Happy July Birthdays!

Happy Birthday to Edgas Degas
by David Makranasky

Edgar Degas was a French painter and sculptor, largely credited as a founder of the Impressionism movement of the mid-1800s. Though his work bore many of the characteristics of Impressionistic art, Degas preferred to refer to his style as Realism, and often degraded the art of other Impressionistic painters of the time.  He specialized in painting contemporary life from the point of view of the laborer, and often chose unusual croppings or viewpoints for his work. Hat-makers and laundresses were common subjects, allowing him to present psychological paintings of working women who were otherwise unnoticed by those around them.

A particular focus of Degas' was dance and ballet, but he never strayed from his psychological, working-man style. The vast majority of Degas' paintings of dancers depict rehearsals and preparations for rehearsals, emphasizing their roles as professionals in a job. His juxtaposition of art and work closely paralleled his own situation as a working painter, a connection often highlighted by art historians. Yet Degas was clearly excited by the beauty of dance, even as he portrayed dancers as workers in a profession. He spent large expanses of time at the Paris Opera and Ballet, attempting to capture their classical beauty on the canvas. The ballet presented him with the opportunity to depict fluidity and suppleness of motion just as art was adjusting to the modern technologies of electricity and photography, guaranteeing that painting would continue as an appreciated art form in the modern era. The pale beauty of the ballerinas also allowed Degas to work in pastel, a style he returned to life in France. Many of his works featuring dancers, including "Danseuse Assise" and "L'etoile" can be found on display in art museums in Paris, St. Petersburg, and across America.

Even though it's the last day of July we'd like to send a shout out to all the folks we know who celebrated birthdays this month.  Whether you're a fan, a friend or a fellow choreographer, Monkeyhouse Loves You!! 

Here is a HUGE Happy Birthday to:
Aisha Cruse, Twyla Tharp, Ginger Rogers, Renee Harris, Michael Flatley, Andrew Nemr, Jon Wye, Randal Rosenberg, Edgar Degas, and Katelyn Alcott.

 Know a choreographer we missed who celebrates a July birthday? Let us know!!


Happy National Day of Dance!

Today is the National Day of Dance and there are SO many ways you can celebrate!  Here are just a few ideas we thought we'd share:

For those of you in Massachusetts:

07/25-07/29 -- Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
What a glorious weekend to drive out to Jacob's Pillow!

Saturday 07/28 @ 12pm -- David Parker & the Bang Group! 
Check out David and all your favorite Bang Group dancers at the ICA for FREE!  Bring the family!

Saturday 07/28 @ 3:30 -- Summer Stages Choreographer's Project Showcase
While you're at the ICA checking out David Parker stick around and see works by Sean Curran, Mariah Steele, Teresa Fellion, and Annie Kloppenberg!

For those of you in New York:

07/09-08/04 -- FELA on Broadway
If you asked us to list our favorite choreographers almost all of us would likely have Bill T. Jones in the top five.  Don't miss his amazing show, FELA, as it returns to Broadway for 32 performances only! 

Sunday 07/29 @ 10pm -- Pinataland in Brooklyn!
While you're in Brooklyn, check out Dave's band and fellow Monkeyhouse supporters, Pinataland!  You don't want to miss this!

And that's just this weekend!!  Check out MonkeyhouseLovesMe.com for more ways you can add dance into your summer!

And don't forget, there is no better way to celebrate Dance Day than supporting your favorite organization.  Don't forget that we still have a long way to go in our IndieGoGo campaign and we need YOU!


Monkeyhouse @ 24- Hour Choreography Festival

by karen Krolak

Ok, I am simply agog over Luminarium's first ever 24 hour Choreography festival. Six companies are going to be locked in the Dance Complex in Cambridge overnight to create a group piece by the next afternoon. 

Don't worry, this is not 24 hour Catwalk and no one will be crowned a winner or loser. This is, however, a chance to glimpse into each company's choreographic process. There will be a live video feed so you can see how Monkeyhouse's Nikki Sao Pedro and Jason Ries face this artistic challenge.

Oh! We're down to WEEKS!


