Stories from the Somerville-Tiznit Sister Cities (part 4)

by karen Krolak

Part of a continuing series on Karen and Jason's trip to Morocco with 28 other people from Somerville...including Mayor Curtatone.

I am a fan of texture
and I find my G1 phone (thanks again, Richard)

captures great snippets of graffiti


intriguing layers.

to be continued...

To comply with recent legislation regarding blogging, I should mention that my trip was sponsored by University of the Middle East project, The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in concert with Sister Cities International, the City of Somerville, the City of Tiznit and the Moroccan American Cultural Center. My G1 was a birthday present from a dear friend and loyal Monkeyhouse supporter at Google. Readers should know that my experiences would not be typical for anyone else.

Stories from the Somerville-Tiznit Sister Cities (part 3)

by karen Krolak

I was feeling fairly droopy by the time we boarded our Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca and was not in the mood for the seat swapping chaos that erupted in our row. As soon as everyone settled in and snapped on their seat belts, I curled up for a nap. My eyes were shut before the overhead bins were. Thankfully, the scent of steak tips drew me out of my slumber. As I unfolded my tray table, the woman who had won the window seat next to me began to chat. I wasn't fully conscious when she introduced herself so I can not recall her name.

As I pulled the foil off my meal, she explained that she was looking forward to spending three weeks with her family in Liberia. Nine years ago, she had moved to Amsterdam and she described the awkwardness of being a bridge between these two cultures. "Luckily, I write," she proclaimed. "I have lived through a lot. When an unpleasant thought or memory comes into my head, I write it down so that I do not have to remember it," she continued.

Although she had never heard of Tiznit, she was extremely curious about the Sister Cities project. When I told her about Monkeyhouse in the middle of lunch somewhere over France, we unfortunately found that friction between traditional and contemporary art forms. Her eyes glanced down as she confided that she had never heard of a choreographer before she arrived in Holland. "I never realized that there were people who made the dances." she admitted with a tinge of embarrassment. I, however, was equally mortified by my ignorance of African dances and other cultures where dances were proudly passed down through generations.

We found common ground, though, once we started talking about choreography as moving with meaning. As I began describing projects Monkeyhouse has done with at risk teens, her broad smile beamed. She had a fifteen year old daughter who was finally able to join her in Amsterdam four years ago. Apparently, the culture shock had been much harder for her daughter. "If it hadn't been for her dance therapist, I don't know how she would have survived," my seatmate announced. "You should see what happens to her when she dances. I write but she can only express herself in movement. I wish women in my hometown had help like this but they would never go to therapy," she said.

At the time I wasn't sharp enough to respond. I have been wondering since then, however. Do you think social dances provide a cultural form of dance therapy? Do specific dances help people to express certain emotions or wordless ideas? Any thoughts?

to be continued...

To comply with recent legislation regarding blogging, I should mention that my trip was sponsored by University of the Middle East project, The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in concert with Sister Cities International, the City of Somerville, the City of Tiznit and the Moroccan American Cultural Center. Readers should know that my experiences would not be typical for anyone else.


Stories from the Somerville-Tiznit Sister Cities (part 2)

by karen Krolak

Part of a continuing series on Karen and Jason's trip to Morocco with 28 other people from Somerville...including Mayor Curtatone.

With our flight delay, we only had a four hour layover in Amsterdam. Jason and I figured this gave us just enough time to dart in to Amsterdam Centraal station for a taste of Dutch culture. Being from Boston, we were not worried by the snow flurries as we landed. Unbeknownst to us, though, Holland was in the midst of its largest snowstorm in 10 years. We didn't realize that the public transportation systems were ensnared in chaos until we crowded into the throngs of tourists waiting at Schiphol station. By the time we snagged a train and entered Amsterdam Centraal, we had less than 55 minutes to explore the area.

As we strolled around the harbor, I pulled a luscious ball of brown alpaca out of my pocket and started crocheting. It is a habit that began during my work on mapping movements as part of my Somerville Arts Council Fellowship. Sometimes these airy fiber tangles evolve into cowls or lacy snoods which are surprisingly warm. The brown alpaca ball was not content in my pocket, however. Jason kept noticing when it lurched into the slush and would chase after it. Cyclists who whizzed by us must have been fairly amused by our odd tourist dance.

We turned down a bustling street lined with shops eventually but we did not have the inclination or time to pop into most of them. Having been a fan of Wasik's Cheese Shop in Wellesley for decades, though, we did check out the local cheese monger. (I have included the above photo for one of my fabulous students at Impulse Dance Center. She told me that all she wanted for Christmas was cheese. Really, how many teens are that sassy?)

Though our return train was delayed, we were blissfully unaware of how lucky we were to get back to the airport in time for our flight. According to Wikipedia,
In the Netherlands, snowfall on 17 December led to a shutdown of Utrecht Centraal, by far the largest rail hub in the country. Problems arose in early afternoon, followed by heavy delays. Eventually, almost all scheduled train services were cancelled, as a means of maintaining those that were running Meanwhile, on highways in the Netherlands snowfall on 17 December led to the busiest morning rush hour of 2009, with a total of 671 kilometres (417 mi) of traffic jams. On the A12, there was an 84-kilometre (52 mi) traffic jam.
In the line for customs, I recognized a few faces from our earlier flight. I asked if any of them were with the Sister Cities program and that is how we met half of the educators from Somerville who were traveling with us. They had also ventured in to the city and were giddy with stories of their transit adventures. After getting our passports stamped, Jason and I rushed through a duty free shop for some tulip bulbs for my father and arrived at our gate as the plane was boarding. Our next stop was Casablanca.

to be continued...

To comply with recent legislation regarding blogging, I should mention that my trip was sponsored by University of the Middle East project, The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in concert with Sister Cities International, the City of Somerville, the City of Tiznit and the Moroccan American Cultural Center. Readers should know that my experiences would not be typical for anyone else...especially those resist the urge to crochet in snowstorms.


