Boston Dance Alliance Grapevine

By Karen Krolak

As you may know, I joined the Board of the Boston Dance Alliance in June 2007. Although I won't be able to attend this event, I thought some of you might enjoy it. Did I mention that there is free food?

BDA Grapevine!

Who: All are welcome to attend!
What: A time to talk about dance with BDA and other friends, old and new
Where: 1st meeting – The Enormous Room, 569 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge [Click here to view map]
When: Monday, February 9th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM [Timing is flexible – come when you can!]

- BDA will provide appetizers -

More details about BDA's Monthly Grapevines:

On the second Monday of every month we will select a nice place to meet, drink, eat, and enjoy each other’s company while talking about dance. Check our website for updates on monthly locations.

Some months we may predetermine topics and others will be open. Send us something you are interested in talking about and we can add it in. Or just come and get a conversation going!

Join us and hear it through the Grapevine each month! We look forward to seeing you there.


Getting to Know Caitlin Meehan!

This year's First Night show might be over, but we still have some dancers we want you to meet! As we were preparing for the show Nicole Harris took some time to interview another one of the new performers, Caitlin Meehan.

NH: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CM: At 5, a paleontologist, at 6 or so, a figure skater... at about 10 I came to my senses and realized I wanted to be a dancer.

NH: What was your first Monkeyhouse experience?
CM: Avec Nous
, concert at Green Street Studios, Fall 2007

NH: When did you begin dancing? What is your dance/education background?

CM: I began dancing at age 4. I have a strong background in ballet, jazz, tap and modern- though today I am working mostly in modern.

NH: Who have you been performing with recently?
CM: Danny Swain Dance Company, Dunkel and Friends

NH: Where did you go to college?
CM: I went to Muhlenberg College and double majored in Dance and French.

NH: A lot of young dancers question whether they should study dance in college. Do you think you greatly benefited from choosing that path?
CM: I got a whole lot from my study of dance- from learning to improvise and developing my own style, to re-working my technique with a dance physical therapist, to choreographing my own pieces. I also got to study and perform a variety of styles with some excellent professors and choreographers. My college dance education made me a more well-rounded performer and choreographer by exposing me not just to new techniques, but to new ways of thinking and talking about dance.

NH: Who would you say has had the greatest influence on your dancing?

CM: An early influence was
Donna Miceli, one of my very first teachers, Nailah Bellinger, also Karen Dearborn, Jennifer Kayle, and Charles Anderson from studies at Muhlenberg.

NH: What made you know that you wanted to dance professionally?

CM: I can't pinpoint the time when I first knew, but my moment of affirmation was when I found myself in a classical ballet studio in France, at the mercy of a ruthless former ballerina. I realized that if I'd gotten myself there on purpose, I just had to do this.


Time For Time Lapse

Time Lapse Dance, a company based in New York City, is a spectacle of lights, costumes, and innovative choreography. Intern Gaby Mervis interviewed Jody Sperling, artistic director of Time Lapse Dance.

Note: Gaby also created Jody's Wikipedia page as part of the Wicked Awesome Wikepedia Choreographers' Campaign.

GM: How and/or why did you start choreographing?
JS: I've always loved dancing and I can't imagine being a dancer without making dances. My first choreography was for our high school musicals (including "Kiss Me Kate"). My first semester in college I founded a dance troupe.

GM: How do you record your choreography?
JS: Of course, video is key . . . BUT as far as notes goes . . . The first thing is that I give names to all the moves. It's important in the process that we all agree on the same names for the steps -- and I do sometimes offer "naming rights" to the dancers! I sometimes make a vocabulary "key" (eg. correspond name to sketch) and then write out the sequence of moves of the dance, along with sketches for spatial orientation. If the work is musically based, I'll write out the timing as well.

GM: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it? Why or why not?
JS: I think it's a good idea, but it doesn't always happen. For a while I was working with a dramaturge (another choreographer whose sensibility I admired) and she gave me feedback on helping to shape both the structural, but in particular the character and narrative elements of the piece. I rely a lot on my collaborators, especially composer Quentin Chiappetta, to give me feedback as we go along. Quentin and I have worked together for so long he knows what I'm going after.

GM: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
JS: Philippe DeCoufle, Pina Bausch, and Merce Cunningham.
GM: What was the first thing you ever choreographed?
JS: I think it was a jazzy number to "Heard it through the Grapevine" for a school musical . . .

