Catherine Musinsky's Unchastened

Unchastened from brynmore on Vimeo.

by karen Krolak

Returning home from a Thanksgiving trip to Dayton to catch up with Amelia, I found piles of emails waiting for me. I am so glad that I combed through them though, because, this marvelous film was tucked into one of the messages from the Dance Action Network. Catherine Musinsky's work has always impressed me and her mischievous eyes just draw you in to her movement but this film floored me. It is so brave and beautiful. Be warned, however, if you are squeamish about such things... it does feature a bare breast as it delves into her transformation after surviving breast cancer.


Getting to Know Derick Grant--Part 1

by Nicole Harris

Somewhere around 2004 I took students of mine from Impulse Dance Center to a Manhattan Dance Project workshop where I met tap teacher Derick K. Grant.  I was instantly enamored with his laid back yet individualized teaching style and when I found out he taught regularly in New York City I promised to begin showing up at places he was.  A few months later I walked into his class at Steps on Broadway in New York City while I was in town visiting my sister and knew just who I was.  "You're that girl from Boston.  You said you were going to being stalking me and here you are!"  Since then I have been lucky enough to study fairly extensively with Derick and I consider him to be one of the biggest influences on my tap dancing today.  Last year he and I sat down to talk about his career, his choreography and his view on life.

NH: What was the first thing you ever choreographed?
DG: Lord have mercy, the first thing?  Well, let’s say the first official thing was a solo. It was called “Drums.” I was a rookie in the Jazz Tap Ensemble and I was challenged to choreograph a piece. I got to work with Jerry Kalaf, who was the musical director. It was the first time where I worked with live music, and had to like come up with arrangement, and make a dance. That was pretty cool. I was probably about 19. 

NH:  What are your biggest challenges as a choreographer?
DG:  For me being entertaining. I found that most of the tap choreography was very green. My main problem was getting people to dance while they tap, ‘cause most choreography that is used in shows is used with the purpose of telling a story. And most choreography that is used in tap dance are musical compositions. So finding a balance where you can use the body as a narrative, as an actor, but then use the sounds coming from those same movements, as a musical composition, is hardcore. 

NH:  Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
I’m going to have to say Jerome Robbins or Bob Fosse.  I started to study ballets because I realized that ballets were bodies of work that represented choreographers, and those pieces would live long after the choreographers died. And that in terms of being a choreographer, that’s kind of like the point, that’s like the painter making the painting. You want to have a piece that can live beyond you. You know? So then I started checking out the ballets, seeing what they had in common, and then what made them different from each other in terms of style and storytelling. And I had some success, I mean it was a rocky road because I don’t know a ton about ballet, so I probably missed a lot of the subtleties; they all kind of looked the same to me after awhile. I mean I know what’s a pretty turn, what’s a pretty leap, but that’s about the extent of it.  With Fosse and Jerome, you can see it in the body, like that’s a tap dancer there.  It was easy for me to respond and to understand that.

Special Thanks to Melissa Dollman for her assistance in getting this interview transcribed.  We love you!


Lorraine Chapman on Margie Gillis

Margie Gillis
[When Lorraine emailed me this morning about Margie Gillis' upcoming events, it totally made my day. I can't remember the last time that an artist friend contacted me to rave about someone else's work. Shouldn't that happen all the time? At any rate, she eagerly agreed to let me re-publish her remarks here. Let's hope that this starts a new trend in the dance world. Feel free to contact me at monkeyhouse[at]gmail.com if you would like to write about one of your favorite choreographers. - karen]

by Lorraine Chapman

This Sunday is an singularly unique and uniquely singular opportunity to experience the one and only Margie Gillis live and in person right here in Cambridge, MA! I first saw Margie dance when I was a teenager in the 1980's somewhere in Canada and I am still haunted by her stunningly captivating performance. I still see and feel images and movement from that show 25 years ago as clearly as if it had been yesterday. I met Margie in 2004 when we were both doing a piece for the Alberta Ballet. I could not believe what she created with a ballet company where improvisation is as foreign to their repertoire as tapping a time step. The dancers were set completely free in a joyous celebration of movement and dance.

I began working with Margie as my mentor this August and I felt so alive in rehearsal, in my body. She allows you to feel such pure love and joy while dancing. Working with her allows me to remember why I first began dancing as a child. How often do we get back to that feeling? Well, now is your chance! She's coming! Here!