Getting to Know Jane Weiner, Part 1 -- The Pink Ribbons Project

by Nicole Harris

This fall I lost my mind a little bit, bought a Jet Blue “All You Can Jet Pass”, sublet my apartment and spent a month traveling around the country. It was a wonderful adventure filled with friends, family, lots of walking, art, beautiful weather, and a lot more walking. (Oh yeah, and a very large quantity of airports and airplanes.) I went to nine cities in those thirty-one days (eleven if you consider I went to Baltimore, Annapolis and DC all in one stop), took thirteen airplanes, knit five scarves, visited (at least) eight museums/galleries, read two books, sent innumerable postcards (Hey, someone has to keep the USPS in service. I’m just doing my part!), went on one underground tour and spent time with people I haven’t seen in months, years and in one case even a decade! While I could spend the afternoon regaling you with tales of my trip, what I am really here to tell you about is one woman I met for the first (and hopefully not last) time on the first stop of the adventure, Houston, TX.

Before I started out I spent some time looking up choreographers to interview while on the road. Now, as some of you may know, my family does a lot of work regarding cancer research fundraising. My mother has participated in countless fundraising walks and races, was the chairperson for the American Caner Society’s Relay for Life in Natick for three years, held fashion shows and dart tournaments all to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research over the last ten years. Not only is this a passion of my mothers, but something that has spread throughout my family. You wont find a Pam Harris event that doesn’t also have her husband, daughters, siblings and in-laws doing their parts. So when I discovered the first Houston choreographer I found also dedicated her life to raising money and awareness, I knew that Jane Weiner was a woman I wanted to meet.

Jane had spent ten years in New York dancing for Doug Elkins (just one of many of my favorite choreographers that came up during this interview!) when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"She had a nine month old baby and a lump that was in her body for eighteen months. The only way I could respond, aside from wanting to shoot the doctor who she told three times that she had a lump, was art with cause. So I started with Robin Staff (of DanceNOW), David Parker and Sarah Hook and we started the Pink Ribbons Project. All of us were affected by it. We had a little performance at DTW for two nights. David Webb was still there at the time and he gave us the place for free and we made $10,000 over the two nights."

The Pink Ribbons Project donated that money to NABCO (National Alliance for Breast Cancer Organizations) who went to DC and and presented seven women with stage four cancer to the FDA. Clinton was president at the time and he was working on fast tracking a series of cancer drugs. Three of those drugs were passed and immediately put on the market.

"Six months later my sister had a recurrence. We thought her cancer was done, she’d washed her hands of it, gone on her merry way then she had metastatic cancer go into the bone and the only drug that was available was this new drug that had just been fast tracked due to these seven women. So that was kind of was this snowball effect. She ended up getting a stem cell transplant and I moved to Houston to help her. I think I’m in about my 12th year here and the Pink Ribbons Project grew. Houston has very deep pockets. People are very aware of the cancer situation. In the meantime, I started Hope Stone. Eventually we got the point where we needed to separate. We had two boards together, Hope Stone and Pink Ribbons so we separated them out. Eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t be the executive director of both so my sister stepped in and they’re going gangbusters."


Cool NYC Dance Festival Updates

Just wanted to let everyone know that Monkeyhouse will be performing in
Program G of the Cool New York Dance Festival on
2/5 @ 7:00 – 8:30 PM & 2/6 @ 9:00 – 10:30 PM
along with
Jessica DiMauro DiMauro Dance
Fluid Edge
Kate Corby & Dancers
Jessica Chen/J. Chen Project
project: Smith
Amanda Hinchey
Sue Bernhard Danceworks

All performances are Free and are
at WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theater,
located at 25 Jay Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn.
We hope to see you there!

Stories from the Somerville-Tiznit Sister Cities Delegation (part 1)

by karen Krolak

Alas, the henna on my hands and ankles is really starting to fade. Though I had hoped to post photos and share our adventures from Tiznit, Morocco, our delegation's schedule left barely enough time for longish naps at night and our cell phones suffered from data connection issues. To be fair, though, this was a paltry price to pay for such an incredible experience.

Now that we are back in Somerville's snow dusted streets, I will attempt to cover some of the highlights of this amazing journey. I am so thankful to all the people in both cities who organized this project.

Even with my lavender and rose filled neck pillow, I found it difficult to sleep on the first leg of trip. Fortunately, our plane had individual movie monitors and I was able to watch a fluffy Bollywood extravaganza before dinner was served. Although the romantic plot line was predictable, the film's theme of people seeking to balance ancient cultural traditions with contemporary life reverberated through many of my later conversations in Morocco. Besides, I am a total sucker for Bollywood's sprawling dance scenes.

After dinner Jason and I synced up our screens to watch Pixar's UP together. Having seen some of Pixar's earliest projects at Siggraph conferences with my father in the late 80's, I was once again impressed by their artistic evolution. One of my favorite students from my days of choreographing musicals at Dover Sherborn High School, Najeeb, now works for Pixar. Even though I am not exactly sure how he was involved with this film, I was still rather proud of him.

Of course, since I selected to view UP in French in a last minute effort to brush up on my rusty speaking skills, I will need to see it again. Madame Witzberg would be so disappointed by how infrequently I grasped snippets and phrases.

The overwhelming majority of our group is composed of educators. As I bumbled through the movie's dialogue, I was repeatedly reminded of how much I have benefited from my relationships with teachers and students in ways that extended far beyond a class' subject matter.

Who would have guessed that in-flight movies would hit on two major topics at the heart of this trip to North Africa?

to be continued...

To comply with recent legistalation regarding blogging, I should mention that my trip was sponsored by The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in concert with Sister Cities International, the City of Somerville, the City of Tiznit and the Moroccan American Cultural Center. Readers should know that my experiences would not be typical for anyone else...especially those that studied French more diligently in high school and college.


Monkeyhouse Artists in Diplomatic Delegation to Morocco

Monkeyhouse's Artistic Director, Karen Krolak, and Production Manager, Jason Ries, are heading out to Tiznit, Morocco today as part of a diplomatic delegation organized by the University of the Middle East Project (UME). They will be meeting with artists, business leaders, and educators as part of the The Civic Participation And Leadership Initiative. This program is sponsored by The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in concert with Sister Cities International, the City of Somerville, the City of Tiznit and the Moroccan American Cultural Center.

