AVALON in Performance

Two more performances of AVALON. Last night was, I think, the best so far. The women are double cast. Tonight is the “Red” cast and we finish off with the “Blue” cast in tomorrow’s matinee. It still amazes me when I look at the dates on the two program excerpts. The concerts are happening in November of 2016 and the work had its premiere in the Ted Shawn Theater at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in August of 1985.

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This is a closing night gift from the cast of AVALON. There were 12 dancers in the cast. There are 12 chocolate bars, each with a different colored collar (reflecting the costumes) and tucked inside is a note from each dancer. I will miss this when I retire.

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The Door

Thisdoor is the door to my office. I have been in this office for eleven years. There are many favorites – Charles Mingus, Billie Holliday, Chet Baker, Ertha Kitt, John Bubbles, James Baldwin, Thelonious Monk, one of me, assorted JAZZDANCE postcards and other great figures filled with motion.

 

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Embracing the "Unknown"

Not quite sure what I want to say here. I have just reconstructed two works, AVALON commissioned by the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1985 and Song Awakened created in 2001. My “ambivalence” about both of them – the “Unknown” concerns my physical abilities at age 68. AVALON is very athletic, lots of jumps, turns and head rolls even. It was created on students and commissioned by the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1985. When it moved over to be a mainstay of the JAZZDANCE rep, I was in that original cast and performed it countless times. The students at SMU are doing the 2016 version (some thirty-one years later!). My cast has been amazing, making the dance fresh again. I was able to demonstrate about 85% of the movement and did not have any major physical repercussions – good news. Song Awakened has movement vocabulary unlike any of my other dances. It has lots of floor work and movement influenced by Afro-Cuban dance and Cuban popular dance. I went to Minneapolis over fall break to supervise the reconstruction. Mary Ann Bradley is doing the lead woman. She was in the original cast as part of the ensemble. She has detailed muscle memory and intelligence. She had put together a rough draft of three sections – there are five.

Albert & Katrina Reach

My flight out was at 8am. I left for the airport early enough to get a bite to eat before taking off. It was pouring rain. The traffic was hideous and there is construction, resulting in only one lane for quite a while. It was quite stressful. I made the flight – no breakfast. I picked up a rental car and headed to rehearsal. Zenon was in the thick of it. I warmed up too quickly and saw that some of the counts of the floor work were not right. I got down on the floor and demonstrated a move twisting the hips, crossing the legs and pushing the pelvis up. I trashed the right side of my lower back instantly. No more floor work for me for a while. It lingered on the entire time I was there. Luckily, I got a great massage a few days later. The lesson here is that I should get a regular orthopedic massage here in Dallas and have begun to do some research. When JAZZDANCE was in the Twin Cities, I got a massage every two weeks. I will do it.

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SMU Fall Semester 2016

The first day of classes of the fall semester is about two weeks away. I have a lot to do. My teaching load is not as heavy as it has been in the past. I teach Jazz II and the third unit of Comp I when I do the “Elements” Project. I am again the Artistic Director of Brown Bag ( the student choreography showcase) and will be reconstructing an old work of mine, AVALON. It has wonderful music by Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich and will be played live for the fall concert. AVALON was commissioned by The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1985 when I was guest teacher in summer jazz dance workshop. The workshop was directed by Lynn Simonson. It will be a challenge since it is extremely athletic and has a lot of movement I can’t do anymore, but my great students will help me figure it out. On the last Friday of Brown Bag, I head out to the Twin Cities to restage one of my favorite dances, Song Awakened set to the sensual voice of Cesaria Evora.

Avalon

We are just finishing up the third week of classes and the second week of AVALON rehearsals. The opening section is put together as well as Hamhock Blues, the middle section. We are now into the finale, Air Mail Special. Things are going well. I have a great cast. The photo above is Jane Blount and Robert Smith in a studio shot by Jack Mitchell of AVALON. The costumes were designed by Susan Schifano. We are having a new set made at SMU. The originals are long gone.

