Jacob's Pillow Seeking Samba Dancers

by karen Krolak

Moving Monkeyhouse into Springstep switched up the rhythms of my administrative duties tremendously. Board meetings, for example, are often accompanied by the buoyant energy of Bollywood classes. My typing provides a nice counterpoint to flamenco rehearsals some days. Just hanging around the halls as students gather for Tango, Tap, and Salsa has whet my appetite for a wider range of dance styles. 

When I heard that Jacob's Pillow was planning a Samba program this summer, I was eager to discover how they developed their Cultural Traditions offerings. I contacted one of my favorite people at the Pillow, J.R. Glover, Director of Education, to pick her brain about the Samba session.

karen Krolak: Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy of the Cultural Traditions program? How does it relate to the mission of Jacob’s Pillow?
J.R.Glover: The School at Jacob’s Pillow annually offers programs in Ballet, Contemporary, Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance and Cultural Traditions, which features a different cultural dance form each year. The Cultural Traditions Program is very much in keeping with the history and philosophy of Jacob’s Pillow. Our founder, Ted  Shawn, researched and was influenced by cultural dance forms from all over the world, and from the very beginning, he presented a wide variety of dance forms in performance, just as we continue to do on stage today.

The mission of the Pillow is, “To support dance creation, presentation, education, and preservation; and to engage and deepen public appreciation and support for dance.” It’s notable that the mission doesn’t focus on a specific genre of dance, but on dance as a whole. It’s important that this inclusive definition of dance be reflected in all aspects of Jacob’s Pillow, including The School. Everyone benefits from the cross-pollination that occurs when dancers and dance supporters from different backgrounds meet and learn about one another’s art form.

kK: So, is this the first time that you have organized a Samba program at Jacob's Pillow?
J.R.: Yes!  We are so excited to have these dancers arrive and share the folk and social styles of this high-energy art form with our audiences and visitors. 

kK: Can you give me some examples of other dance styles that have been included in the Cultural Traditions workshops?
JR: Other dance forms that have been highlighted in our Cultural Traditions Programs in years past include last year’s Tap Program, and prior to that, Hip-Hop, Pacific Islands Dances, Flamenco, and more. This summer it’s Samba’s turn to shine!  Dancers and dance supporters should check our website in December to see which form will be featured in 2012. 

kK: Did something in particular attract Jacob's Pillow to this style now?
J.R.: Artistic and Executive Director, Ella Baff, and I made the decision to feature Samba this summer because of the Pillow’s association with Mimulus Dance Company from Belo Horizonte, Brazil and their amazingly talented Artistic Director Jomar Mesquita, who is also the Program Director for the Samba Program. Mimulus has completed two well-received engagements at Jacob’s Pillow in the past few years, and we feel very fortunate that Jomar is able to be here this summer to share his vast knowledge of dance and his innovative choreographic approaches.

kK: Do other summer dance festivals offer Samba classes?
J.R.: As far as other programs go, there are certainly entire festivals dedicated to Brazilian art forms that take place all over the world; yet the Pillow is unique in that we are offering this intensive in Brazilian Samba in such an eclectic environment. For example, during the Samba Program, two of the companies performing at the Pillow are Norway’s national contemporary dance company, Carte Blanche and Crystal Pite’s Frankfurt and Vancouver company, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM.  Also performing in the theatres will be Tangueros del Sur, which includes some of Argentina’s leading Tango musicians and dancers under the artistic direction of Natalia Hills. Just imagine the vibes on campus the week we have the tangueros and sambistas! The exchanges that will be possible between these South American dancers, as well as dancers from all over the world, is one of the things that makes the Pillow so special, and why studying here tends to be a career-enhancing and life-changing experience.

kK: Having studied at the Pillow before, I agree that the atmosphere created by the other artists on campus infuses everything. However, I feel that what makes your workshops so exceptional is your teachers and their passion for nurturing younger artists. How do you select your faculty members?
 J.R.: I always select faculty in consultation with the program directors. For the Samba Program, I relied heavily on Jomar’s expertise. Juliana Macedo is Jomar’s dance partner and has been affiliated with Mimulus for over twenty years, including serving as a principal dancer. Since our program will have a strong focus on Samba’s partnering styles, having the two of them on faculty will be especially helpful for the participants.  Our Samba Scholar, Gustavo Côrtes, directs the Brazilian folk dance group Sarandeiros and is an expert on Brazilian folklore and traditional arts. He has priceless knowledge and video footage to share with our participants. Finally, all Samba classes are going to be accompanied by a trio of accomplished musicians who are traveling to the Pillow from Brazil specifically to play for the Samba Program: Music Director Rodrigo Torino on guitar, Leonardo Brasilino on bass trombone, and Gustavo Grieco on percussion. The studio is going to be full of rhythm!