In 2008 UME began facilitating a “Sister City” relationship between Somerville and the Moroccan city of Tiznit, with which UME has a long-standing relationship. This partnership is integral to UME’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding between the US and the Middle East and North Africa. The Civic Participation and Leadership Initiative (CPLI) hopes to strengthen the partnerships between these two communities, linked as Sister Cities. Through this workshop, participants will design a collaborative change process that they would like to see in their communities. In addition they will initiate personal and professional relationships that will contribute to a lasting bond between these cities.

Keep your fingers crossed. If they have packed all the correct electrical adapters, they will post photos and insights as they travel.


Sneak Peeks from Dance'N Feet Part 1

by Karen Krolak

Monkeyhouse loves Peggy Wacks for oodles and oodles of reasons. Whether she volunteers in the office, emails us information about dance festivals, or attends events, she is always assisting our programs.

When we presented the pilot project of Dream to Dance at Any Age in 2008, we brought copies of Gaby Mervis' interview with Peggy to handout to audience members. Pictures of Peggy standing on her head with other members of Dance 'N Feet inspired many of the residents at the Assisted Living centers where Monkeyhouse appeared. All the members of Dance 'N Feet are between 58 and 70! Knowing how excited people were about Dance 'N Feet, we thought we would try to catch up with Peggy and find out more about their current project.

karen Krolak: I heard that Dance'n Feet was performing recently. Were you presenting a new piece?
Peggy Wacks : We are just still learning our new number for this year so we are did our number from last year. It's the same one we did at May Fair to Cher's shoop shoop song (It's In His Eyes).

kK: When do you think Dance'n Feet's newest piece will be ready?
PW: Ready to learn (i.e. all steps choreographed) - in a few weeks; ready to perform, not before March at the earliest. It takes us many weeks of practice to learn and many more to perfect a new piece as we only practice once a week.

kK: Can you tell us anything about this new project?
PW: It is a joint effort between Nancy Simcock, who is our major choreographer and who teaches us the acrobatic/gymnastic "tricks" and Kathy Coppell, another member who occasionally choreographs. They are getting additional help by Adele Chang, another group member and any of us who come up with good ideas. This one is to a lively song - "Let's Get Loud".

kK: When we spoke earlier in the year, you were taking a choreography class. Do you have any plans to present something of your own?
PW: Truthfully, although I took a choreography workshop, I found it excruciatingly difficult and challenging. It seems the only time I come up with anything slightly original and fresh is when I am just dancing around to music. I will do something spontaneously, sort of unconscious choreography, and then it is so hard to reproduce. I don't think I"ll be contributing anything much to this project. Also, the choreography we did in the class was modern dance, and what we are doing is more like jazz.

kK: Thanks Peggy for taking the time to do this.
PW: You know, you might want to talk to the choreographers as well. Perhaps either Nancy or Kathy would be willing to answer more of your questions.

Once again, Peggy had a helpful suggestion and was able to put me in touch with Kathy Coppell. Check back tomorrow and read my follow up interview with her.


Monkeyhouse heading back to Cool NYC Dance Festival

Monkeyhouse will kick off 2010 in Brooklyn at the Cool New York Dance Festival. We are still waiting to hear about exact dates and time of our performances but the festival runs January 28 - February 7, 2010. All performances will take place at WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theater, located at 25 Jay Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn.

WHITE WAVE will be hosting and producing the Cool New York 2010 DANCE Festival (CNYDF), celebrating the 7th consecutive year of the company's annual winter dance showcase. About 60 contemporary companies and choreographers will be presented in over 19 performances during this two-week long extravaganza of cutting-edge dancemaking. Kicking off the celebration is a special Opening Night performance with a wine and cheese reception, all other festival performances will be presented to the public free of charge.

Karen Krolak featured in Northwestern Magazine

Monkeyhouse's Artistic Director, Karen Krolak, is featured in The Upside of the Down Economy, the Cover Story Winter 2009 issue of Northwestern Magazine. In the section titled, Tough Times are Business as Usual, she describes how arts training prepares people to survive in a recession.

Special thanks to Penny Penniston for recommending Karen to Elizabeth Canning Blackwell. In addition to being an amazing friend to Monkeyhouse, Penny's book of dialogue exercise for screenwriters, Talk the Talk, was just published and her newest play, Spin, will premiere at Theater Wit's new building in 2010!


Good News from Good Shop

Thanks to everyone who has been using GoodShop to help support Monkeyhouse! We just got our check from this year from them and we raised $208. That's double the amount we raised last year and enough to cover 8 hours of rehearsal space rental.

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give! As we head into all the Black Friday sales this week, please think about going through GoodShop before you buy things online at Amazon (1.5% donation), 1-800-Flowers (7% donation), Crate&Barrel (2.5% donation), Danskin (4-5% donation) or hundreds of other stores. It doesn't cost you anything to use the site and it only takes a few extra seconds.

Oh, and if you are planning a trip during the holidays...remember that you can use GoodShop with Expedia (1% donation), Hotels.com (3% donation), Avis (1.5% donation) and lots of other travel sites.

As an added incentive, Karen has offered to double whatever Monkeyhouse earns through GoodShop during November and December this year. Thanks again to everyone who is already using this innovative service.


More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 3)

By Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Ok so let's return to Taming of the Shrew. The "Wild Cat Club" is a fairly awkward performance space. How did it inspire you?
jason ries: I had the advantage of working in there on three previous Actor Shakespeare Project shows. As you know, I also designed lights for ASP's Loves Labours Lost in `07 in that space. However, walking into that basement space at the Garage, there are several elements that immediately look like challenges. Columns, low ceilings, weird angles and slants abound. There isn't a square corner or symmetric shape in that room. I'm fairly confident that Stonehenge was built with more digital considerations. Between overhead water pipes that travel at different angles than the rake of the concrete floor (which isn't consistent within 12" spans in some places) and pillars filled with re bar at unusual intervals (destroying more than our share of concrete drill bits), we certainly had a lot of fun in there trying to figure out a lot of the elements - which, of course, is what it's all about.