Finished AVALON on Wednesday night. It is going to be wonderful. As usual, I made a lot of improvements and I’m sure there will be more as I can now relax and really see the choreography. The dancers in my company had a 48 hour rule – no more changes! Our costume “Diva” found beautiful stretch satin in all the right colors. It is Armani and it costs $100/yard.

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June 2016 Teaching Jazz Dance Symposium

The 2016 Teaching Jazz Dance was hosted  by the Division of Dance at Southern Methodist University Monday through Wednesday June 13-15. It was the best yet – interesting and stimulating participants with great classes, presentations and discussions. Here we are!

Symposium Photo

Including me, there were eleven participants, Karla Grotting (Minneapolis), Richard Havey ( Las Vegas), Jeff Hendrix (California), Michele Ikle (New York State), Erinn Liebhard (Minneapolis), Dale Merrill (California), Thorey Mountain (Oregon), Paula Peters (Seattle), Michael Williams (Arizona) and Danny Buraczeski – Director (SMU, Dallas). Everyone in the group was engaged and engaging, offering diverse perspectives on jazz dance.

Karla Grotting was a member of both the New York City and Minneapolis iterations of JAZZDANCE, Richard Havey was a member of the New York company. Dale Merrill was the founder and artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle. I set both Fuerza Viva and Secular Psalmody (great title!) on Spectrum while he was director. Paula Peters is a great teacher and jazz dance scholar, Michael Williams, the founder of the jazz program at the University of Arizona and creator of the Arizona Jazz Dance Showcase, celebrating its 25th year in September. Thorey Mountain danced with Matt Mattox and is a living repository of his technique/style. Michele Ikle, Chair at Hobart & William Smith College in upstate New York, combines deep somatic work and the teaching of jazz dance. Jeff Hendrix teaches in the Los Angeles area. Erinn Liebhard was the young of the group. She is a joy, passionate about vernacular, rhythm based dance forms.

Lots went on over the two and a half days. In general, we all felt that jazz dance is in a place of transition and, perhaps, confusion. The influx of new ideas from popular culture has both positive and negative  influences. Because of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, there is more awareness  of dance than ever before. It is, however, a double edged sword. While acknowledging and holding on to the historical roots of jazz dance, the form needs to be inclusive. Being too much of a purist can mark the beginning of the end. We all, as jazz dancers, teachers and choreographers want the music and the dancing to live on forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JAZZDANCE Archives

I can’t believe I almost forgot about this. JAZZDANCE came to a close with a two week retrospective at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis over two weekends, April 14-17 and April 21-23.

Final Program Cover

Les and I were living in a wonderful carriage house at 121 and 1/2 Franklin Avenue. The mail was an issue at first as were getting the utilities to recognize 1/2 as an address. It was a great place to live.Carriage House

 

 

 

 

 

In preparation for moving to Dallas and beginning my position at SMU, I contacted the Andersen Library for the Performing Arts at the University of Minnesota.I spoke with Alan K. Lathorp and it was agreed I would donate the organization’s archives to the library. This included videotapes of performances, programs, posters, photos, press materials a board minutes. There may even be some tax returns. I had to sign an official Deed of Gift, giving the University of Minnesota and the library ownership of the materials .

Deed of Gift

They agreed to pick up the materials after I had prepared them for release. I had duplicate copies of a lot of the performances and gave them one. Others I gave to former members of the company and the rest I kept. Two summers ago, I digitized all of the VHS tapes. It was a huge project. I kept the videotapes. They are in my office at school. One morning, a very large truck pulled up to the carriage house. There must have been about a dozen boxes and also lots of posters. They took them away. It was the right thing to do.

 

 

Last thing – when the university granted me a sabbatical in the fall of 2014, I went back to the library. I needed to fill in some blanks I had in preparation for creating this website. They had  done a beautiful job cataloging the materials, easy to figure out and easy to navigate. Happy I remembered to write about this.

