Saturday, December 3, 2016

Afro-Caribbean legacy: Visit "La Sirene" this weekend



The Afro-Cuban Lukumi Arts--founded in 2008 as "an open and growing collective of artists, orisha/palo priests and practitioners, singers, dancers, percussionists, MCs and producers"--presents La Sirene: Rutas de Azucar at Brooklyn's JACK performance space now through tomorrow evening. Dedicated to the Black mermaid water deity who protected Haitian sugarcane workers on their way to Cuba, the 90-minute program is an immersive experience created by a thriving network of multi-talented, accomplished artists dedicated to the continuing relevance of Afro-Atlantic history and spiritual culture especially in our time of renewed resistance to oppression.

For four days, singer/performer Jadele McPherson in collaboration with Director Charlotte Brathwaite, offers a cosmic sonic journey through black liberation figures, conjurers and spiritual leaders from Haiti and Cuba, surrounded by fellow performers Val Jeanty, Maxine Montilus, Yomaira Gonzalez, Caridad Paisan Garbey, Bembesito Akpon, Hansel Vaillant and Daniel Gil. La Sirene: Rutas de Azucar (“The Siren: Routes of Sugar”) probes Cuban revolutionary José Antonio Aponte's libro de pinturas, a book of paintings, of black heroes that served as a catalyst for an attempted rebellion against colonists, leading to the first conspiracy and abolition charge in Spanish-speaking Latin America. Through sound and movement, McPherson maps the connections between West Indian and Haitian migrations to Cuba to harvest sugarcane and repositions the Cuban ingenio (sugar mill) as a birthplace of freedom that extends beyond borders and waters.

Each performance is followed by a special event. Tonight's--on the eve of Santa Barbara/Shango's day--the cast will offer "Afro-Cuban Rumba for the Vispera de Santa Barbara-Chango." Sunday evening will conclude with "Healing Quisqueya and Beyond," a reference to the Taino name for the island including the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This panel features Dr. Nathalie Guillaume, Goussy Célestin, Jose Perez and Osvaldo Lora.

Dr. Nathalie Guillaume is an alumnus of the University of Miami where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and Foreign Languages. She holds a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine from the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine, and a Clinical Doctorate in Pain Management & Oncology from Bastyr University. She specializes in lifestyle medicine with an emphasis on nutrition, meditation & Qi Gong, and is dedicated to promoting the benefits of holistic health to the community. She is currently adjunct faculty for the Graduate School of Oriental Medicine at the New York College of Health Professions and practices in New York City where she is the CEO and Medical Director of Healing Happy Hour.
Goussy Célestin currently performs throughout the NYC-Tri state area as a musician and dancer. She is an alum of ASE Dance Theater Collective, a neo-folklore ensemble dedicated to the traditional/contemporary arts of the African Diaspora filtered through Haitian music and dance. She is also a member of ¡Retumba!, an all-female multi-ethnic music-dance ensemble dedicated to the traditions of the Caribbean and Latin-America, in addition to serving as lead vocalist for Charanga Soleil. Ms. Célestin's wide range of interests and versatility, has led her to study classical piano, Jazz and Latin music. While in Cuba, she had the honor of performing with members of the Buena Vista Social Club, as well as performing/mentoring with members of Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo and Clave Y Guaguanco. She has performed at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, Del Terzo Studio at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space, SOB's, the Knitting Factory, NJPAC, Tilles Center, Newark Symphony Space, Joe's Pub, as well as various jazz clubs in NYC.

Osvaldo "Bembesito" Lora. Bembesito is one of the most renowned and versatile "akpons" in the U.S. and maybe even internationally speaking. With over 10 years of experience performing religious ceremonies and as an olo Obatala he brings a level of professionalism that is hard to find in most ceremonies. Bembesito's crew does it all, from cajon to guiro to Aña and even the music of the 21 divisions from the Dominican Republic also called los palos. Over all the experience you will receive at a ceremony where Bembesito performs will be clean, authentic, professional and like no other...