kK: Uff, how did you manage to juggle all of those elements?
jr: Having a sense for how we were going to stylistically frame Shrew before we walked in there, we immediately saw those as welcome additions to the barroom hijinks rather than obstacles. I want to make sure to credit Melia Bensussen, our director, for creating the framework, for seeing the potential of the room from the get-go and for her openness in going with me as I was sussing out how the awkwardness of the space could work for us. Her flexibility in working with the idiosyncrasies of that space always encouraged me to keep playing.

kK: With more productions in the Boston area embracing the concept of an ambient set, for example Sleep No More, how have audiences reacted to your design?
jr: Oh, they have booed and cursed me every night then threw walnuts at the center column ;) Seriously, I have heard a lot of favorable comments. People have said that they feel like they got the "inside jokes" which is always rewarding, as long as people are not distracted by the setting. I think that's success if they simply feel like they're in a world that allows them to access the story whether they consciously recognize it or not. That's the general sense I'm getting from audience response (that and some apparently genuine excitement about the "rough magic" at the end!) Some unattended kids were banging around on the jukebox at intermission when I was there last weekend. Made my eyes go watermelony at first - but then realized that how much of a genuine dive-bar moment that and was rather delighted by the verisimilitude. You may now go and look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

kK: Thanks, as you know I think you did an amazing job but I am admittedly biased.
jr: You are very welcome. Keep these Monkeyhouse interviews coming as I have learned quite a bit by reading them.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady


Finding Out About Fight Choreography with Rob Najarian (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

Continuing my Facebook interview with Rob Najarian, fight choreographer for Actors' Shakespeare Project's Taming of the Shrew and a performer in Sleep No More, a site-specific, immersive theater experience by Punchdrunk presented by the American Repertory Theater.

karen Krolak: Can describe how you developed one of the fights in Taming of the Shrew?
Rob Najarian: Developing the fights for Shrew were in process, during rehearsal. I like to get a lot of actor input since I appreciate that myself when I'm working as an actor. Also, having Melia there when we were developing the fights was hugely helpful. It's nice to know that a director has care and interest in the moments of violence instead of just having us go off and work something and come back and show it. The moves, quite honestly, are incidental. I just tried to get maximum coverage of the space - on the floor, near a table, around the pillar.

kK: Was it difficult to work around the posts in the center of the stage or did that just provide an exciting challenge?
RN: I won't lie, the posts were a bit of a pain, just because they had a lot of bolts that were protruding and we couldn't really "use" them in the violence because they had that fabric hanging there for the final scene. But usually, I dig pillars or any kind of odd architecture.

kK: How did you manage to juggle Shrew with rehearsals for Sleep No More?
RN: Juggling rehearsals were a it easier than I had though because Sleep No More rehearsals were just starting for me as tech week began for Shrew. There were some challenges and I must say that Tori and Melia were very understanding of my schedule. Also, the cast made things much easier on me because they were all physically capable and they picked up things a lot quicker than a lot of other casts I've worked with.

kK: How have you liked working with Punchdrunk?
RN: Working with Punchdrunk has been very rewarding artistically. It's been wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule just because they do expect people to be available pretty much all the time. It's the nature of the work really, because they figure out almost everything in process. It's one of the most truly collaborative experiences I've had during a show. Coriolanus was the other. It's also been great to be part of something that has generated so much buzz around town. We've met people who have come up from New York or even farther to see the show, which is a bit mind-boggling...

kK: How were rehearsals structured? Did you learn phrases or focus more on improvisations?
RN: Rehearsals always start with a group warm up (mostly a dance-like warm-up) which include an exercise on focus or a particular quality of movement they'd like to play with for the day. Then rehearsals are split between group time for the group scenes and solo work for individual moments. So it was a great combo of truly collaborative stuff, and intense individual work. I felt like I had a lot of freedom to mold my character which was really great.

kK: Although I haven't seen the production yet, I know that audience members are allowed to take their own path through the former school building where Sleep No More is set. Have you enjoyed being followed around by audience members?
RN: Being followed by audience was daunting in the abstract, but in practice I really like it. I dig it when they get close to me. I feel in a way that I can then experience my feelings as they happen and not have to worry about projecting them to make them read for a larger space. Also, I can concentrate on the intricacies of fine, subtle physicality for similar reasons.

kK: Have you had any noteworthy interactions with an audience member?
RN: No really noteworthy interactions. I usually connect individually with 2 or 3 people a night and it's different every time. It's strange and wonderful to feel how someone responds when I touch them after they've been ignored for an hour or two. It's one of the rare moments in my theatrical life when I've been able to connect with an audience member in such a personal way. It's hugely rewarding for me as an artist to see another human being respond to my performance in real time.

kK: Thanks Rob. I really appreciate hearing your observations on the creative process for both shows.
RN: Hope this is helpful Karen. Thanks so much for asking me this stuff and for your interest in what I do :)

More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Of course, you have designed set elements, e.g. painting the floor, striping the marley, hanging a myriad of mylar curtains, for Monkeyhouse pieces. Are there any major differences between designing for theater and dance projects?

jason ries: The most compelling difference to me between designing for theatre compared to dance is the timeline/lifetime of how work is built and pieces endure.

kK: Can you give me a specific example of what you mean?

jr: Even at the most basic professional levels, theater involves a couple weeks of intensive rehearsal (with concurrent design implementation), a week or so of tech (where all of the elements get fully integrated with the staging), and 4-6 weeks of multiple performances before it basically goes away forever. At least that is what I have experienced. Being mostly a dance novice until working with Monkeyhouse, I was completely caught off guard as to how ABSOLUTELY different this is from the dance process.

kK: And that surprised you?

jr: Yes, the two are so often lumped together as performative arts.

kK: So how would you describe the design process for dance?

jr: Dance pieces, as you know, are often built slowly over months, sometimes years. The rehearsal process requires more recuperation time and there isn't the same written document giving you words (and stage directions) to lean on. This gives plenty of opportunity to a designer who is integrated in the process to have a lot more time to mull over challenges and be part of the discussion on how a piece evolves and is build. Then, as performances tend to be one or two nights only and designed/expected to be able to move from venue to venue, it's assumed that the tech process only needs to be a couple hours (often the day of the performance). I expect that at the Boston Ballet or for any touring show with a trucked-in set, that the tech process expands out to something more akin to theatre, but most dance companies are charged with being able to go into any space easily and "make it happen" quickly. That, and the fact that a dance piece often has a repertory life of years once it's built, certainly puts a premium on making visual items light and incredibly mobile while, paradoxically, super-durable. Hence, the immense importance of achieving this through the personal (costuming) and transient (lighting).