The Meaning of Mentorship

One of jazz tap artist Katherine Kramer’s favorite tools – besides her tap shoes, of course – is a large pad of paper, the kind you might see on an easel in a classroom, and a bunch of markers. While she’s in her car (which, as someone who divides her time between Florida and Montana, she often is), listening to music and choreographing in her head, the paper rests on the passenger seat so she can pick up a marker and scribble thoughts and drawings even while driving.

            Naturally, when I went to Miami in June to work with her on new solo material, she got me hooked on the same process.

            I initially met and worked with Katherine, the YoungArts Tap mentor for the Dance discipline, when I was a finalist in 2009. Kismet had conspired in our encounter, for several years earlier, my plans to attend her Rhythm Explosion festival in Bozeman, Montana had been thwarted by an airline problem.

            Our experience together was so successful – it was the solo I presented in that year’s Dance & Cinematic Arts showcase, a product of her coaching, that I used as my audition for “So You Think You Can Dance,” which aired that fall – that we kept in touch and vowed to collaborate again.

            Earlier this year, as I contemplated what dance opportunities I would undertake for the summer, I thought about her. I thought about the new suite of solo material I was developing for the fall, and how I wanted someone’s advice, guidance and ideas. And I looked at my calendar, sent her an email and booked a flight to Miami.

            One of the many great aspects of the Dance discipline during YoungArts Week is that all of the dancers get to work with mentors in their respective styles. This format differs from the other disciplines, where the finalists work directly with their panelists. Instead, the Dance panelists observe the finalists as they are coached by their mentors.

            Coaching, a term perhaps more commonly affiliated with sports or acting, is a critical portion of the dance finalists’ experience at YoungArts Week. The coaches/mentors are not teachers – though they may, as part of the day’s work, lead a warm-up, as a dance instructor would do, or teach an exercise or short combination to his or her student(s) that addresses a particular skill or concept related to what the student(s) is working on.

            Instead, the coaches watch the dancers’ solos and offer new ways to approach and modify their performances. Rather than simply give technical notes, they may ask a dancer to run his or her piece again while thinking about a particular emotion or idea, or without using their arms, or while making eye contact with everyone in the room. They give dancers ideas to experiment with and challenges to undertake with their routines. They talk to the dancer about the intention(s) behind the piece, or the movement choices, or the staging, and discuss their effects and consider other possibilities. And throughout this process, when the mentors work with one dancer at a time, the other dancers in that discipline are watching and learning from all that is happening. Everyone makes progress by observing each other’s progress.

            This process was prominent during this year’s YoungArts week, as I wrote in one of my previous blog posts: 

            When Hanss Mujica, the sole dancer representing Mexican folk dance, presented one of his solos for everyone, he was challenged to show more character by “flirting” with two of the girls, who had to stand on the side of the dance floor, waving seductively and blowing kisses at him. As Kristen Ramirez, a tap dancer, worked on utilizing all the space and facing all sides of the audience, her fellow tappers moved around the floor with her, forcing her to keep changing her focus and direction. One modern dancer let herself cry as master teacher Aubrey Lynch worked with her on the emotions of her piece.

            When developing new solo material with Katherine, we began, of course, with the jumbo pad of paper. Using one sheet to make a storyboard of the piece, we outlined it like a comic strip, filling each box with details of each dance, writing down the images, concepts and song ideas I had in mind.

            “Quirky hubcap,” reads one cryptic entry, the dominant image. “Weights – drop – splats. Lines to connect. Focus up and down.”

            Another sheet was designated for notes, which we kept as a running diary of our work together – what we did, what we thought about it, and what I could continue to work on.

            “(Dis)advantages of being tall,” I wrote, with several diagrams of my body. “Reactions to movement. Start small, get bigger? Move down body – explore all options. Sharper focus.”

            Yet another sheet we reserved for notating music. After selecting a piece of music for one of my solos, we counted it out musically, transcribing the arrangement – easier said than done – and the movement ideas we had for each section of piece.

            And this was just what we did when we weren’t dancing!


            Once we had a concept for the first solo, an ironic piece set to Shel Silverstein’s witty poem “One Inch Tall,” the coaching began.

