A Show Down With David Parker

Our Summer Intern, Gaby Mervis, interviewed David Parker, Artistic Director of David Parker and the Bang Group, about his newest creation, ShowDown. Summer Stages Dance partnered with award-winning chef Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant to present this innovative production in Cambridge, MA .

GM: Can you generally and briefly describe ShowDown?
DP: ShowDown is my choreographic reinvention of Irving Berlin's great musical Annie Get Your Gun for my company of 9 dancers. It is designed to be performed in very small spaces(15 square feet) so that we can offer it in cabaret, nightclub and restaurant settings which are places where people gather to enjoy themselves. This is important to me now. The piece breaks out the themes of the musical--the show down between men and women, the limitations of gender stereotypes, ambition, competition and the allure of show business--without using the conventional narrative or characters.

GM: How long have you been presenting ShowDown?
DP: ShowDown had its premiere in New York City at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in June. I also made a version of it for a wonderful contemporary dance company in Cleveland called Groundworks and have offered a sneak preview at Boston's First Night Festival last December.

GM: Why did you choose to dance to Annie Get Your Gun?
DP: A visionary producer named Robin Staff who commissioned this show for New York's Dance Now NYC asked me to do it because she saw me do a song and dance number from the show at a private event, the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents. She is initiating a series of all-dancing versions of famous musicals by contemporary choreographers at Joe's Pub in New York. The first was based on The Sound of Music. It is called Fraulein Maria and was choreographed by Doug Elkins. I dance in that too. I play Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp daughter.

GM: Did each of the dancers represent specific characters in the musical or did you just use its music?
DP: There are no specific characters from the musical itself in my version but I think that each of the dancers in my work has created a character that is quite distinct. Amber Sloan plays a character who is closest to Annie herself but also Nic Petry plays another slightly more whimsical Annie. The fluidity of gender roles and couples is a very key element in the show.

GM: Did dancing in jeans prove to be difficult?
DP: The jeans have a bit of stretch in them, but yes, it is difficult and there was much moaning about the hardship. Fortunately, I get to dance in a formal suit instead.

GM: There are many guy-guy lifts, do you find them easier or more difficult or how is it different than guy-girl lifts?
DP: I think it's pretty much equal in terms of difficulty, some men are very good at being lifted, which is traditionally the woman's role, and some are better at doing the lifting. The biggest difference is in the minds of the audience in terms of what this suggests to them. Does it mean something different for a man to give his weight to another man than when a woman does it? For me it's just a natural way of relating.

GM: Was your entire company in this performance?
DP: Almost, Marta Miller who is in the original cast, injured her shoulder (picking up a bag of mulch, not dancing) and wasn't able to do this set of shows. She'll be back soon.

GM: How long does it take to put on a show from first rehearsal to first show?
DP: I began working on this show in July 2007.

GM: Do you have specific dancers in mind when you choreograph or do you match it later?
DP: No, everyone learns all the movement material and then I see what directions it takes and what suits which dancer. I did always know that I wanted Amber and Nic to be very central in this piece because they were both in periods of great artistic expansion.

GM: If you had to classify your choreography as one type of dance, what would it be?
DP: Contemporary. That means it can include anything.

GM: Who is one choreographer that you look up to?
DP: Merce Cunningham.

GM: Why did you start choreographing?
DP: I was very much turned-on by seeing the movie That's Entertainment when I was 15. It exposed me to the richness and depth of the dancing done in Hollywood in the first half (or so) of the last century. It was an explosion of creativity and beauty.

GM: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it?
DP: Yes, as often as possible.

GM: How has your tap background influenced your choreography?
DP: It has made me extraordinarily sensitive to time and rhythm and shown me the possibilities of extreme precision in the use of time. Tapdancing breaks down beats into astonishingly dense and complex patterns and has a baroque level of complexity which I find exhilarating.

GM: Do you require your dancers to have a tap background?
DP: No, but they have to have a brilliant sense of rhythm and they have to love rigor. Only about half the company has a tap or percussive dance background.

GM: What is your typical audience?
DP: That depends on the venue. In Boston we have reached a wide and "general" audience, while in New York my audience is much more dance-world people. On tour I'm marketed as being accessible and entertaining to general audiences. I think my ideal audience is simply comprised of people who love responding kinesthetically.

GM: Is the bonus dance that I saw you perform in the main show as well?
DP: Yes.

Tell us about it.
DP: It's the song and dance I performed for my parents' anniversary that I mentioned above and I also think it is very topical with regard to same sex marriage and updating traditions.

GM: Have you ever sang in one of your pieces before?
DP: Yes, I've sung in several of my pieces but mostly in a somewhat satirical way. This is the first time I'm doing it...um..."straight".

GM: Why did you decide to do it as a same-sex couple?
DP: Mostly because I'm gay and I think of it that way, but also because I knew it would make a good duet opportunity for both Jeff and me because we each sing and tap and are big old musical comedy queens.

GM: As you know, Monkeyhouse loves you, but how much do you love Monkeyhouse?
DP: I loves me some Monkeyhouse as much as I loves me my rhythm. All joking aside, I think Monkeyhouse is a fabulous phenomenon and enriches Boston's dance-and-performance scene immeasurably.