kK: You are right but it took me awhile to grasp that distinction with my costume designs. Was this difference immediately obvious to you?

jr: Not really. It feels silly saying it now, since "bodies moving through space" would necessarily have different needs than "words delivered through air," but I remember the challenge of conceptualizing Always and A Day with Monkeyhouse. I wondered why some of my suggestions seemed somewhat radical. As you know, I was very satisfied with big elements of what we came up with, but it certainly was a hybrid of sorts. The elaborate installation basically dictated that those two weeks in February `05 at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge would be the only life those pieces would likely have.

kK: Can you describe ideas or attitudes that unite your approach to designing for these disparate forms then?

jr: I love embracing and/or uncovering the architecture of a room. Using unconventional spaces to put patrons into situations or positions that almost force them to be observing and experiencing different things than, maybe, the person next to them and, certainly, the guy three rows down or on the other side of the room. That's my philosophy, and it certainly isn't one that everyone recognizes or appreciates and I guess that certainly is a challenge.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady
to be continued...


Finding Out About Fight Choreography with Rob Najarian (part 1)

by Karen Krolak

Working on Coriolanus earlier this year, I met several of Boston's Fight Directors who were mentored by Robert Walsh. For example, Rob Najarian and Ted Hewlett crafted a thrilling longstaff fight that was one of my favorite sections of the show. I am not surprised that several must see theatrical events of the fall season somehow involve Rob. He's the Fight Director for Taming of Shrew and a performing in Punchdrunk's Sleep No More at American Repertory Theater. I am very grateful that he was willing to carve out some time from his hectic rehearsal schedule to answer some questions for me via Facebook.

karen Krolak: When did you realize that you wanted to be a Fight Choreographer/Violence Designer?
Rob Najarian: I don't think I ever realized I wanted to be a fight choreographer. But when I was in grad school (I was 25) I realized that the only class I ever really looked forward to was combat. Also, whenever I went to see a movie then, I started to see the fights in a new way, technically and as a narrative, not just as bunch of cool moves.

kK: And, where did you train? Who were your mentors?
RN: I've had many teachers, but the ones I owe the most to are Brad Waller in DC who taught me in grad school at the Shakespeare Theatre, and Robert Walsh. I learned most of my historical weapons from Brad and he really piqued my interest - he's a bit of a mad genius. I owe probably 2/3 of my career to Bob. Don't tell him I said that, but he probably knows already ;) . He really took the time to help me develop my teaching and fight director sensibilities. He's got a fab aesthetic.

kK: Isn't there some kind of certification process that people need?
RN: There is a testing process for the Society of American Fight Directors to become an Actor/Combatant, which I took at the end of grad school. To become a teacher, I took a 3 week testing workshop, after which I was certified to teach by the Society. Nobody really trains teachers of this stuff. It's something that's more of a loose confederacy and relies on some strong individuals who come together at various points in the year to share ideas, techniques, and socialize.

kK: Are there particular weapons that you prefer to use?
RN: I've gotten pretty attracted to the knife, really by necessity than anything else. Most theatre companies don't have the budget for swords, but the usually have knives lying around. I've geeked out and done some research into knife fighting styles - Italian Stilleto and Spanish Navaja. The former I used in a Romeo & Juliet with David Wheeler at Shakespeare Now! and the latter I employed with Carmen at Boston Lyric Opera which is up now. (Both Ted Hewlett and I worked on that one.) I still love swords though ;)

kK: Did you ever study dance?
RN: I took a modern dance class with this great guy, Paul Sarvis, when I was 18 at Bowdoin. I totally went because of a girl. But I stayed because.... well, there were 22 other girls and I was the only guy, but I actually liked it too. I took some dance in grad school too - modern and flamenco. And I've taken a dance class here and there, but nothing formal.

More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 1)

by Karen Krolak

Shakespeare and dance seem to be snuggling up more than ever these days. Already this year, we've covered choreographing Coriolanus and chatted with Ashley Wheater about the Joffrey Ballet's production of Lar Lubovich's Othello. Over the next few days we are going to have a smattering of posts related to the subject so stay tuned.

First, we are going to pick the brain of Monkeyhouse's Production Manager and Resident Lighting Designer, Jason Ries. For the last few years he has also been the Production Manager for Boston's critically acclaimed Actors' Shakespeare Project (ASP). After seeing his immersive set design for ASP's Taming of the Shrew, I thought Monkeyhouse's supporters might be curious to know more about his creative process.

Given the length of our email conversation, I have chosen to break it into two parts. If you are curious to see Taming of the Shrew, there are only four performances left so snag your tickets now.

karen Krolak: People have been a bit surprised to hear that you were designing the sets for Taming of the Shrew. Even after all of our collaborations, I associate you more with lighting design. Can you tell us about some of your other set design projects?

jason ries: Most of my previous set design work was, surprise, surprise, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. My first significant design was in `98 for Charles Marowitz' absurdist, deconstructed Hamlet (basically a mash-up with MacBeth), shortly after I fell into the theater life.

kK: Hmm..I am having a difficult time picturing that. Can you describe your design for it?

jr: Lots of draped red and white stretch fabric (with which I had no previous working experience), paper mache skulls borrowed from a South Asian mask artist that Christina Augello happened to know, and about 15 layers of pink and red paint sponged floor to ceiling. With the luxury of a lot of time and the ability/stupidity of being able to stay up for days in a row, it seemed surprisingly easy to make EXIT Stage Left look appropriately like the inside of a crazy brain.

kK: How do feel that early project relates to your concept for Taming of the Shrew?

jr: While directing smaller works as part of the annual Absurdist seasons, I actually did quite a bit of smaller scenic design there. A lot of the love I have now for blurring the lines between "viewers" and "viewed" came from my explorations in those smaller, safe (because how can you really do anything wrong in an absurd setting?) environs without anyone giving me any idea of what was "expected."

kK: What were some of your favorite elements of your earlier design work?

jr: Designing a huge pile of swaying detritus as the centerpiece for the basement space in our production of The Caretaker and then, with a ton more budget at University High, working with the students building a whole world out of opaque plexi-glass.

