Shift Dance has done it! Created an interesting, solid, successful dance festival. They’ve been smart enough to start small, include the local dance community and bring in artists from out of state who added diversity, polish and another perspective.
The opening night performances by Shift Dance founders and Albuquerque dance artists (choreographers Donna Jewell, Kelsey Paschich, Jacqueline Garcia and Lisa Nevada) represented contemporary dance with professionalism and imagination; the second night Allie Hankins offered up an absolutely delightful, sometimes sharp, sometimes very funny, dance-theater solo and tonight, the third night, it’s Jaxon Movement Arts with a beautiful contemporary ballet, looking all shiny and sophisticated.
I’ve enjoyed it tremendously…and I’m saying this as someone who has not attended an entire dance performance for exactly three years! So I guess I’ve proven addiction can be overcome…but why…?
Here are a few rather bad photos from the GOOD Jaxon Movement rehearsal just now.
Well Done Shift Dance. What a treat your Shift Dance Festival offered for the dance aficionados among us. We Albuquerqueans are privy to so little contemporary dance in our corner of the wild west making this event …well…an EVENT. The Festival opened last night (Thursday) and runs through Saturday night at the North Fourth Art Center and it is a professional presentation of the first order. The whole production, at least what we’ve seen so far, is polished; the PR is obviously good, attested to by a full house last night; the programs looked slick; and, best of all, the four dances were strong in themselves and complimented each other perfectly. The mood of the evening’s work ranged from somber to sexy and the dancers showed off the considerable talent available on the local scene.
I am not a dance critic and besides would never be able to critique these dance friends impartially. We all have our favorite pieces of art of whatever genre but the important thing about the Festival is that it’s a chance to see enough dance to even have favorites. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. Good Luck Shift Dance.
You may have noticed that I’ve paid slight attention to dance since 2013 when Global DanceFest was put to bed. After focusing on contemporary dance much of the time for 25 years or so I was so through—not however because I no longer loved my dancer friends or the art itself. I just couldn’t prostrate myself to one more grantor or worry about one more half full house or have one more person tell me how much they appreciated the brilliant dance I was bringing to Albuquerque when they’d only been to one performance in the past year! There. Promise. That was my One Long Whining sentence. (Trump is going to make more people ashamed of whining—as the disreputable master of the act—than all of our mothers ever managed to do with their stern admonishments against the nasty practice.)
Enough about me—except for the part about how I’m regaining some interest in and pleasure from Dance. This is about dance—or about how the next few posts will be about dance. The Shift Dance Festival is about to happen—the curtain is going up tonight at the North Fourth Art Center. I’ll write more about the artists and the work later but for now it feels good just to say I’m excited about the next three nights of dance.
Shift Dance is a company of young dancers who have banded together to bring some excitement back to the Albuquerque dance scene—which right now does not exist at the local level and certainly we are invisible at the national and international level. So Shift wants to fix this sad situation. Great Good Luck to Them.
Here are a few photos from a couple of nights ago when Allie Hankins from Portland was rehearsing; I watched for awhile and am happy to report that she is a most fascinating performer…I say fascinating especially because she made me curious, wanting to know what was coming just around the next moves, the next words, the next shift… And that’s all I ask of artists really…just please make me curious. Allie is performing Friday night, so be sure and come to that if you’re here in New Mexico, and definitely come tonight and Saturday night as well…IT’S ALL GOOD.
I tried to blog this but everything turned cattywampus so just copied.
South Africa—History Re-lived, Re-enacted, Reconsidered
The Afrikaner thunders his god-like proclamations as ancient cultures slip away in a feast gone awry. Meanwhile Sowetans hang at their new Mall of America prototype…doing exactly what Minnesotans are doing half way round the world—spending money on designer labels, new cell phones, junk jewelry, DVD’s, washers and dryers. It has been an eye-opening couple of days here in Jo’burg where the rain has departed, the sun shines and we more and more absorb the big vitality and excitement of this country—so like the US in so many ways.
A second week of contemporary dance of every size and shape begins today. I vow to eat less, a difficult task since the food is delectably good here (although I can’t speak for the crispy, greasy, salty quotient of the endless array of fried chicken places) and the wine does seem to be way above average—even the house wines are always smooth with a kind of sunny freshness that my seriously untutored palate actually notices. The African Crafts Market is appropriately stuffed with souvenirs from around Africa. Mostly beaded, carved, wired, tall, short, brown, gold, stripped, spotted giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras and hippo/rhinos abound; they’re called The Big 5 and they are the stuff of tourist nirvana—on hoof, paw or shop shelf. I would name South Africa’s Big 5 a little differently. Let’s see—how about the DANCE; the wide-open debate among everyday people and politicos about the future and SA’s continental role; the endless spaces of desert, veld, bush and farm country; the energy and excitement of the approaching world cup and finally the palpable presence of history-making in the very air you breathe.