kK: Sounds wonderful. As you and Jomar crafted the Samba program, were you hoping for dancers who are already proficient at Samba or people who want to add it to their current training?
 J.R.: Well, all of our programs are limited to 24 participants: 12 men and 12 women.  We are always looking for a combination of advanced pre-professionals who are on the verge of beginning their careers and working artists who are interested in professional development. That said, the dancer’s specific background is less important than his or her talent and passion. We are recruiting from both the Samba no Pé and Latin Ballroom fields. Participants must have strong performance skills since they perform for the public each week as part of our free outdoor series, Inside/Out. We have been recruiting as many established dance partners as possible for the program. Yet, we are also eager to help individual dancers attend and working to make it possible for new partnerships to form while at the Pillow. Most importantly, dancers should be open to learning new styles, delving into Samba’s history and evolution, and expanding their technical, artistic, and performance skills.

kK: I have been sharing many of the videos on Dance Interactive with Monkeyhouse's supporters and with my students and they love the site. Do you know if there are any Samba performances on the Dance Interactive for people who are curious to learn more about the art of Samba?
J.R.: We don’t currently have clips of Samba artists on Dance Interactive. However, since new content is continuously added to the site, check back frequently!  Footage of Jomar’s company Mimulus performing at the Pillow can be viewed in the Archives here on campus, and samples of their work can also be found online. Here’s a great YouTube clip that features highlights from the company’s most recent show Por Um Fio.

To find out more about the Samba program, contact J.R. Glover at  413.243.9919 x160


Monkeyhouse Loves You!

Hey kids!  As you know, Monkeyhouse Loves You!  Now it's your turn to love us back!  (Or at least like us...)

Click here to "like" Monkeyhouse on Facebook for all sorts of insider information!
(Plus blog posts straight to your news feed!!)


Getting to Know Anne Howarth

As promised, here is the interview Sarah Friswell did with one of this week's guest artists, Anne Howarth!  I am always so excited to get these interviews in and see what two people from two different parts of our lives have to say!

SF:  Before we truly begin, could you tell us a little about yourself?
AH:  I’m a classically trained horn player who teaches and performs throughout the Boston area, and I am ridiculously lucky to be able to work with such talented, creative, supportive artists as those of Monkeyhouse. I play orchestra music, chamber music, and a bit of solo music. I’ve dabbled in jazz, though only the chart reading part. I teach horn and chamber music at Tufts, U Mass Boston, the Brookline Music School, in the Milton public schools, and at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. I’m a budding vegetable gardener, I love to travel, I love good, flavorful food, and I’m fascinated by people. 
SF:  What is your history with Monkeyhouse?
AH:  My husband and I went to a Valentine’s Day concert at CMAC somewhere towards the beginning of our courtship, and we stopped to talk with Jason and Karen after the show (thanks to free ice cream provided by J.P. Licks). We got to know Karen and Jason over several years of dance shows and social events. We have been devoted fans ever since, and in the past year or two my role has expanded to include participation in some spork-type events and occasional performances with the group. Most recently, I played for a couple of pieces at First Night 2011.  

SF:  Could you tell us a little more about your experience performing with Monkeyhouse at Art Beat and First Night? 
AH:  Art Beat was my first experience performing with the group, and it was wonderful and strange compared with my musical performing experience. It was informative (it turns out that dancers walk the floor of a space to get a feel for it in the same way that I play to test the acoustics before beginning a performance), and it was joyous in a physical way (classical musicians may feel joyous, but we tend only to express it through our playing, to at most our eyebrows). I am used to thinking of performance clothes (black, anyone?) and not costumes (which are a whole lot more fun but a whole lot more work to keep track of).  Our First Night performances included my improvisation debut and a solo horn performance in front the largest audience for which I have ever played solo. The energy of the group was high but focused and the performances were all generous and fulfilling.

SF:  What is your favorite type of music to play and perform?
AH:  Chamber music, without a doubt. Also happy music. And music that tells a story.