 

 

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SUMMER 2016

It’s Thursday May 12. The diploma ceremony for the Meadows School of the Arts is on Saturday May 14 at 6:30pm outdoors in front of the Owen Arts Center. It’s great having it outside It is quite an event. All of the departments award diplomas to graduating seniors – about two and a half hours total, I’d say. It is difficult saying good-bye, to most I’d say. Others I haven’t had in class for almost two years. This is the conclusion of my eleventh year at SMU and this will be my eleventh ceremony.

Then it’s the official start to summer. I have three “events” planned. First is the third Teaching Jazz Dance Symposium. It first  happened in 2012, again in 2014 and now in 2016. It is a wonderful opportunity to share what we do as jazz dancers, teachers and choreographers and develop strategies for keeping jazz dance vital and alive. It is a very interesting and diverse group this year. The symposium is always stimulating. This will be the last under my direction. I am thinking that I will retire after the spring 2018 semester. We’ll see. The Division of Dance did a search this spring for a new jazz professor. We’ve had adjuncts for almost three years. I’ve had no one to talk with and the jazz curriculum is in need of attention and care. We hired the wonderful Brandi Coleman. She teaches Jump Rhythm technique created and developed by Billy Siegenfeld in Chicago. New blood and a younger generation – just what the Division needs – definitely what I need! Maybe Brandi might take it over.

Symposium

Next is a well needed trip to the beach. Les and I usually go to Mexico’s Playa del Carmen. Every year it becomes more and more commercial. It has become difficult to find authentic, artisan Mexican anything. This summer, we are going to the Pacific, to Mazatlan. We had  guest artists this semester from a wonderful Mexican contemporary dance company called Delfos. They created a new version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird for our spring main stage concert. It was quite exciting and very theatrical, a great experience for the students. Delfos also has a school in Mazatlan and Claudia Lavista and Viktor Manuel Ruiz suggested we stay at Pueblo Bonito – done deal. Can’t wait. Les will celebrate his 65th birthday on July 1. We  then take off for Mexico and the beach.

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Lastly, I have been invited to an  NDEO (National Dance Education Organization) special topics conference, Jazz Dance: Roots and Branches in Practice at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI from July 31 – August 3. The event brings together artists and scholars  to exploring  jazz from its roots to the many offshoots that exist today. I will give a one hour movement session followed by a panel discussion. I am preparing my solo Le Souvenir and may perform it at some point during the three day conference. It depends on how my body is doing and if the opportunity presents itself. This is the first time I will present at an academic conference. SMU has generously offered support though a faculty development grant. Thank you Meadows School of the Arts.

NDEO

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Zenon Dance Company (Minneapolis) Merry-Go-Round

The Zenon Dance Company opened its spring season at the Cowles Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Minneapolis last night (May 7, 2016). One of the works on the program is a reconstruction of my 1988 duet Merry-Go-Round with music by Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band. This dance has a long and interesting history. Below is a photo of Zenon’s Steven Schroeder and Sarah Steichen. Stephen is retiring after this season and director Linda Andrews wanted to give him a choreographic gift. This duet is it!

Zenon Merry-Go-Round

Merry-Go-Round has four sections, the introduction of the two characters, two very bluesy duets in the middle, and an intensely difficult finale. The middle two duets were originally choreographed for a dance called Swing Suite, a work on my very first 1979 New York City concert. I was the boy/man and  Becky Bowden was the girl/woman. You can see us perform the duets on the Choreographic Excerpts page. I decided to make a new work for Zenon in 1988 creating the opening and the finale. It worked beautifully, originally danced by Keith Thompson and Jane Shockley. Mike Steele of the Minneapolis StarTribune gave the premiere a glowing review, calling Keith and Jane the new Fred and Ginger. It is gratifying to me that the dance started in 1979, expanded to something new in 1988 and is still vibrant and alive in 2016. That is a span of thirty-seven years! It kind of takes my breath away.