If folks are interested in any of this, they may be delighted to know that I actually first tried my hand at SOUND design. I was able to take advantage of Bill Swan's access to band's practice room/recording studio until he got sick of shifting director whims keeping us in the studio all night, every night during the tech week of a vanity-production of Caligula, and I had to find something else to do.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady

Actor Shakespeare Project
Taming of the Shrew
NOW extended through November 15th!
Four Shows Added!

11/12, 11/13 & 11/14 at 8pm and 11/15 at 2pm

Directed by Melia Bensussen**
Downstairs at The Garage
38 JFK Street, Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA

Tix by phone: 866-811-4111


Kicking off a Month of Dance in Boston

by Karen Krolak

Mercy me, Boston is just bursting with dance this November. Already there are oodles of interesting concerts all over. I dropped by the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge to see Shelley Neill today. She was revving up for a month of dance that kicks off tomorrow with Prometheus' The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.

On the other side of the river, you can catch a diverse spectrum of companies at the inaugural concert of the Massachusetts Dance Festival at the Boston University Dance Theater. Local television anchorwomen, Susan Wornick and Joyce Kulhawik, will take turns emceeing between performances by BoSoma, Chaos Theory Dance, Collage Dance Ensemble, Flamenco Dance Project, Josh Hilberman and Thelma Goldberg Ensemble, Rainbow Tribe, Snake Dance Theatre, Sokolow Now!, and Triveni Dance Company.

Back in Central Square, DancEdge presents another cross pollinating concert at the Dance Complex. An Evening of Tap, Jazz, and Hip Hop will feature DancEdge, Dance'n Feet, Hip Hop Ballerinas, Hip Hop Mamas, RapAtaPtap and all that, and Stonehill College Dancers in its lineup.

So put your plans to hibernate on hold for a few more weeks and indulge in a smorgasbord of concerts.


Ashley Wheater on Othello

by Karen Krolak
As I mentioned in the post on Peter Carpenter, Chicago is chock full of tempting dance concerts this month. I was especially intrigued by the Joffrey Ballet's production of Lar Lubovitch's Othello as I will be Assistant Directing Othello in March for Actors' Shakespeare Project in Boston.

Fortunately, Eric Eatherly, one of my first dance students from the National High School Institute at Northwestern University now works for the Silverman Group who manage public relations for the Joffrey Ballet. Thanks to Eric and Farrah Malik at the Silverman Group, I was able to email a few quick questions out to the Joffrey's Artistic Director Ashley Wheater who graciously found time to answer them for us.

karen Krolak: Presenting the Midwest premiere of Othello is an enormous project involving 42 dancers, sets by George Tsypin, costumes by Ann
Hould-Ward, recreated projections by Wendall K. Harrington, and a score by Academy Award® winner Elliot Goldenthal. What drew you to this piece and why did lanch your season of Legends with it?

Ashley Wheater: For me it is a profound piece of dance. There are very few contemporary full length ballets at this same level in terms of technique, choreographic content and such creative collaborations. I worked with Lar Lubovitch from the birth of this work with the joint venture between American Ballet Theater (ABT) and San Francisco Ballet (SFB). I looked after it at SFB through various seasons and was very involved with televising of the work on PBS. I wanted to bring this to the Joffrey, but knew that I would wait a few years to do it. I wanted the dancers to really have an understanding the movement and why this full length should be seen in and should, of course, be presented by The Joffrey Ballet.

kK: How have you liked working with Lar Lubovitch?

AW: I have of course enjoyed it very much! Lar and I have a great understanding and respect for each other’s creativity. He has trusted me with his work many times. I feel we have a fantastic working relationship. Both Lar and I have the same high expectations.

kK: What have you enjoyed as you have watched your company rehearse with him?

AW: For me it was watching the full company work with Lar and let everyone take in his vast knowledge of dance and his connection with this story. Experiencing the dancers learn about themselves and really challenge themselves was most exciting. I feel they have exceeded even their own expectations, which as an artistic director is what one can only hope for.

kK: That's wonderful. Now, what are some of the challenges from your end when you re-created this massive production?

AW: The challenges are mostly on a technical level - especially with Othello using back projection video. It was also important that the Joffrey did not try to recreate what ABT or San Francisco Ballet did with Othello, but instead makes it unique to the Joffrey without losing the integrity of the piece. We had to recreate the back projection for the stage that we dance on, which of course was a huge undertaking, but I can always overcome a challenge and here we are!

kK: So, I have never heard anyone talk about why a company chooses to present an existing work instead of commissioning a new piece. Can you explain that process?

AW: This is a good question for many reasons, some of which I have explained above. As an Artistic Director I am of course very interested in new works. I have brought many new works to the Joffrey over the past two years, will be doing so again in the spring, and will continue to in the company's future! The risk involved in staging new work is that it can be very, very expensive so if you are going to do a new work you must be sure that you are able to deliver the highest artistic qualities and that it will be a success. I have sat through many new works and have been disappointed and wonder how a company recuperates from that. In this day and age, we should not shy away from new work, but need to understand the risk involved and be ready to take it on. As I mentioned above, we are bring two world premiere works to Chicago in the Spring, one by Jessica Lang and the other by James Kudelka, which I am thrilled about. This will be our only mixed repertory performance of the season and is sure to be just as captivating as our production of Othello.







Single tickets, priced from $25 to $145, are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office, located in the lobby of 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.


Getting to Know Jeff Shade

Jeff Shade is a staple in the Steps on Broadway faculty. His tap and theatre dance classes are filled with his high energy and positive attitude. Jeff's dedication to the dance and his classes has generated quite a student following of all ages, styles and levels. His resume is filled not just with teaching but performing and choreographing across the country. Gaby Mervis, who spent the summer in New York City on an internship took his class and fell in love. She was once again kind enough to chat with Jeff about his work and to share some of her conversation.