SF:  Have you always played music for dance?
AH:  I have played operas, big bands, and a little Javanese Gamelan, but I had never worked with dancers before Monkeyhouse. You didn’t ask if I have any dance experience! I took a modern dance class my last semester of  college and fell in love with it. I promised myself I would continue taking classes, but I went to grad school in music and never got back to dance.  It has been great fun to explore movement again – I’m looking forward to the Improv Partnering Workshop that is part of Against the Odds on Saturday!

SF:  How has your music changed since you began working with dancers?
AH:  As musicians, we talk a lot about the motion and direction of phrases, the push and pull, the balance. After working with dancers, and especially after participating in the movement on stage, I feel these concepts in a different, more visceral way.  You can actually hear it in my playing. I’ve just taken an audition for the Boston Symphony, and the first required piece was a Courante from one of Bach’s solo cello suites (transcribed for horn). I built a dance for the piece, which not only brought more depth of expression to my playing, but imagining the dance in my head while I was on-stage auditioning brought me focus and helped me stay calm under intense pressure. It was the first time I’ve felt truly relaxed and free in an audition. 
SF:  Is the french horn the only instrument you play/have played?  If not, what else have you played?
AH:  I played piano when I was young, but playing the horn in a pretty full time occupation!

SF:  What are you plans after Against the Odds?
AH:  My woodwind quintet, Vento Chiaro, is working with the Boston Composer’s Coalition on a concert of entirely new works written just for our group. We’ll perform them April 16 & 17. My students in Milton are giving a recital for their families on April 26th. I am the outreach director for my mixed instrument chamber group, Radius Ensemble, and we are performing a family concert at the Cambridge Public Library on April 30th. Karen and I have more work to do with our horn/dance chamber ensemble – stay tuned for more information! Also, my vegetable garden really needs to be turned over so I can plant my early season crops! 
Against the Odds: 
Stories of Adaptation, Translation & Survival
March 18th-April 15th
Springstep, 98 George P. Hassett Drive, Medford, MA
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit our website!
Against the Odds is supported in part by the Medford Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Thank you to Springstep for its support of this event.

Congratulations Ryan Casey!

by Nicole Harris
 Remember earlier this year when Karen mentioned an amazing choreographic opportunity with Urbanity Dance?  Well, I was overjoyed to learn that tap dancer Ryan Casey (who has been featured on this very blog here and here) was chosen as the wildcard choreographer!
 Check out his new work at Mixtape: Urbanity Dance's Spring Review on April 29th & 30th at Boston University!
Congratulations Ryan!

The Against the Odds Rockstar of the Day -- Anne Howarth

by Nicole Harris

This Friday marks the third official Monkeyhouse performance that has featured guest artist and french horn rockstar Anne Howarth.  She has, however, been a huge part of our organization (and our lives!) for much longer.  Anne's voice has been heard in support of Monkeyhouse since very early on at performances, Sporks and as an invaluable volunteer. 

Even though I know a total of nothing about the french horn I can safely say that since I saw her first perform Dream of the Rhinoceros at Art Beat last summer Anne has truly succeeded in her goal of adding some new sass and playfulness to her playing and performing.  I have such fond memories of her coming off stage after that show full of excitement because she had improvised on stage!  Now, she's wiggling and dancing and improvising up a storm!  I am so honored to be able to work with her!

Get your tickets now to see her and Karen in Dream of the Rhinoceros THIS FRIDAY, April 8th!  Keep an eye out soon for an interview with Anne by another Rockstar of the Day, Sarah Friswell!

Against the Odds: 
Stories of Adaptation, Translation & Survival
March 18th-April 15th
Springstep, 98 George P. Hassett Drive, Medford, MA
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit our website!
Against the Odds is supported in part by the Medford Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Thank you to Springstep for its support of this event.


The Against the Odds Rockstar of the Day -- J.P. Licks

by Nicole Harris

One of the topics of Against the Odds is survival.  When I sit down and think about how I made it to where I am in my life today and all the people and things that have helped me get here I am so very very grateful.  I am constantly amazed how big an impact things that may seem inconsequential can be or how it only knowing someone for a short time can still change your whole life.

When you think of J.P. Licks I'm sure you have visions of ice cream sundaes and other fabulous treats (and don't get me wrong, that's some seriously good ice cream) but for me, while I never would have guessed it when I started working there all those years ago, J.P. Licks is part of the reason that I am able to be such a big part of Monkeyhouse.  Ever since I moved to New York J.P. Licks has allowed me to come back and work whenever I'm in Boston.  Whether for a few weeks or a few months, there is always a spot at an ice cream machine when I need it.  Not only are they flexible and understanding about my life as an artist but the company is amazingly supportive.  Over the last few weeks I've had fellow employees volunteer to hang Against the Odds posters in other J.P. Licks locations, people are spreading the word about the show and the company is even sponsoring part of Against the Odds!