Every choreographer looks at their work in different ways and every point of view is valid for that person. Some create a dance and are happy to let it go after a first run of performances. They move on to new movement explorations and new ideas. If I  create what I feel is a successful work, I love revisiting it. I always make changes and improvements. When I do revisit a dance, I revisit the memories of the dancers who helped me in the creative process. I almost always remember the studio we worked in and the feelings in the room. It is a very special and unique aspect of dancing that makes me smile.

Fall of 2016 at SMU, I will once again travel back in time to 1985 and reconstruct a dance called AVALON. It was commissioned by the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. I created it on students of the summer Jazz Dance Workshop and it had its premiere on the main stage of the Ted Shawn Theater. It has great music by Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Zoot Sims, George DuVivier and Teddy Wilson. I the set it on my concert jazz dance company and it became a repertory staple for many years. It was part of our program presented on the very first Joyce Theater Sampler in New York City.

Thirty-one years is a long time and the challenge will be my not being physically able to do a lot of the movement. There is a lot of jumping in the work . A dancer’s jump is one of the first things to go. At best, in 2016, I can do a a quality hop and a mean skip. I am up for the challenge and know that our wonderful students will help me figure it out. AVALON will be part of our fall concert and the music will be played live by the Meadows Jazz Ensemble. That is so great.

 

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End of Semester Essay/Daniel Nagrin

I ask all my jazz classes to write an essay at the end of the semester. In Jazz I, it is usually about the vernacular and how that relates to and informs the work we did together. In Jazz II, I like to share the work of Daniel Nagrin with them. There is some biographical information about him on the People-Personal Stories page. His jazz solos are legendary and were a huge influence on me. I showed the class Strange Hero, Man of Action and Jazz Three Ways. I never know how the students will react. They were completely in awe of him and that made me so happy. I will share a few thoughts from some of their essays.

Daniel Ngrin

 

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One wrote ” Daniel Nagrin’s got something when you watch him. The kind of something that is hard to articulate, but instantly recognizable. He has it moving, he has it standing still, and he knows how to use it.” Then “Seeing an individual submit oneself so fully, with such deliberate physicality, is incredibly inspiring.”

Another said, “…he is only walking, but he is doing so much more than just simply walking. He appears to be gliding on the floor and carries himself with a a certain presence that  demands viewers’ attention.”

Lastly, “His choreography is timeless”.

He was, undoubtedly, extraordinary – uncompromising, disciplined and an artist of immense power and expressivity.

GO DANIEL!

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Continuity

We are now way into the second half of the semester, heading toward the end, actually. I gave Jazz II their movement mid-term before spring break, teaching an extended sequence of Mahalia Jackson singing In the Upper Room. It is from a 1992 dance called On My Way.

Fervor:Mahalia

It is an extraordinary performance. The students loved learning the movement and it holds many powerful memories for me as it was one of the dances on the first concert after leaving Zenon. One of the students in Jazz II is a passionate young woman named Kendell Miller-Roberts. She is a double major in Human Rights. There is a yearly spring break “pilgrimage” to the cities in the South that were of pivotal importance in the Civil Rights Movement – Selma, Montgomery and Memphis, among others. I gave all the students a very interesting article from the NYTimes about MLK, Mahalia and the “I Have a Dream” speech. It was published in August of 2013 and is called Mahalia Jackson and King’s Improvisation. I thought it would be great for KMR to share with her fellow “pilgrims”. According to the article, King was up until 4am putting the finishing touches on his speech at the Lincoln Memorial. He drew upon many sources including theBible, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Mahalia had been with him for many of his speeches and hear him use “I have a dream” many times. It was always powerful. As he was getting near the end, Mahalia, sitting to his side said, “Martin – what about the dream?” And then history was made. I was about to write – what a great story. It’s not a story, it’s the truth! KMR brought me the postcard of Mahalia above and this MLK pin. I love teaching.

MLK Pin

 

 

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