Even if: you've never improvised, you don't like to improvise, you don't think you're any good at improvisation, you think you're too experienced, you think you're too old...think again and convince yourself to come. You will not leave disappointed that you did.
If you humanly, physically cannot be there: please tell anyone and everyone in your life who dances and encourage them to attend both of these events. They will not leave disappointed that they did. I hope to see you all in three days.

Master Class & Informal Showing

with acclaimed international artist
Margie Gillis
Sunday, November 21st
Time: 1:00-3:00 Master Class 
5:00 Informal Showing
Price: Both events - $30 or $20 each
Special! BDA/GSS Members, Students, & Seniors: $12 Class & $15 Showing

Where: Green Street Studios
185 Green Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

PRE-REGISTRATION SUGGESTED: email info@greenstreetstudios.org or call 617-864-3191


C2C #5 - New Holiday Tradition with Betsi Graves Akerstein

by karen Krolak

Monkeyhouse's latest episode of C2C explores an alternative holiday production, The Story of Stuff, by Urbanity Dance. Betsi Graves Akerstein and I had a fabulous conversation about her newest creation and the Boston Dance Alliance's Rehearsal and Retreat Grant. Speaking of which, get hopping if you want to apply for the BDA Rehearsal and Retreat Grant as the applications must be postmarked by tomorrow, November 17!


Update on Anne Bluethenthal (San Francisco series part 2)

by karen Krolak

Chin-chin Hsu in Spine
Anne Bluethenthal and I shared a cabin during the Jacob's Pillow Choreography Lab in 2008 where we quickly began bouncing ideas off each other. While we share a common sense of theatricality, Anne's work seems to capture dancers at their most powerful and sensual moments. For example, her remake of Spine for Pluto in Capricorn (pictured at the right) featured a quartet of bare backs basked in warm set of spotlights. Even as these women contorted their torsos, Anne's choreography elevated their struggles. It was a physical poem about strength and supple vulnerability that inspired Caitlin Meehan's section in Monkeyhouse's quartet Odds. Spine was easily one of my favorite performances of 2009. If you are in the Bay Area on Sunday, I urge you to see her latest series of pieces, Traces of Grace and Other Dances.

Old First Concerts presents
ABD Productions

Traces of Grace and Other Dances
Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers
in concert with singer-songwriter Melanie DeMore

ABD Ensemble
Mayuko Ayabe, Crystaldawn Bell, Chin-chin Hsu, Mihyun Lee, Sarah Pomarico,
Frances Sedayao & Shaunna Vella
with music by Eric Glick Rieman and Sean Feit
Lighting by Allen Wilner

$17.00 General
$14.00 Seniors (65 and older)
$14.00 Full Time Students
$12.00 Groups of 10 or more
Tickets can be purchased online at

For more information visit: www.abdproductions.org


Interview with the Artists of ODD (San Francisco series part 1)

Amelia O'Dowd forwarded inkboat's latest newsletter to me because she thought I would be interested in their collaboration with AXIS Dance Company. As usual she was spot on, and, she didn't even realize that Monkeyhouse is plotting out a festival called Against the Odds for spring 2011.

I truly enjoyed this interview form the newsletter. So I contacted Shinichi Iova-Koga and he graciously allowed me to republish it here. Thank you Shinichi! I am so glad that Molly Barrons introduced me to his work many years ago and as always I am so thankful that Amelia keeps inspiring me.

Joan Jeanrenaud and Shinichi Iova-Koga


Interview with the Artists of ODD
Shinichi Iova-Koga & Joan Jeanrenaud



ODD - Directed by Shinichi Iova-Koga | Music by Joan Jeanrenaud 

For the first time ever, inkBoat will share the stage with AXIS Dance Company. The resulting world-premiere collaboration, ODD, is a series of dances choreographed by inkBoat Artistic Director Shinichi Iova-Koga, with musical accompaniment by famed cellist/composer Joan Jeanrenaud (formerly of the Kronos Quartet) and musician/vocalist Dohee Lee. ODD is inspired by the paintings of Odd Nerdrum.

Shinichi how and why did you think of Odd Nerdrum’s paintings when you thought about this collaboration?
SIK: Odd Nerdrum's paintings have been of interest to me since the mid-90's, but it wasn't until recently that I considered creating a dance work directly inspired by them. As we have examined these works more thoroughly, I have been struck by the relationship of landscape and body. There are similarities in shape, but more than that, I am reminded of Alan Watts speaking of humans having the conceit of being separate from nature. And how can that be? How can anything be separate from nature? Even our most polluting factories are part of nature. Our species imagines itself as above nature because we can go into outer space or divert water across large distances. But these are technologies and technologies are simply an extension of ourselves and we are an extension of nature. I believe it is this attitude that we are separate from the natural world that has given rise to polluting factories and dis-regard for our planet.

