provided and waiting for the program to begin. Onstage already are the two fifth grade girls who are serving as the hosts of the show. One is very out-spoken, quite confident and the other a quieter girl with a big smile.
In addition, there are about 25 other fifth grade girls ready to deliver biographies of famous women and/or sing with the “selected girls” chorus. They are dressed up in their best clothes which ranges from very trendy fare to classic Sunday-best dresses. They were all fresh-faced, on their best behavior and acting impossibly proud of themselves. They all looked so young, so unmarked by life, just full of future promise and potential.
And then, my eleven year old self chimed in. These girls aren’t waiting to start living in some distant magical future. Everyone of them already has hopes and dreams, maybe even some regrets. They still look like children but inside they are already little women who are starting to work out who and what they want to be. As I watched them sing Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” I stopped thinking about their “potential” and began to appreciate all they had to offer the world already.
The fifth grade girls of Springhill Lake Elementary reminded me that becoming a women, being a woman, is about how you live each day as it comes. In this Women’s History Month, I am inspired by the hope, spirit and seriousness of purpose those young ladies demonstrated. They reminded me that my eleven-year-old regrets have faded away, but the passion and perserverance of my childhood have helped me survive many disappointments. They also reminded me that the women who have served me best in my journey have treated me like the woman I wanted to be rather than the child I was at the moment.
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.