GM: How and/or why did you start choreographing?
CHOREOGRAPHY was always part of my family! I am the youngest of six - - and I have four older sisters, who are all dance teachers. It just seemed like we were always "making up dances." I started choreographing professionally, as I started to perform less - - and when opportunities came up - - I happily said YES!!!

GM: Do you prefer performing or choreographing?
When I was younger - - I loved performing much better -- for sure. Now - - I love having "something to say" - - and creating dance to say it!

GM: What was it like working with Bob Fosse?
Working with Bob Fosse was a DREAM COME TRUE! As a youngster growing up in Pittsburgh - - I was fascinated by the sound of this name, his movies, and any touring company that came through the city. His work resonated with me - - and I appreciated his attention to detail and theatricality. Mr. Fosse was a father figure to me - - for sure. His approval was important - - and his support of my love of the dance remains with me today.

GM: Do you prefer to choreograph tap pieces or theater pieces and why?
I love choreographing the wide-spectrum of dance pieces. Sometimes, a story or feeling is best told with the percussive sounds of tap shoes - - and other times - - well - - it's bare feet for a concert/contemporary feel or jazz or character shoes for a more traditional jazz or musical theater dance feel!

GM: When is your birthday?
My birthday is June 29th! The best gift I ever received..............THE DANCE!

GM: Where did you grow up?
Pittsburgh, PA - - in the inner city!

GM: Besides working with Fosse, what was your early training like?
I was lucky that my four older sisters were dance teachers - - by the time I was born. They taught me all I know about tap dancing - - and certainly instilled the LOVE OF THE DANCE!!!!! I learned to twirl the baton and to acrobatics, too! Please check out "twirling me" at www.jeffshadedance.com. You will have a good smile!!!!

GM: What were the pros and cons of going to college for dance?
I think there are many ways to explore the art of dance. I think each person needs to evaluate his/her interests and where he/she will blossom best - - in the dance. Of course - - many people have interests that go beyond dance. I, for one -- LOVE SCHOOL - - and never majored in dance. I have a BS in business from Duquesne University, an MBA is marketing from Columbia University, and an MA in dance therapy from Lesley University! School is cool!

GM: How has your tap background influenced your theater dance and vice versa?
Tap certainly has given me a rhythmic appreciation for music. Theater dance has given me a great appreciation for dance-based story telling. Combine them - - and LIFE IS GOOD!

GM: How do you record your choreography?
If there is time - - I video the choreography. With some productions - - I am only permitted to video tape a rehearsal - - with no music - - and only counts. Those are the rules of several unions.

GM: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it?
It is impossible not to show work "in progress" when working with a director, musical arranger, and producers. It is part of the collaborative process. When it comes to concert or "all dance" work -- some times I do - - and some times I don't. When I do - - it's usually to give the dancers the feeling of performance – that "Oh - - someone will be watching this!"

GM: Can you tell us about "Cagney?"
CAGNEY is a new musical based on the life of James Cagney! It was conceived by Bobby Creighton -- who is currently in THE LITTLE MERMAID on Broadway! I had a great time working with director, Bill Castellino, to create the many dances for CAGNEY! The styles of the dances ranged from vaudeville-esque type dances to full out hoofin tap dances! I think the show is great! It is a wonderful story of a son of an immigrant family making good in tough times -- and there are three scoops of red, white, and blue!!!! YANKEE DOODLE!

GM: Of all the projects you have worked on, which was the most enjoyable for you?
The show that I wrote, directed, and choreographed, called PLAYGROUND: THE ADVENTURES OF A RESTLESS SPIRIT is certainly the most valued. The process was rich, and the product is one that is provocative - - taking people on the journey of a person on the verge of ending his life - - but presented with "options" for making life rich and creative.

GM: What classes do you teach at Steps on Broadway?
I love teaching - - or as I call it, SHARING THE DANCE! I teach theater dance at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels - - and I teach all levels of tap (mostly Broadway styles).

GM: Do you prefer choreographing short exercises for your students in class or full-length dances for the stage?
Both! I think the "practice" of choreographing short combinations in class helps hone my creativity muscle for creating a full-length piece. Teaching also helps me to be a better communicator! I love SHARING THE DANCE!

GM: What exactly does a dance therapist do?
DANCE THERAPY uses dance and other art forms to foster the process of psychotherapy. Allowing the embodying of a process is the final frontier in growing towards full personal fruition. Dance therapy has influenced my teaching style and my choreographic approach greatly!

GM: How do you think dance builds self-esteem?
If dance is delivered in a loving and accepting environment -- one that reflects back to the dancer a sense of I AM HAPPY YOU ARE HERE, YOUR SPIRIT IS BEAUTIFUL, AND YOU ARE A UNIQUE ENTITY IN THIS WORLD - - that will build self-esteem - - how a person feels about him or herself in general. BEING A GOOD DANCER or SUCCESSFUL may be useful in building self-confidence in the "category" called dance or profession! SELF-ESTEEM is the much richer sense of a healthy I AM.

GM: What was your most memorable moment as a dance therapist?
Oh! There are so many, and it has been a humbling privilege to be a collaborator with people in the mix of making their lives better. ...and, if not a collaborator, a true honor to witness someone grow through what are often very rough times.

GM: Can you tell us about "House of the Roses"?
"House of the Roses" is very cool volunteer dance company that does outreach to VERY ENERGETIC YOUTH! Sometimes the youth are part of a community center, or in homeless shelter, or have a mom or dad in prison. Dance volunteers go ON LOCATION to some really life affirming dance and drumming with these amazing young people! The goals are to build self-esteem and self-confidence, foster a sense of community, and give opportunity for positive labels (I am a dancer, I am creative, I am a performer, I am a team player, I AM HERE!). "House of the Roses" is inspired by the simplicity of Saint Therses the Little Flower -- who invites us all to "do the ordinary with extraordinary love." That is quite an invitation! YES!
I started the program several years ago -- but left when I went home to Pittsburgh to be the primary caregiver for my mother. The organization goes on today - - and the WORK continues to be done!