First Wikipedia Entry!

Hey! Our first Wicked Awesome Wikipedia Choreographers' Campaign is up on Jody Sperling! Be sure to let us know if you post other ones or if you need any help or suggestions.

Also, Monkeyhouse is hosting our first "How to Post Party" on Tuesday, July 29th from 6 to 8 PM. There will be food, friends, fun, and lots of Wikipedia wisdom. It will be held at the Monkeyhouse Office at the Arlington Center for the Arts. R.S.V.P. to monkeyhouseblog@gmail.com. Please join us!


Interview with Peggy Wacks

Our summer intern, Gaby Mervis, interviewed Peggy Wacks, a member of Dance'n Feet, a senior women's dance group out of Newton.

GM: What is Dance'n Feet?

PW: We are an independent senior women's dance group that practices weekly in Newton Lower Falls; are available for dance performances at dance festivals, community and charitable events. We have a very limited repertoire at present so cannot do a whole show on our own, but need to be part of a performance with multiple groups.

GM: Who is in it?

PW: Twelve women; non-professional dancers and few have any dance background; most are retired but some are still employed full or part time. Most are grandmothers. Our professional backgrounds include education, law, medicine, nursing, art, administration, insurance, physical education. Many members pursue sports seriously: competitive soccer, volleyball, running, bicycling, cross country, etc.

GM: What is the age range of its members?

PW: 58-70

GM: Why are they in it?

PW: The group started as a line dancing team to compete at the annual Senior Games in MA for athletes 50 and over. The group competed there for several years, and since they always won, the event was made non-competitive (performance only). The group started competing at dance competitions and performing at dance festivals and went way beyond the line dancing format to incorporate jazz, Broadway, cheer, and acrobatic features. Most are in it for the fun and exercise - and some for the thrill of competition and performance.

GM: What does it feel like to perform and is it any different from when you were younger?

PW: It feels great to perform, like a fantasy fulfilled (big show off that I now am). I didn't perform when I was younger, so I have no basis for comparison. I think it is less intimidating now, after all, what do I have to lose - so what if I make a fool of myself (worst case scenario)?! I'm much less nervous now and totally enjoy the whole thing.

GM: Do you have any special memory that you would like to share?

PW: I remember when we did a special performance at the awards ceremony of a national competition in Atlantic City a few years ago. Also performing were a bunch of young men doing a very athletic and professional and amazing hip hop number. They looked like something on Broadway and were terrific. These young fellows (around age 20 or so) all told us how terrific we were.

GM: What is your favorite aspect about dancing and performing?

PW: Learning and perfecting something and seeing it take shape with a wonderful group of women and then "taking it on the road" and get the audience feedback and appreciation.

GM: What is your favorite dance move?

PW: In our current number, Don't cha, my favorite move is not a dance move, but a gymnastic one: the double forward role I do with the choreographer, and our gymnastics coach, Nancy Simcock.

A Chat With Martha Clarke

Note: This was an earlier interview that we are posting again.

Some of you may remember meeting an enthusiastic, high school, volunteer named Kelly Long at the Monkeyhouse fundraiser at the Cantata several years ago. Since then she has gone on to major in dance at Hofstra University. When we heard that Martha Clarke, one of the founding members of Pilobolus, would be a guest artist at Hofstra this year and that Kelly had been selected to dance for her, we begged Kelly to interview Martha for us. There is something really exciting about having a former student work with one of your idols.

KL: How and/or why did you start choreographing?

MC: Not to make money, that's for sure. I had to. I was at Juilliard, and before that, I studied with a very famous choreographer teacher named Louis Horst, who was Martha Graham's musical mentor. I started choreographing when I was 15 as a student at the American Dance Festival, and he liked me. Even though he was mean, he encouraged me. But I did not know I wanted to be a choreographer. I KNEW I wanted to be a performer.

KL: How do you record your choreography?

MC: I use videotape, in portions of rehearsals that I find interesting, or I will film 10 or 15 seconds of something so I can remember it so when I'm working I can put it in snip-its. I only record work that I like.

KL: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it?

MC: No.

KL: Why?

MC: Until I know what I want, I don't want input from others. From within the company, of course - of course I take input. I don't want outside opinions because if I don't know where I'm going, why should I expect them to?

KL: What do you remember about the first public performance of your work?

MC: For my graduation from Juilliard, I made a solo to Dylan Thomas, reading from a poem he wrote called "A Winter's Tale" oddly enough. And I took a white china silk dress from the costume shop with a beautiful full skirt, and I remember spinning... and I actually remember some of the movement, and I did it at Dance Theater Workshop. It was my first work of my own done outside of school. And at the time I thought it was good enough to go on a program. I don't know what I'd think today. But it probably had the seeds... working with text, language, costuming... the seeds of the elements of theater that I still have. Even the style of movement. Other than that, it was inconsequential.

KL: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?

MC: Anthony Tudor.

KL: Anyone else?