Jose Perez is a writer and editor, an investigative reporter, a West Indian Nationalist, and a public school history teacher at North Miami Middle School where over 80% of his students are Haitian.  He infuses social justice into  his underground curriculum, which has led to him to become a leader in professional development trainings to teachers in the Miami-Dade County Public School System, the 4th largest in the United States. Pérez also was a  Research Assistant for Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando during the production of her moving documentary about Haitians in Cuba,
Reembarque.  Collaborating with AfroCubaWeb.com and Dr. Andrea Queely of Florida International University, he brought Ms. Rolando to North Miami Middle for her only Florida screening of Reembarque.  Pérez has been recognized by the Haitian American Cultural Society as well as the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners of Miami-Dade County for journalistic coverage of Haitian heritage. Perez's interest in the bridges between Ayiti & Kiba is as deep as the joy found in a plate of homemade legume.

La Sirene: Rutas de Azucar continues tonight and tomorrow with performances at 8pm. Seating is limited. For more information and tickets, click here.

JACK
505 1/2 Waverly Avenue (between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue), Brooklyn
(map/directions)

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Works by Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e, Caleb Teicher and Company at Gibney

Last night, at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, curator David Parker introduced his Double Plus evening as "a utopian event" and "not an ordinary combination of artists." Here we have Dylan Crossman (Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e), with his elite Cunningham/post-Cunningham pedigree. And then there's Caleb Teicher (Caleb Teicher and Company), a young Bessie-winning prince of tap collaborating with swing dance champion Nathan Bugh. Combining these disparate sensibilities and styles into one show is far from your everday New York programming. But what makes sense to Parker is that these artists take what we've come to expect from their respective art forms and ask more of them.

But first, Crossman asks something of us. The opening of [Insert Title] makes us crane our necks to see him and three fellow dancers--Sumi Clements, Jason Collins and Sarah Harrmann--lined up off to the far right of Gibney's theater space in light that both catches their flesh and surrounds it in murk. It's a theatrical attention-getter, though beyond that effect, its purpose remains unclear. When the dancers soon swarm into the central space directly in front of us, there's nothing reserved or shadowy about them. Squatting, lunging, cantilevering, they readily take the measure of a space now theirs to inhabit.

I'd been contemplating Lois Weaver's Long Table discussion format and had just watched Antonia's Line, the 1995 Dutch film where scenes of a dinner table teeming with various and sundry characters served as Weaver's inspiration. So I was amused to see a long table set up behind Crossman and his dancers. Dark, plain, bare and sturdy, it seemed to represent home or, at least, a base to touch, slouch upon, back up against, even mount and dance across in the encounters and confrontations that would ensue as a muddy audio recording--a speaking voice run backwards?--rambled on unhelpfully.

Left-right: Sumi Clements, Sarah Harrmann and Jason Collins
in Dylan Crossman's [Insert Title]
(photo: Scott Shaw)

This long table is the one constant in a variation of interpersonal arrangements. Encircling it, dancers move right up into or back away from one another's personal space. They gaze into one another's eyes as we both project what we think is happening and shy away from those projections. In fact, our own back-and-forth can render us watchers transparent to ourselves. We see ourselves seeing something that might or might not be there. And doesn't that feel odd? Shouldn't we mind our business? Well, if we should mind our business, what are we doing at a dance concert watching bodies in motion?

Well, Crossman and crew, especially feline Clements, are adroit postmodern movers. They master clean form while suggesting human narrative when bodies are in proximity to other bodies.

Meet Ella, then, makes the perfect follow-up--all about two male bodies in near-constant and joyous proximity, along for the swooping, sliding fun ride of recordings of Ella Fitzgerald singing live. And, yes, as a friend noted, the late great jazz vocalist gets a bio in the program notes. Rightly so. Her agile voice--with all its daredevil technique, its silky warmth and delectable playfulness--is an essential and equal partner here, in high form, as are Teicher and Bugh.

I had only ever seen the mercurial Teicher tap dance, a wonderful thing in itself. I had never seen Bugh; Meet Ella was my introduction to this lighthearted charmer. The two men, wearing regular two-toned oxford shoes, not tap shoes, make nonstop rhythmic "music" throughout their bodies. Swing dance, jitterbug, ballroom, even dashes of Nicholas Brothers virtuosity flow though the duet, powered by standards like "Our Love is Here to Stay," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and--so lusciously--the Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke/Johnny Mercer "Midnight Sun."

Was there such a night?
It's still a thrill I don't quite believe;
But after you were gone
There was still some stardust on my sleeve!
Nobody sings it like Ella....




Saucy, sexy Meet Ella leaves us with stardust--a great performance and an instant classic.

Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e and Caleb Teicher and Company continue through Saturday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Joyce opens first week of Lucinda Childs repertory

The Lucinda Childs Dance Company’s
Caitlin Scranton, Patrick John O'Neill,
Sharon Milanese and Matt Pardo
in Canto Ostinato
(photo: John Sisley)
Katherine Helen Fisher
in Pastime
(photo: John Sisley)

More than a few times, as I sat watching the Lucinda Childs Dance Company at The Joyce Theater last evening, I thought of abstract painter Agnes Martin. Seeing the Martin retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, which continues through January 11, demonstrated what I'd always heard about her painting but could never detect from reproductions in books and magazines. Calling her a minimalist doesn't tell the whole story.

You can read between Martin's meticulous, repetitive lines, read the energy, and there's so much there--a range of feeling, of humanity in its complexity painted in, not everything as perfect as first glance might suggest nor is it meant to be so. If you sincerely ask, the works will often show you where to look and what to listen for.

In the case of Lucinda Childs, the cool, remote severity of her physique and persona and her aesthetic of precise grids, repetitive motion and continuously slipping, interweaving geometric patterns might also have been a distraction, albeit a dazzling one. Her dancing, and her dancers's dancing, were and are like airy, graceful cursive script written across space with the aid of frictionless implements. The company, like a surface glance at Martin's brush strokes, reveals no hint of human individuality. In fact, when music drives the dancing--and Childs favors music that roughly upends or irresistibly and endlessly propels things--it can often suggest we read each member of the corps as sleek, high-grade machinery on the move. But what else is present?

The Joyce Theater season's first week highlights five decades of work from repertory as old as Pastime (1963), a Childs solo from her Judson Church days, and as current as this fall's Into View, premiered at UCLA. The second week's program, which I will see on Tuesday, features Dance (1979), the masterful collaboration of Childs, Philip Glass and Sol LeWitt where LeWitt's film of the original cast in action, jumbo images spanning the stage, plays over and with the current troupe.

The selections for this first week are instructive. One draws an impression of an American with that legendary sense of entitlement to open space; one who knows how to hook audiences with springy, lighter-than-air bodies, feet barely claimed by gravity; one winking at people who share her love for the unadorned inner systems of American ballet and Cunningham and, likely, Astaire; people who respond to the wry, sometimes surreal turns of a brilliant mind. All of this looks as glamorous as all get out (see 1993's Concerto, especially). It can knock you over. And the dancers, an elite corps, are on it.

In Canto Ostinato (2015), narrow, vertical lines of light, sliding across the backdrop at varying speeds, create elusive illusions of each member of the ensemble moving in a spatial groove of his or her own depth. Following those hallucinations, Into View--with its unsettling visual image of a tiny, distant sun surrounded by dusty orange haze--appears dynamic enough to be diverting but not much more, a good-enough Lucinda Childs piece. But here I noticed something happening between dancers that I had not seen before. It was fleeting but clear--eye contact and interaction with an unspoken purpose but a force readable past many rows of watchers. Again, I flashed back to Martin, to the feelings carefully stored within the shielding rigor or deflecting haze of her surfaces. I wondered again at the artist's presence: Who goes there?

Lucinda Childs Dance Company continues at The Joyce through December 11 with the following programs:

Program A: Lucinda Childs: A Portrait (1963-2016), now through December 4. Curtain Chat: Wednesday, November 30

Program B: Dance (1979), December 6-11

For schedule details and tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Remembering the arts on Giving Tuesday


Photos ©2014-2015, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Above: Dancing Through the Bronx,
a project of Dancing in the Streets, 2015
Below: Dance artist Nia Love working with students in
the New Directions Choreographic Lab of the
Ailey/Fordham BFA program, 2014


Hey, I know I don't have to tell you it's Giving Tuesday. Your email inbox has got that covered.

We're all getting multiple requests from groups doing good and necessary work in the world. I won't pile on more here.

But, as you sort through these many appeals, I do urge you to consider directing at least some of your support towards the arts. We know we can anticipate further decline in arts funding in the U.S. and the inevitable targeting of artists who challenge complacency and speak truth to power. We need to nurture and back up artists on the front lines.

The arts can play a strong, visionary role in the struggle for equity, human rights, justice and care for our endangered environment. Please give to the arts with all of your own imagination and vision for our shared future.

Thank you!

Eva Yaa Asantewaa
InfiniteBody


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