About history then. An astonishing piece of work happened Sunday afternoon at the Dance Factory. Called The Time of Small Berries, created/performed by Sello Pesa, Peter Van Heerden and Andre Laubscher. I am doing my own interpretation/description here with some trepidation. I had to let the piece work through my psyche overnight before I even knew quite what it was—but a few minutes in I knew it was going to be important to me. Quite simply the work is what happened to the traditions of the indigenous people under colonialism. The Time of Small Berries was a special feast time in traditional African cultures—until Afrikaner colonialism obliterated it along with many of the other traditions of the Xhosa and Zulu people. The Afrikaners, founders of apartheid, in fact destroyed everything in their path that threatened their desire for total domination, replacing it with a harsh and bitter Eurocentrism of the most regressive sort. The Time of Small Berries forces us to recognize that loss.
The audience wanders to the stage loading door, nearby Sello washes in preparation for the celebration, a pig slowly turns on the spit, drops of grease sizzle and the smell reminds me of a New Mexico political gathering in the South Valley on a crisp fall afternoon. When we finally enter the theater it is to sit in chairs circling the centerpiece…how incongruous a centerpiece it is with the chickens and dripping greasy messy meat and cases of beer just nearby…it is a white tablecloth and silver-set long table where visual artist/social activist Andre Laubscher, invites various audience members to sit. And talk. Meanwhile Sello Pesa and Peter Van Heerden pace, struggle, tie themselves literally in knots amidst sacks of spilling corn and beer. The chickens run under the chairs cackling in annoyance, stacks of plates are smashed violently by the actors over their own heads, a little more hesitantly by the audience, beer is everywhere, I guess what is South African/Afrikaner country music plays. Sello pees in a pail (discreetly) and donning his soccer uniform pontificates in an I-am-an-Afrikaner speech endlessly replicated—the irony building as platitudes from the whitest of cultures emanates from the throat of a powerful black African man. And still polite society sits around the table of colonialism discussing how to be happy, discussing what you do if your baby’s raped, somehow making it equally fit into the most inane of dinner table conversation. .
Peter Van Heerden and Sello Pesa are both respected dance/theater artists coming from very different places it seems. Peter is grappling with/exploring, through highly confrontive site-based and staged work, his identity as an Afrikaner white man in a society that has moved on from a time when that identity represented the source of all power. To see this work with roles reversed, Sello mouthing the Afrikaner speech, Peter literally tied, bound, struggling with his burdens of corn and history, so angry. I THINK THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PIECE. And a big messy theater piece. Not so many artists willing to delve quite this far into these relationships probably. I hope to ask both Sello and Peter via e-mail a little more about this work and include their comments in here.
There, I have dissected this work through my own naïve dance/South African history lens—it’s my story and I’m sticking to it in other words—only to be terribly embarrassed later if I find I completely misinterpreted everything.
History is contemporary is everywhere is alive here. Gregory Maqoma, our Dance Umbrella host and one of our favorite dance artists in this rich South African dance landscape, took us on a drive through his hometown, Soweto. I’ve been before, the tourist route to the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum (the 13-year-old child who was shot and killed as students marched to protest the forced teaching of Afrikaans in the schools—the resulting photo of the boy carried bleeding from the site by two other fleeing children was a huge chink in the armor of apartheid), we drove into the Beverly Hills of Soweto where the modest little home first shared by the young newly-married Mandela’s and the only street in the world that has been home to TWO Noble Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu) and we saw from the hill Winnie’s current rather grander house where she lives and maintains a still powerful role in the ANC.
The best part was simply driving around contemporary Soweto. While the area does have its Beverly Hills, it is more about the ordinary pleasant homes in the older communities—the kind of homes in which most of us live or grew up. The very word Soweto conjures up massive blocks and warrens of hovels and crime and hopelessness and while those areas do still exist, most lives are lived in modest little or not-so-little homes, agreeably furnished, well-maintained, filled with famiy and cooking and dogs.
Gregory took us to meet his mom, a lovely vital woman, a widow with three sons, the dancer, the soon-to-be sangoma (traditional healer) and the soccer player. Her home is spacious and comfortable and, if the treat she sent with us is an example, a cake baker extraordinaire. Gregory’s brother was home, the dogs were playing, the mom and sons equally proud of each other. It is such a rare treat to get to meet the artists’ families—we are most grateful to Greg for the opportunity. We also found out that Greg has been commissioned to choreograph the opening dance number for the World Cup games held in the massive Soweto stadium. Now I have a reason to watch the Cup!