Joan, have Nerdrums paintings been influential to you in composing the music?
JJ: Nerdrum's paintings have become the essence for creating the music in, 'ODD'. In working with Shinichi his constant referral to the paintings has imbued their spirit into the dance and music, leading me to discovering sounds, feelings, gestures or motives that resonate with the images. As well, I am influenced by Shinichi and his aesthetics along with the work of the AXIS and inkBoat dancers and musician Dohee Lee, who is contributing her vocal, electronic and percussion skills to the score. I hope to create a sonic environment that the dancers will occupy and find inspirational. I want to create an overall sense of the strangeness, beauty and stillness that I sense from the paintings and Shinichi's choreography.

Joan and Shinichi, what are some of your discoveries during the creation process?
SIK: Early in our working process, I felt that paintings are paintings and dance is dance. We can be inspired by the paintings, but we cannot dance them. But, because the paintings themselves are still, we've been incorporating stillness more consciously into the choreography. And this is almost a traditional Japanese dance/theater idea. Noh and Kabuki in particular utilize many still moments as emphasis. The forms are precisely sculpted and freezes are employed constantly. I feel that the "avant-garde" ideas always come back to tradition somehow.
Working with Joan has been a complete joy. As part of our process, Joan has created music for the paintings without seeing the dance, or created music for dance without seeing paintings. Each time, she manages to come up with something distinct and imbued with it's own character. And we let all these characters meet... the painting, the music and the dancers meet to create something that is a birth, a child that comes from all these sources and stands as it's own.

JJ: Shinichi has led me to continually discover the significance of silence or of a small gesture in music the complexity of a single sound, sustained or brief. He has opened my ears by opening my eyes!

ODC Theater, SF
Fri-Sat, November 5-6 @ 8pm & Sun, November 7 @ 3pm
ODC Theater, Tickets: $18 available through odcdance.org,
(415) 863-9834
*Stay tuned for a meet and greet the artists gathering
following the Sunday, Nov 7th matinee
Malonga Casquelourd Center, Oakland
Fri, November 12 @ 8pm (Target Family Night Performance);
All tickets $10
Sat, November 13 @ 8pm and Sun, November 14 @ 2pm 
Tickets $22/Seniors, Students & Persons with Disabilities $15 /
Youth under 14 years $10 available through brownpapertickets.com,

Short Series on San Francisco

by karen Krolak

San Francisco July 2009
While Monkeyhouse is in the midst of whipping together two projects for this weekend: Movement at the Mills on Friday and the Cambridge Connections Urban Dance at Endicott Concert on Saturday, I keep receiving notes about drool worthy performances in San Francisco. Now in my moments of procrastination, I get lost in wafts of lavender and long for the West Coast. So, in an effort to transform that fantasy into something productive, I have decided to toss in a series of San Francisco event posts.

While you are waiting for the series to start, here are the details for our events in Boston again.

Movement at the Mills
Friday, November 5th 2010, 6:00-9:00pm
Performances at 6:00 & 7:30

Performances will occur on three stages scattered throughout the evening.
Audience members are invited to walk through the Gallery and observe various styles of dance as visual art. Free and Open to the Public

Featured Dance Companies include:
Marsha Parrilla y Danza Organica
Wanda Strukus

Mills Gallery
551 Tremont Street
Boston, MA

Please contact Andrea for more information at 617.456.1132 or ablesso@bcaonline. org

 Endicott College Performing Arts Department Presents
A Dance Performance featuring Boston-based companies
Monkeyhouse • Phunk Phenomenon • Urbanity Dance

Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 8:00pm
Rose Performance Hall
 $20/ Free to Endicott ID holders
For tickets visit www.endicott.edu/centerforthearts
For more information, contact Nicole Sao Pedro: 978 232-2395; nsaopedr@endicott.edu
Cambridge Connections
Endicott College 
376 Hale Street • Beverly MA 01915


Even More on Mariah Steele (part 3)

Photo Credit: Jim Coleman
by karen Krolak

In the final post of our three part interview with Mariah Steele, we delve into the intersection of anthropology and choreography.