            I improvised with the poem and my taps in different ways. First, I danced across the stage taking only one-inch steps. Then I added my body, making small movements beginning with my head and progressing down to my knees. Next, I toyed with my reaction to the movements: Deadpan? Surprised? Amused? Then I tried moving on other planes and seeing how that changed my movements, my focus and my reactions.

            For another incarnation of the piece, as a way of working specifically on my reactions and thus honing my acting abilities, I shuffled around the room, taking one-inch steps in a spiraling path toward the center, acting out the entire story with hand gestures, facial expressions and other body movements, much like I had seen the classical Indian dance finalists do.

            For the second solo, we worked conceptually and visually. I practiced directed improvisation, whereby I improvised to the music while thinking each time of certain images that Katherine would call out to me. I played with the idea of being a graceful canoe. Then, after her feedback, I developed the movement by thinking of being in or on water, which led to certain moves that I wanted to keep. Thinking of each section of the song in relation to a particular image, and letting the music and imagery guide me simultaneously, was a helpful way to structure the piece.

            In just three days together, we finished two new solos, and I had the great opportunity to present one of them as a work-in-progress at an open choreography showing at inkub8, a studio-laboratory-performance space in the Wynwood Art District. It was very well-received by the small audience that had assembled to see what we had been working on!

            Just like during YoungArts Week, my time with Katherine pushed me artistically out of my comfort zone and made me think hard about what I was creating. (Of famed composer John Cage’s “10 Rules for Students and Teachers,” #8 is: “Do not try to create & analyze at the same time. They are different processes.”)

            The kind of coaching she provided – that all of the mentors for the Dance finalists offer – was individualized and sophisticated. It wasn’t about working on my technique, or learning or setting steps, or trying out fancy moves. It was about digging deeper into my artistry and into myself.  It was about experimenting with different ways of moving, thinking and performing. It was about creating new work that was an honest reflection of who I am – and, therefore, a bit of a self-discovery process. It was about letting my instincts guide me (How else do you choreograph a full solo – two of them! – in three days?) and trusting what came out of my mind and my body.

            A beloved high school English teacher of mine had, as a coda to her syllabus, this pithy reminder: “All academic inquiry takes places within a community.”

            That epigram has often recurred to me because I think it resonates just as soundly with artistic inquiry, as well. As I write this post, I am sitting by myself at a table in a quiet corner of my local Starbucks. When I’m done, I will go to the dance studio and choreograph alone. And then I’ll drive home and, from the privacy of my bedroom, edit music and upload the videos I made of whatever I worked on at the studio. I suppose it should be no surprise that working on a one-man show is mostly, well, a one-man job, but what happens when I need feedback on this choreography or that music or those videos?

            That’s where mentorship comes in. Plato had Socrates. T.S. Eliot had Ezra Pound. The role of a mentor in an artist’s life, or simply the development of a work, is crucial. The mentor-mentee relationship is a catalyst within the artistic community, in which inquiry is necessary for growth and progress. I am lucky to have Katherine as one of my mentors – someone who can see me at my most vulnerable, guide me through the process of inquiry and experimentation and creation and cheer me along as I continue developing my work and refining my voice.

            I hope all artists, and particularly all past and future YoungArts finalists and winners in Dance, take a moment to appreciate the mentors they have, or soon will have, in their lives. We all need great mentors to help us develop our work, develop ourselves and develop lasting friendships.

Photo Credits - Top: Natasha Williams; Middle: Kristin Ramirez; Bottom: Natasha Williams

*** You can see the fruits of my labor with Katherine at Monkeyhouse's "Against the Odds" Festival this fall at Springstep! Stay tuned for more details. ***


Don't Forget to Dance Today!

Here (click this link) is an inspiring video of different people from all around the world dancing.  Why are they dancing?  Just because they are happy!  So join them, and don't forget to dance today too.

Sarah being taught to dance in Ghana
Photo Credit Kaylyn Wilkin 2010


Welcome to Against the Odds!

Welcome to Against the Odds, a different kind of festival.  Against the Odds celebrates artists who investigate how to overcome obstacles.  This year we were inspired by Monkeyhouse dancers who struggle with uncommon health issues and so the 2012 Against the Odds Festival, Imperfect(ive) Experiments, specifically looks at how people can make physical poetry out of imperfect bodies.  Whether developing the medical limitations set on one dancer into opportunities to create new vocabulary, exploring the relationship between two dancers when one is blindfolded or playing with a group of performers connected to each other by 16 foot sleeves, we are experimenting with the perceptions and realities of the imperfect body.