J.P. Licks has sponsored numerous Monkeyhouse events over the years and for this festival is helping us revamp Monkey Meals.  That's right!  If you come to any Against the Odds event you can enter to win a J.P. Licks ice cream party with Monkeyhouse!  Woo hoo!  Also, they have kindly donated ice cream for our closing night party after the show on April 15th!

Do you have a job that truly supports your life as an artist?  If you do, take a minute this week and say thank you.  (Buy them a J.P. Licks ice cream cake perhaps!?)  If not for J.P. Licks and other amazing arts supporting employers there are a whole lot of us who wouldn't be able to do what we do.


Against the Odds: 
Stories of Adaptation, Translation & Survival
March 18th-April 15th
Springstep, 98 George P. Hassett Drive, Medford, MA
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit our website!
Against the Odds is supported in part by the Medford Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Thank you to Springstep for its support of this event.

Getting to Know Amelia O'Dowd

I am very excited to share with you this conversation between Monkeyhouse's newest member, Courtney Wagner and one of its founding members, Amelia O'Dowd.  (Amelia was the Against the Odds Rockstar of the Day not too long ago!)  They have a lot of interesting and exciting things to share so I'll let you get right to it! 

CW:  As a founding member of Monkeyhouse, how do you feel the company has grown and changed over the past decade?
AOD: Monkeyhouse has shifted focus since the beginning. It has become more focused, clearer in its identity. When we first started, we were looking at these big nationally/internationally touring companies and trying to fit into that model, which was really the only model available at the time. Over the years, Karen and the board of directors have done a great job of taking parts of the model and changing it. They recognized that there were all these niches that no one was filing. Monkeyhouse has been adapting itself to fill those niches, constantly evolving, finding new ways to survive and meet the community’s needs.
CW:  Your background is in visual art - how did you transition into dance and performing arts?
AOD:  Gosh, it was a long slow process. I don’t know if it ever fully happened. I think in terms of shapes and textures - even sound is a texture for me. I’ve played in a variety of materials. I was always jumping from one “category” of art to another – ceramics to drawing to fibers to slides to story telling. When I was in art school, that was a little bit of a problem because the school was divided into departments based on materials but I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship with a single material. Monkeyhouse, on the other hand, is all about working across disciplines. I had to learn the new big discipline of using my body as a material. I remember very early on that I had to consciously stop and think about the shapes I was making with my body, trying to get the image in my head out into the world. It was really hard. Over time, that process became more smooth, less conscious, but I still never became monogamous with dance.

CW:  You seem to be known for your more zany side of choreography (both in Ramafeezled and something about a bustling skirt in Pygalgia?) - where do your inspirations for these pieces come from?
AOD:  My mind. That probably comes across as a dismissive answer and it sounds silly and probably isn’t very helpful, but I think in a different way than a lot of dancers and choreographers. I assume that I think differently because I wasn’t formally trained. I draw from all the other ways I have experienced and learned about the world. It all seems normal inside my head.

CW:  What do you think of some of the adaptations and translations Monkeyhouse has made to pieces, including adapting your Ramfeezled, in addition to Firk and Pygalgia?  Is it fun to see different interpretations of the same work?  How are they different and changed?  How are they the same?
AOD:  I haven’t actually seen the new Ramfeezled and I understand that there is yet another Firk that has been added to the repertoire. I’d like to see these pieces, but I don’t feel like I need to. It’s not mine; it never was. Work is constantly changing. Even the same performer performs it differently one night to the next. I love that Monkeyhouse embraces that constant change. I read On the Origin of Species last week, so I’ve got evolutionary theory roaming around in my mind right now. If we take one lesson from Darwin, I think it should be that adaptation to our environment is a requirement for survival; it’s when we are no longer capable of changing that we force ourselves into extinction.

CW:  What kind of work have you been doing (dance theater and otherwise) since leaving the Boston area?
AOD:  Well, I worked out solutions to a couple of pieces that I had been working on before I left Boston. Unfortunately, I’ve worked those out in my mind and haven’t been dancing, so I think they will probably never see a stage. Other than that, I’ve been restoring a brick Victorian home, learning to grow food, going to school and working with my community. I live in Dayton, Ohio, a rustbelt city that is still experiencing population loss. America has a dozen or so cities like this, the most well known of which is Detroit. Unless you’ve spent time in one of these cities, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to live in these types of communities. Dayton is frequently referred to as a dying city, but it’s not. It is a living, breathing community, but it is not what it used to be. Manufacturing is not coming back, and the city is changing. I like to think that I am helping my community identify niches and removing/moving around obstacles that are getting in the way of our evolution.