kK: Ok, so when did you start choreographing?
MS: December of fifth grade.  My first dance was to Judy Collins' version of “Tis a Gift to be Simple.”  Every year, Steffi Nossen had a Holiday Party where parents watched the class and celebrated with the students afterwards.  Any student who wanted to was invited to choreograph a short dance and perform it at the party.  I did this every year.  I would move the furniture out of my room, shut the door and choreograph on my pink wall-to-wall carpet, with very limited space.  I scoured my parents' music collection, coming up with Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Indigo Girls, Mariam Makebo, and Maurice Ravel among others. Soon, one performance a year wasn't enough, and I would move the furniture quite frequently, make a dance, and then perform the piece for my parents in the living room or in middle school talent shows.  In high school, I had some wonderful academic teachers who periodically encouraged me to choreograph and perform dances instead of writing papers; for example, I made  pieces about the Crusades, Othello and environmental activism/the writings of Annie Dillard.  To this day, many of my dances have begun in the cramped space of my bedroom or living room – when the choreographing spirit calls, you have to follow it!

kK: Again, I am totally envious. I love that your teachers encouraged you to combine your academics with dance at such an early age. How do you feel your background in anthropology influences your choreography?
MS: That's a great question.  Anthropology was my actual major at Princeton (though for all intents and purposes I doubled majored in dance, except that they only offer a minor) and is at the very heart of how I see the world and how I approach a choreographic problem.  I am fascinated by different cultures and how people can be both so alike and so different.  Anthropology as a field is also interested in revealing the connections between aspects of life or culture that may not at first seem connected – it is a truly cross-disciplinary field, which is an intellectual experience and worldview that I love. Many of my dances have started with anthropological questions such as “What happens when two cultures meet?”  “What is the experience of female immigrants who come to America because of arranged marriages?” “What is the essence of humans' creative drive to build things that has produced the Egyptian pyramids, the great cathedrals and today's skyscrapers?” There is a wonderful overlap between dance and anthropology because they both deal often in metaphors, experience and feeling.  And at its heart, anthropology is all about people: what they think and dream and how they make meaning out of the world.  That is exactly what my dances try to explore and convey as well. 

kK: Can you give an example of how your anthropological studies were affected by your dance training?

MS:  Indeed, I studied traditional Kandyan dance in Sri Lanka for two months in order to write my anthropology thesis at Princeton. The experience of analyzing the cultural context in which a dance tradition is embedded gave me a whole new frame of reference for thinking about modern dance in our own society, too.  Besides which, learning a technique that is so different from any I had studied before was a first-rate physical challenge!

kK: So what brought you to Boston?
MS: My husband. He started a PhD program in plasma physics at MIT...so we will be here for awhile....but actually, I was born at Mt. Auburn hospital and lived in Lexington until I was 5 years old before moving to New York, so in some sense the move was “coming home.”  Only, I didn't realize until I got here how different the culture is from New York! And I must admit that now when people ask me where I am from, I say New York. 

kK: Well, I am just delighted that you have landed in Boston again and I am really looking forward to seeing more of your work.


Boston Performing and Visual Arts College Fair

On Wednesday, November 3rd, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) will present its annual Performing & Visual Arts College Fair in Boston. More than 120 of the nation’s premier arts institutions will be represented at this fair, which offers prospective students a first-hand opportunity to ask questions and pick up relevant information from schools of interest.  This is the only college fair of this size in New England that is specifically geared toward arts students, and it only takes place once a year.

This event will be valuable for high school or college students who are considering undergraduate or graduate studies in the arts. Teachers, guidance counselors, family and friends are welcome. Schools from New England and around the country offering programs in music, dance, theater, graphic and visual arts will be represented. For complete information including a list of attending schools and parking information, click here.

Please also feel free to connect with this event on Facebook!

Boston Performing & Visual Arts College Fair
Wednesday, November 3, 2010    
Boston Center for the Arts, Cyclorama
539 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
(Cyclorama: 617-426–5000)

Free and open to the public

More on Mariah Steele (part 2)

Photo Credit: Eli Akerstein
by karen Krolak

Things are a bit crazy this week as we prep for both the Movement and the Mills performance and Cambridge Connections Concert at Endicott College so I have decided to spread Mariah Steele's interview out over a few days. Today's section covers her early dance training...which reminds me that I was going to put up a post about the Boston Performing & Visual Arts College Fair. Ergg...let's see if I can sneak that in before I leave to vote.