Kids coming home from school, scuffing their sneakers, teasing each other, kids rehearsing in a community center, sun shines on the giant Orlando Towers, a disused power station whose two cooling towers are landmarks on the Soweto skyline. They now serve as a showcase for the electric blues, greens, reds and golds of everyday life in Soweto as a train winds past the musicians playing, the fruit waiting to be tasted in the biggest mural in Africa—they could be said to power a certain irrepressible Soweto energy and pride. I am not trying to convey that all is love and roses in Soweto but there is something very infectious about the pride everyone from there seems to find in those origins. After all Soweto and the townships of Cape Town are where it all happened. They forced a nation to freedom—pretty inspiring. Remember we fought a civil war in addition to our marches and freedom rides, and South Africans managed to do it without resorting to the battlefields in the way much of the world expected. Sorry about that…but I am simply over and over impressed with this place and these people—black and white South Africans.
“Movement Afoot” seemed like an appropriate title for stories about how I discovered and explored the wide world of dance. However, when I googled the phrase, fitness and yoga studios seem to have latched on to the term (movements afoot). It still works for some of these dance posts I think so I’ll keep it anyway.
I reblogged “A Short History of Dance in my Life” which describes my entry into this strange new land but not the origins of the international path which I was suddenly following.
Connecting dance to place started for me in France. I actually cannot remember how I first started looking intensively and extensively at French dance. Being enthralled with Paris and every French sight/taste/nuance, which was all fairly new to me, certainly helped. I was presenting a range of performing arts at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque NM AND in the process meeting and being guided by the NYC contemporary dance sophisticates and international travelers AND French dance was hot at the time.
It was magical. Paris is a very special place in all ways and what a grand thing, to be sitting at a sidewalk café with your cigarettes and café au lait or wine, gazing just over there at the Eiffel Tower and listening to the elegant sounds of the French language all around. Increasingly the talk was of dance…contemporary dance treasured and supported by the French government. Imagine that!
The choreographers and companies I remember most clearly are Dominique Bagouet, Angelin Preljocaj/Ballet Preljocaj (who was here for Global DanceFest’s grand 2001 opening), Maguy Marin, Mathilde Monnier, Josef Nadj and of course the American transplant, Carolyn Carlson. There were others but with an array like that who needed more. I was enthralled and curious.
I so lacked background in American contemporary dance, or dance of any kind for that matter, that being introduced to new work in a new country was like entering a different reality. I had no references; when my friends and mentors related what they were seeing back to the founders and stars of “modern” dance in America and Europe I was the clueless bystander.
What I did know was that—given the limited American dance I had seen in New Mexico (extremely limited) and at the conferences and showcases I was attending around the country—I was more enamored of what I was seeing in France. Why the greater interest was the question.
It took me awhile to develop an answer that suited me. The dance in France was a little less about technique and pure movement and more about things/stuff/stories/ideas. It also seemed a little more confrontive, maybe a little rawer, a little sexier, more original somehow? And the program was one coherent piece, not three pretty dances of 10 to 20 minutes each. I loved it all. Indiscriminately.
I immediately began trying to analyze what about French culture, history or geography had produced those differences. I know…I know… I know. My learned dance friends can trace it all to various choreographic/artistic movements and influences. Which is true and accurate and informed. But I wasn’t interested in that, what I wanted to figure out was what about being French was showing up on stage. Of course there was no answer that made sense.
But here’s what I decided. France has a proud intellectual history so why wouldn’t that be reflected in their dance as well as in other cultural pursuits—dance of ideas? France has a long history as a colonial power so why wouldn’t their experience of other cultures make more story, more nuance possible in their dance—dance more worldly. France is known as a nation of diverse sensual appetites—why wouldn’t their dance reflect that sensuality. This was an answer that made sense. To me at least.
That was all over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve seen American dance take on all of those characteristics to some degree, and I have no idea what is happening with French dance. But that line of questioning is what propelled me down the track of forever analyzing contemporary dance based on the broadest of cultural, environmental, historical and political influences. For better or worse.
Don’t worry…this message is not coming to you from a Doomsday Cult. it is only the END of GLOBAL DANCEFEST. And of my dance blogging. Which was never my finest accomplishment in any case. The truth is—as pleasurable as discovering and presenting interesting dance has been—I am pretty inarticulate when it comes to discussing or describing it.
In the meantime, between now and October 5th I will keep trying! With some final pieces about my experiences in the field and also re-blogging some of the posts that seem worth sharing.
A few days ago in “Dancing to a Different Tune” I talked about constantly trying to find geographical/historical/cultural meaning in all of the work I’ve seen and/or presented from all over the world. And how sometimes it feels like the connections are so obviously there—other times like I’m forcing it. More about that in the next few days. I think.
In the meantime I’m going to re-blog something I wrote last fall before deciding to stop presenting. It’s called “A SHORT HISTORY OF DANCE IN MY LIFE,” and is both about how I came to this world of contemporary dance and how I interpret it for my presenting purposes. (At the time Global DanceFest was going to morph into something called Journeys instead of ending.)
I don’t know how to incorporate another blog post into a new one so this will be two separate posts.