GM: Have you seen any significant shifts in your work or the creation of your work?
JS: Yes. I've been making work for about 16 years. About 10 years ago I hit on the idea of "time- lapse" dance (i.e work that acknowledges the trajectory of history into the present) and have been simultaneously exploring the "Loie Fuller" idiom and my infatuation with the idea of "cheapness". (I made solo "Cheap" in 1999, duet "Cheaper" in 2003, and trio "Cheapest" in 2005. Recently, I added the quartet "Bang for the Buck" to the series.)

For a few years, I focused on solo work, but have been working to literally expand the vision and grow the company. When I first started choreographing, I tried to make dances with no props or costumes that were easily portable with my own body. Now, with each new project the production values are higher. We are "choreographing" lights and video projections and using set pieces and more dancers. Right now we are four dancers, but I recently did pieces with seven and eight dancers and want to grow TLD larger and continue to work with more elements of production design.

GM: Is there anything specific you look for in dancers when hiring for your company?
JS: Flow. Strength. Musicality. Flexibility. Comfort with partnering. Versatility. Special skills, such as gymnastic ability or acrobatics. Confidence. Positive attitude. I'd say hard working, but all dancers are hard-working.

GM: You say that your works are based upon the style of dancer Loie Fuller. How did you first come across Loie Fuller and what about her motivated you?
JS: There is a specific story, and it is completely an accident. In 1997, I was working as the Illustrations Editor for the International Encyclopedia of Dance and the Managing Editor of that project, Elizabeth Aldrich (also a social dance historian and film choreographer), got a gig to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Library of Congress. As part of the program, she wanted to choreograph a "butterfly dance" a la Loie. One day, she put a picture of Loie Fuller on my desk with a post-it that said "How about this?" At first, I protested, but relented when she promised it would be fun. I ended up performing in the rotunda of the LOC in a costume with 15-feet pink wings while an 18-piece brass band played Wagner's "Ride of the Walkyries". Video here:

What continues to draw me to the work is the way that the body is connected into space and how the fabric makes the eddies and vortexes of every movement visible. It's quite a transcendent experience to work in these costumes.

GM: How do you incorporate Loie Fuller's style into your work?
JS: The process for each "Loie"-influenced piece is different. After a decade of working with this vocabulary, it is entirely integrated into my being. I am interested in expanding the boundaries of what you can do with the material and the lighting and technology how to make dances that work visually, kinetically and musically. People sometimes say what I do is "reconstruction" and that is wrong. I use the word "re-imagination" (and I have been arguing for greater use of that word generally). I think about what I do sometimes as historical fiction -- the way a novelist might set a work in the past, but it's still an original work. Only, to extend the analogy, I'd say I'm particularly interested in anachronism at the moment.

GM: What was your process of becoming an expert on Loie Fuller like?
JS: Gosh, I just made one piece after another. I really enjoy library research. You get to experience delving into materials that are rarely viewed. It's a privilege.

GM: It seems as if lights and costuming are a big part of your pieces in addition to the dancing. What background do you have in these fields?
JS: The lights and costumes are completely integrated into the choreography. I don't have either a lighting or a costume background, but I collaborate with wonderful designers -- David Ferri (lighting) and Michelle Ferranti (costuming). I've worked with both of them since 2002.

GM: What happened to your tour to India?
JS: We were supposed to perform for the opening ceremonies of an international cricket championship in Bangalore. The entire tournament was postponed due to the Mumbai attacks. Hopefully, we will reschedule the performances as well.

GM: Where has been your favorite place that you performed?
JS: City Center, at Fall for Dance. Such a lovely stage, and in my hometown.

GM: Where did you grow up and how was your transition to New York City?
JS: I grew up in NYC, in the Village, but now I live way uptown on the Upper West Side, so it's been a pretty big transition ; ) . . . Honestly, I love the city and could never live anywhere else.

GM: Can you tell me briefly about some of your newest pieces?
JS: Of my recent works, I'm most excited about "Ghosts." I was consciously trying to expand the "Loie" vocabulary into new directions. The score is by Quentin Chiappetta and it's outstanding. We got a grant from the American Music Center for the commission and to have it played live at the premiere in October. I've listened to it probably over a thousand times and am not bored yet. The music uses gamelan rhythms, including sudden tempo changes, and is scored for cello, piano and percussion.