Monkeyhouse began with a promise to build a laboratory where choreographers could create, experiment and present new work.  Our mission has developed to include motivating people to move with meaning and improving communication by connecting communities to choreography.  Over the years we have mentored, nurtured and supported dozens of choreographers ranging from students first experimenting to established favorites.  We’ve had hundreds of conversations about different choreographic processes that stimulate or inspire new directions for our work and helped foster long term relationships with presenters, audience members and other choreographers.  

When we first came up with the idea to build a festival it was not about featuring our own work or even making a “dance festival” but about creating a gathering of choreographic expressions, in a wide range of disciplines.  We hunger for events that bring communities together in a way that fosters an exchange of ideas, greater understanding between participants and lasting relationships.

We are thrilled to announce some of the artists we will be working with during the 2012 Against the Odds Festival.  Keep an eye out for more additions to this list as we get closer to the start of the festival!

Watch out for interviews with all the artists here on C2C!


Help Us Support Local Artists!

As the summer turns up the heat once again, Monkeyhouse is doing some heating up of our own.  Tickets for the 2012 Against the Odds Festival go on sale in just one month from this weekend!  Holy cow!  That means all engines are running on high as we meet with artists, organize events and of course, build new work.  We are thrilled with the way this festival is turning out but we need your help!  With over 45 artists already signed up to be part of the festival we have got some serious fundraising to do!  Check out our IndieGoGo campaign by clicking the image below to find out how you can help (and all the awesome prizes you can get for lending a hand!)

You want to be part of this amazing festival.  Find out more about Against the Odds here!


Add Some Dance to Your Summer!

Here are a couple places you might run into us or some of the other great performers we know in the near future!  This is just a small selection of performances available this summer.  Visit Jacob's Pillow & Summer Stages for even more Massachusetts performances!

07/09-08/04 -- FELA on Broadway
If you asked us to list our favorite choreographers almost all of us would likely have Bill T. Jones in the top five.  Don't miss his amazing show, FELA, as it returns to Broadway for 32 performances only!

07/12-07/14 -- TapTheYard
Join David Parker & Michelle Dorrance as they bring together some of their favorite rhythm makers (including Blogger in Residence Ryan Casey!) during the first tap and rhythm festival at The Yard on Martha's Vineyard.
07/16-07/19 -- Boomtown Festival
Monkeyhouse loves everyone over the the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge and we're thrilled that this year Princess Pamplemousse will be dancing it up with the one and only Marty Allen (of Uncle Monsterface AND Sock Puppet Portait fame)

07/25-07/29 -- Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
Speaking of Bill T., don't miss his company at Jacob's Pillow!

Join Monkeyhouse supporter, collaborator and long time friend David Wechsler as he performs at Freddy's Bar and Backroom in Brooklyn!  You might even hear a few songs you recognize!

Saturday 07/28 @ 12pm -- David Parker & the Bang Group! 
Check out David and all your favorite Bang Group dancers for FREE!  Bring the family!
While you're at the ICA checking out David Parker stick around and see works by Sean Curran, Mariah Steele, Teresa Fellion, and Annie Kloppenberg!

While you're in Brooklyn, check out Dave's band and fellow Monkeyhouse supporters at Barbes!  You don't want to miss this!

Join Karen at the Cultivate Festival in Bethlehem, NH for this exciting movement workshop!

Jason Ries, Nikki Sao Pedro-Welch and a few Monkeyhouse guests will be locked in the Dance Complex overnight to create a new piece as part of Luminarium Dance's new project, 24 Hour Choreo-Fest.  Check out what they come up with!

Saturday 08/11 @ 7:30 -- Cultivate
Head on up to Bethlehem, NH to see the premier of Caitlin's new solo,
Disarmed, performed by Nicole as part of the Cultivate Festival!

If you like David Parker you're LOVE Doug Elkins.  You don't want to miss this fabulous show at Jacob's Pillow!


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