MC: Federico Fellini. Igmar Bergman

KL: How do you spell his last name Fell-?

MC: Oh! You don't know Federico Fellini?

KL: No.

MC: Put that for my favorite director. The Great Italian film director from the 50s and 60s. Federico Fellini. Go watch 8 ½..

KL: Okay I'll see if I can find it on-line for Thursday.
KL: What was the first thing you ever choreographed?

MC: The first thing I remember with affection was this study in composition class from Louis Horst, but I performed it at 1 o' clock concert at Julliard. You know, we had these student productions. It was kind of earthy, primitive. I looked like a crouching vulture.

KL: What was the transition like from being a performer to being a choreographer?

MC: I was in Anna Sokolow's company. Um, I started really being a choreographer when I joined Pilobolus as a founding member. And... so I was performing my own work. So that anything that was on stage was something I made up, so it was rather seamless actually, the transition. One feels more vulnerable doing one's own work, because if people don't like it they can say "Oh I thought you were wonderful, but I didn't like the piece," you know? It's one in the same.

KL: Have you seen any significant shifts in your work or the creation of your work?

MC: It's gone from... well, a recent transition is from super-refined and elegant, to kind of... to... much rougher, more visceral style. More spontaneity.

KL: What do you think caused that shift?

MC: It's just natural evolution. You can't keep repeating yourself. And I try with each piece to do a new vocabulary, but it always looks like my work, for better or for worse. Or Pie's work, when it's really good. (Referencing her most adorable puppy dog Pie, chewing his biscuit on the floor.)

KL: When is your birthday?

MC: June 3rd...1802.


The Tale of the Intern: Wikipedia Advice from Gaby

The tale of the intern:

Lucky as I am, I got to be the lab rat for this project. Going into it not knowing much about Wikipedia and practically anything about webpage notation, I did not know where to begin.

Searching through all of the help pages on Wikipedia proved extremely overwhelming. There were many pages with lots of information and I wanted just one that laid everything out for me. I came across one helpful page, "Starting an Article," that became my guideline for this project. This page not only provided me with steps to get used to Wikipedia, but also the steps to follow once I started an article.

Another wonderful page I found was Sandbox. On the Sandbox page, I was able to edit pages and play around with web notation without anything actually being published.

Once I felt slightly more comfortable with Wikipedia, it was time to begin actually creating an article. In order to do so, I needed to create an account (username and password) for Wikipedia. Now, this can sometimes be difficult for people because people feel tied down or feel like they are making more of a commitment than they are. However, creating an account is completely free and does not mean much.

Then, it was time to choose a choreographer. I knew that Dance Magazine has a growing list of female choreographers. I closed my eyes, scrolled down the page, and chose a random name. It was Jody Sperling. This worked out perfectly because Jody did not have a Wikipedia page and I was able to find a lot of information about her on the web. She was the perfect person to create an article about.

Then I began researching. I thought I was on summer vacation and was done with researching, but I guess I was wrong. It was okay, though, because her company, Time Lapse Dance, which creates illusions with light and costumes, proved very interesting to read about. Then Karen told me that she knew Jody and gave me her email address. I emailed her asking her for any information that I could not find and any extra information she wanted included on her page. She responded in a very positive, friendly, and helpful way and we have now emailed back-and-forth a few times. I realized that this is definitely an unexpected bonus to the Wikipedia project. Contacting the choreographer is great. If you let us know who you are researching, we may be able to notify the choreographer for you and see if she would be willing to talk directly to you. Again, it helps with the research process but this is now a very wonderful way to connect to choreographers and get people talking to each other.

I am still in the process of actually creating the page and I will defnitely update you all on how the rest of the project goes, and when the article is up for your viewing.

Getting used to Wikipedia might take a little while, but once you get it down, the process of creating articles will become quick and easy. Why not start now? Please help us with our campaign for you, Monkeyhouse, and the dance world!


Wicked Awesme Wikipedia Choreographers' Campaign

What is this campaign?

There is definitely a dearth of information about choreographers on the web.

When one searches the word "choreographer" in Wikipedia, it is appalling to find a measly list of 132 names. Many of the entries, including George Ballanchine's and Ulysses Dove's were flagged because they lacked supporting references.

Comparing this to the highly organized list of composers is even more troubling.

All of us at Monkeyhouse (including you) can rectify this problem. That's why we are launching the Wicked Awesome Wikipedia Choreographers' Campaign!

People always giggle when we say "Without you we'd be Monkeyhose," but it is true. You make this organization so vivacious and engaging. We know how brilliant you are and we would like to ask you to share your minds with the rest of the world.

Don't worry, you can change history without ever leaving the air conditioned comfort of your cozy couch. If you can type and click your mouse, then you've got what it takes to help Monkeyhouse.

Let's start creating Wikipedia pages for more worthy choreographers and improve the ones that already exist. Just think if we could add 10 pages a month, we could double the amount of information on Wikipedia about choreographers by August 2009!

Getting used to Wikipedia might take a little while, but once you get it down, the process of creating articles will become quick and easy. Why not start now? Please help us with our campaign for you, Monkeyhouse, and the dance world!


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