The movement has a "dervish" section in which the dancers keep spinning and changing shapes. One dancer snacks on crystalized ginger between runs to keep from getting nauseous.

In one section, I wear a bodysuit with LEDs on it that I can trigger manually in performance. It was quite a feat to rig this up, but it's fun to improvise the lights in relation to the pauses in the music. This concept was inspired by an act (of a Loie imitator) from 1893.

GM: When and where are your next performances?
JS: We have a residency at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in March, with a public performance on March 27. Our next season will be in November at Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Details will be posted on our events page.


MONKEYHOUSE in Cool New York 2009 DANCE Festival!

Monkeyhouse is returning to New York City in just three weeks!

Karen Krolak and Jason Ries will be performing Pochemuchka on
Friday, January 30th- 7-8:30 and
Saturday, January 31- 9:00-10:30.

Nicole Harris and Karen Krolak will be performing Firk II on
Friday, January 30, 9-10:30 and
Sunday, February 1- 6:00-7:30!

Want to see both pieces? Don’t worry! The shows are FREE!!
Tickets are not available in advance, so be sure to get there early.
Don't live in New York but know someone who does? SPREAD THE WORD!

John Ryan Theatre
25 Jay St
Brooklyn, NY


Gratitude and a Goodbye to Daniel Nagrin

by Karen Krolak

I just heard that one of my heroes, Daniel Nagrin, passed away on December 29.

Oh, there are just too many reasons to admire him. Really, read his bio. For seven decades he did it all: dance, choreograph, teach and write. When I first discovered his book, How to Dance Forever, his unflinching insights profoundly changed my approach to class, choreography, and my career.

Although he lead a choreography workshop at the American Dance Festival when I attended in 1992, it filled before I could enroll. However, whenever I had the opportunity, I would sneak into the balcony around that studio and listen in to his concise critiques.

Eleven years later, I finally found a chance to participate in one of his Master Classes on Improvisation at Summer Stages Dance in Concord, MA. It is difficult to describe the formidable intensity of being in a room with him. Dubbed "the great loner of American dance." by Dance Magazine, his sparse utterances seemed to have their own unique gravitational pull. Being his student was slightly intimidating and yet wonderfully exhilarating. His New York Times obituary aptly described him as "craggily innovative", and that phrase captures a great deal of his mysterious charisma.

You can imagine my surprise when he approached me after class to cryptically remark that he "admired my courage." I was too stunned to ask exactly what he meant before he left but it is a moment that I refer back to whenever I need to cut through the noise of artistic doubt.

When he returned to Summer Stages Dance again in 2006, he was gracious enough to let me interview him for about an hour on the arc of his career and his thoughts on choreographing. Below is a brief segment from that conversation that seems particularly pertinent today:

KK: How did you get started choreographing?

DN: How did I discover it?

kK: Yeah..

DN: Well, I went to concerts and I knew if you were to be respected you had to make your own dances. In early modern dance, the dancers had less respect than the choreographers.

kK: Interesting...very interesting. And when you began did you just go into a studio and start moving or did you study it? How did you start the process of it?

DN: I never studied choreography. The closest I came to studying choreography were the years I spent working with Helen Tamiris.

kK: Okay.

DN: She was my adviser in my own work and she conducted classes which I never attended. We spoke a lot. I never discovered a method. Well, I did and i didn't. I saw how she worked and it made a lot of sense to me and I always did it.

kK: And when you began choreographing, did you mostly choreograph for yourself or did you set work on other people.

DN: [points to himself]

kK: When you started did you work with mirrors? I know in class that we cover the mirrors.

DN: I have always hated the mirror.

kK: [laughes with a sense of recognition]

DN: Whenever I looked in the mirror I was shocked. I wasn't entranced with what I saw. I wasn't entranced when i saw myself dance and I wasn't entranced with my face. Something about it always put me off. I always felt much better without looking. So I didn't look.

kK: It is curious that you didn't like the way you looked dancing, and yet you would choose to be the medium for your choreography.

DN: It never occurred to me that was wrong if it didn't look good. In the choreography that I did and that I taught, the important thing was what you did on stage not what you looked like.

Thanks for inspiring so many of us!

Daniel Nagrin 1917 - 2008


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