karen Krolak: Can you tell me a little bit about your dance training?
Mariah Steele: Throughout my life, I have been blessed with incredible teachers who have been both at the top of the field and dedicated to the art of teaching. I had the unique good fortune to grow up in a dance school that focused on modern dance: the Steffi Nossen School of Dance in White Plains, NY. In elementary school, the program consisted of creative movement classes with lots of imagination.  In second grade, my mother put me into ballet classes instead, and I cried after every class; she put me right back into the Steffi Nossen program.  In fourth grade, I joined the “master class” track and began learning May O'Donnell technique; I would go on to study this technique with teacher Nancy Lushington every single Saturday until I graduated from high school, in addition to other modern classes during the week. I did not take ballet again consistently until 9th grade, when I joined the pre-professional Steffi Nossen Dance Company.  

kK: I am so impressed by the variety of pre-professional companies open to high school students now. How was the Steffi Nossen Dance Company structured?
MS: “Company,” as we called it, involved working with a different NYC choreographer every semester, in addition to at least three dance classes during the week.  Among other exciting choreographers, we had former Paul Taylor, Limon and Mark Morris dancers make pieces on us.  In this way, I was trained to be a truly versatile dancer and performer because each choreographer brought a different movement quality, technique and choreographic theory to his/her piece. 

kK: My word, that is a very unique program. I am quite jealous. College dance programs might even feel  a bit anti-climatic by comparison.
MS: Well, I then went on to train with Ze'eva Cohen and Rebecca Lazier at Princeton University, two of the most transformative teachers I have encountered in any discipline.  Ze'eva was instrumental in teaching me about breath and intention, and she helped me uncover my own unique choreographic voice. From Rebecca, I gained new insights into how thinking about imagery and anatomy can change how we move, making our movement more efficient and expansive.  Beyond dance, these lessons proved to me the power of our imaginations to create physical changes in our bodies and our worlds. 

Tomorrow we will conclude with a chat about how academics and dance can influence each other...


Mariah Steele on Movement at the Mills (part 1)

Mariah Steele Improvising at Movement at the Mills

by karen Krolak

On a blustery night last January, I popped over to check out a Movement at the Mills performance before Monkeyhouse headed down to rehearsals for the Cool New York Dance Festival. Jason, Caitlin, and I met up in the back corner of the gallery just as Mariah Steele began a sumptuous duet full of subtle tensions and playful vocabulary. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to stay to chat with the choreographers but I made a mental note to track down more of Mariah's work.

In August, I shared this story with Karyn Edison during the second weekend of  the Massachusetts Dance Festival.  Within a few minutes Karyn returned with Mariah who had just finished teching her piece. When she mentioned that she majored in Anthropology at Princeton, I knew I had to interview Mariah for Connect 2 Choreography. Given that Monkeyhouse will appear on at Movement at the Mills on November 5, this seemed like the perfect time to get a discussion rolling. 

karen Krolak: Can you describe your experience working on Movement at the Mills?
MS: Movement at the Mills was a wonderful experience.  Because we found out we had been accepted two weeks before the Christmas holidays and then the performance was the second Friday in January, we ostensibly only had two weeks to prepare.  Thus, we had to take old pieces and adapt them to the space rather than make a new piece specific to the gallery.  

kK: We are doing something similar with a piece called anti-ossification. Coincidentally, that was the piece we were rehearsing when I saw your performance at Movement at the Mills. Did you enjoy adapting a pre-existing work for the space?
MS: That process turned out to be very exciting: something about the white walls of the gallery really distills aspects of the dance.  In addition, entering and exiting through the throngs of people and having audience members on the “stage” while we danced created a unique performance atmosphere.  I felt like we were inside the audience's heads, weaving their dreams.  But I must say, my favorite aspect of the performance was the improvs we did in the smaller spaces.  

kK: Really, how so?
MS: Originally, I had planned to make our costume changes smoother by just wearing black for the improvs, but right before I left my apartment to go to the show, I decided maybe we should have costumes.  In the true impromptu spirit of Movement at the Mills, I just grabbed whatever reached my hands first in the closet.  At the gallery, we threw together some clothes combinations; coupled with our sneakers (because the floor was cement), we had rather hilarious costumes, that I never would have come up with rationally! Plus, the possibilities of playing with the gallery's architecture in the improvs – the walls, the window frames, a pole, the stairway wall and railing – added a whole other character to our dance.  At the end of the two shows, we were exhausted, but exhilarated!   


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