CW:  Tell us a little bit about the pieces you are sending our way to display and sell at the festival?
AOD:  I sent several crochet necklaces made from a variety of fibers I’ve collected over the years – some are even from yarn pitstops made during Monkeyhouse tours. They are organic, bubbly shapes, intended to be worn as a necklace or scarf. I also sent some clutches made from upcycled men’s suit jackets and dress shirts and a couple of potholders made from upcycled felted sweaters.

CW:  A theme of Monkeyhouse is bringing people together and encouraging communication.  How do you think your visual arts background has helped and changed the company and vice versa?  Does Monkeyhouse influence your art at all?
AOD:  Monkeyhouse influences me everyday. I had a teacher when I was at Walnut Hill, Mr. Carver, who said that the greatest artists practice the art of living. At seventeen or eighteen I didn’t get it. Truthfully, that statement probably means something different to every person who reads it. For me, right now, I think it means that living is hard work, but if we understand it as an art, as a way of constantly creating beauty and raising awareness, it is more fulfilling. Monkeyhouse was never easy for me, but it was always fulfilling. I think we shortchange ourselves and the arts when we try to suggest that the arts are separate from our lives or when we suggest that the arts are luxuries. We Americans believe very firmly in a rational world, but people, and the world we build, are irrational. The arts help us to trust ourselves make necessary irrational leaps, evolutionary jumps, that lead us to insight that we can’t find just by rational, logical methods.

Improving Partnering 4/9

This workshop has been rescheduled from March 26th!    

Improving Partnering
April 9 - 1:30 - 3:00PM At Springstep

This isn't just for dancers! Anyone who uses their body to communicate can use this partnering workshop!! In this workshop we will blend the basics of Pilobolus style partnering with contact improvisation techniques. OPEN TO ALL LEVELS OF MOVERS WITH OR WITHOUT PREVIOUS TRAINING. Participants will leave with the confidence and tools to continue exploring weight sharing on their own.

Instructors: Karen Krolak & Nicole Harris

$18/$12 Students/Seniors/BDA & Springstep Members/Medford Residents

Register here!

This class is part of Against the Odds: Stories of Adaptation, Translation & Survival, a four week long celebration at our artistic home, Springstep (98 George P Hassett Drive) in Medford, MA . Against the Odds is a moving smorgasbord with a rotating array of opening acts, master classes, and guest artists alongside a smattering of Monkeyhouse pieces (including premieres choreographed by Eva Dean and Lynn Schwab). Each week holds a different adventure for audience members through Friday Nights Out and Sassy Saturday Classes.

Against the Odds is supported in part by the Medford Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council.

Thank you to Springstep for its support of this event.


Mariah Steele/Quicksilver at MIT

by karen Krolak

One of my favorite parts of curating Against the Odds is introducing people to other exciting artists in the Boston area. If you attended Friday Night Out #1, you know how much Monkeyhouse adores Mariah Steele/Quicksilver's emotionally evocative partnering.

While I know conventional wisdom suggests that it is unwise to promote another performance occurring on April 15th, I can't resist supporting Mariah and Hans. Sadly, between performing on the 15th and scooting out to Tiznit on the 16th, I will not be able to attend. So please, tell me all about it when I return.

Mariah Steele/Quicksilver Dance Presents:
A Residential Scholar Event @ MIT’s Simmons Hall

Choreography & Performance by Mariah Steele/Quicksilver Dance
With a special guest performance by Contrapose Dance

Friday, April 15 & Saturday, April 16, 2011
8:00 pm

Simmons Hall @ MIT
229 Vassar Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
A 15 minute walk from Central Square or Kendall Square T stops
Street parking available

FREE of charge, thanks to the sponsorship of Simmons Hall
Reservations Requested: quicksilverdance@gmail.com

This 75 minute show will contain several diverse pieces exploring cross-cultural interactions, relationships with technology, the engineer's creative spirit, Greek myths, arranged marriages and more! Come join us for this eclectic evening of humor, passion and exploration and then return home inspired! 

For more information: www.quicksilverdance.com and www.contraposedance.com


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