GM: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
Mmmmmmmmmm Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, and Ohad Naharin.


Remembering Pina

by Karen Krolak

Tuesdays suddenly seem to be a popular day to celebrate the legacy of Pina Bausch. Too bad, I didn't realize this trend before I started teaching jazz classes on Tuesday nights at Impulse Dance Center.

Last night, for instance, while I was leading battements, the Goethe-Institut New York, in collaboration with Dance Films Association, screened Anne Linsel’s documentary, Pina Bausch. If you also missed the NYC event, however, you can catch a short clip of the film here.

Then on November 3rd, the Goethe-Institut Boston, will present A Tribute to Pina Bausch featuring Ella Baff, Executive Director, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and "A Breath with Pina Bausch" directed by Huseyin Karabey. Admission is free but you do want to RSVP to (617) 262-6050 or info@boston.goethe.org.

Oh, and please let me know of any other events honoring Pina this fall...especially if they don't occur on a Tuesday.

A Tribute to Pina BauschTuesday * November 3, 2009, 7:00 pm

Goethe-Institut Boston, 170 Beacon Street, Boston
in English
Admission free with RSVP
Info/RSVP: +1 (617) 262-6050 or

Program: A Tribute to Pina Bausch and her legacy

"A Breath with Pina Bausch"
Directed by Huseyin Karabey
Documentary, 2004, 45 minutes
In Turkish with English subtitles

"A Personal Tribute to Pina"
Ella Baff, Executive Director, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

A filming of one of Pina Bausch's work TBD



Quick Q&A with Autumn Mist Belk

by Karen Krolak

Having taught at Impulse Dance Center in Natick, MA for the last 13 years, I am always delighted to discover how my former students find ways to weave dance into their lives after high school. Some of them, like Monkeyhouse's Nicole Harris, Amanda Page, and Kelly Long have pursued professional dance paths. However, many others build careers in other fields and still seek out regular technique classes. For example, Catherine Buell, who made her professional debut in Monkeyhouse's Ahem. Aha! Hmmm. in 2004, is somehow able to suss out performing opportunities while working towards her PhD in Mathematics at NC State. Frankly, I am in awe of her in general and this feat in particular.

When Catherine was home this summer, she raved about Autumn Mist Belk's classes and choreography. After her descriptions I dearly wish that I could see Autumn's newest creation, Indulge, especially since Catherine will be appearing in it as a guest artist. Alas, I won't be able to scoot down to Durham this week but I would love to hear from anyone who does see it. In the meantime, though, I was able to interview Autumn through Facebook to find out more about her creative process.

karen Krolak: I am so glad to see that Catherine has found some time while working on her PhD in Mathematics to perform again. Have you enjoyed working with her?

Autumn Mist Belk: Catherine has been wonderful to have around, both in the summer program at NC State and now in just Code f.a.d. rehearsals. She is such a conscientious person and approaches dance very intellectually, which I really appreciate. While some dancers rely solely on muscle memory, I feel Catherine is a dancer that ties into her brain to make sense and process the movement also as she works.

kK: So I noticed that you have worked with Joe Goode, who is one of my favorite living choreographers. Can you tell me how he has influenced your work?

AMB: Joe Goode has been a huge influence in my work, really because I am so amazed by his work and how he incorporates so many elements so seamlessly into the performances. It is my goal to one day get brave enough to pull singing in, but my company needs lessons first (myself included)! More than his creative work, Joe is a wonderful person to work with, and I always felt I was important to him and to his work, even if performing what seemed to be such a minor role. (I was the back surface of a human bench at one point, but it never really felt like an insignificant part.) Particularly in Indulge, since we have 6 "core dancers" and then additional chorus members, I hope I am able to make those dancers in the chorus roles understand how important they are to the success of the piece as well as Joe always did.

kK: Wow, that is not an easy undertaking but it is a fabulous attitude to inherit from another choreographer. So can you briefly describe Indulge for us?

AMB: We have 6 "core" dancers, who each personify a particular indulgence (or group of indulgences), for example all food and drink are rolled into one indulgence, all technological elements are rolled into another. Then we have 4 "chorus" dancers who serve as the audience link into the work. The chorus members observe the work from within it and respond often in "real people" mannerisms. The chorus members also join in with core dancers to be a part of the dancing community in sections of the work. We hope to tour the work starting next season to universities, arts high schools, and other places where we can have residencies and bring dancers from those communities into these chorus roles, and the work is set up to accommodate between 4 and 12 chorus members in each show.

kK: What prompted you to create this piece?

AMB: Shopping! I am slightly addicted to fashion (clothes, shoes, purses). While researching the authenticity of a Louis Vuitton handbag I was hoping to purchase on ebay, I stumbled upon other purse-addicts on "The Purse Forum" and started thinking about when indulgences turn into addictions. I was also very inspired by a piece of music by G. Todd Buker (aka Proxy) called "The Art of Leisure," and I felt this music indicated a fashion runway show, so from there the piece developed. Todd composed the rest of the music in the piece also, and our filmmaker, Colby Hoke, was a strong influence in the other, darker indulgences, such as greed and power.

kK: Goodness, sounds as though you have an number of elements to juggle during your tech week. Thanks for taking time out to talk. Just one last question: how did you know when the piece was finished?

AMB: I'm not sure the piece is finished. Maybe that is true of every piece I've ever made, though. I always like to go back to them and rethink things. How Indulge would end; however, came very early in the process, so it really was about finding an arc to that end. The work is really about living with these characters, rather than a story or narrative, so actually the piece could keep going indefinitely. The characters keep living, we could just see them in new context. So maybe Indulge should be a dance mini-series - I suppose we'll see where the future takes things.

Code f.a.d. Company
presents Indulge
October 14 & 15, 2009 @8PM
Reynolds Industries Theater
Duke University (in the Bryan Center)
Durham, NC
created and choreographed by Autumn Mist Belk
Including original video by Colby Hoke and Stephen Aubuchon, set to music by G. Todd Buker, Indulge pulls the audience into a world filled with high fashion, powerful business, gourmet food, cutting-edge technology and eternal love.
Join the company for a Q&A following the performance!


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