There were many great moments to Against The Odds but I thinks favorite moment was when Nicole Harris agreed to perform "What If" with a student of mine, 5 minutes before going on stage, without ever rehearsing with him! That is what us MonkeyHouse-ers do and it was a great performance!
When I talk to my non-dance friends about tap dancing, they are perhaps most surprised to learn about the proliferation of tap festivals. They cannot believe that international locales from Montana to Stockholm, Hawaii to Taiwan, host an annual event just for tappers. And now, luckily for us, another alluring area has been bitten by the festival bug: Martha's Vineyard.
I was fortunate to attend the island's inaugural tap event last summer at The Yard, a kind of miniature version of Jacob's Pillow that trades mountains for beaches. (Seriously, how did Massachusetts luck out with not one, but TWO dance meccas?!) "Tap The Yard: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats" was an infectious week of workshops and performances featuring some of this year's returning artists, like David Parker and The Bang Group and Michelle Dorrance and Dorrance Dance. The Yard's small staff is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the island itself is so relaxing and picturesque that it's the perfect setting in which to be creative and to be surrounded by artistic minds.
This year's Tap The Yard installment promises to be even better than the last, encompassing a full two weeks, including a gala celebration, and featuring not just tap dance (Derick Grant, Jason Samuels Smith), but also Irish step dance (Trent Kowalik), hip hop (The Wonder Twins) and contemporary dance (Camille A. Brown). In this way, it's something greater than a tap festival, because it encompasses other styles of dance and embraces the universal notions of rhythm that unite them. It is wonderful to see a festival not just supporting terrific rhythm dance, but encouraging interdisciplinary work and creating opportunities for otherwise unrelated artists to work together.
Tap isn't just an annual occasion at The Yard, either. As part of their community outreach program, they are busy developing a tap curriculum to launch in schools on Martha's Vineyard as early as this fall. Along with Amber Sloan, a member of the Bang Group, and the Wonder Twins, I went to The Yard this spring for the first phase of this project, performing in local schools and community centers and educating students and teachers about tap. Kids and adults alike were enthralled by our presentations; one first grader with a hearing aid said, "The rhythms were pleasing to my ears." Another child remarked, "You guys are amazing." A teacher in the school district who saw our presentation at least four times in the span of two days had a genuine grin on her face every time she watched us.
There are a plethora of dance festivals, intensives, workshops and classes to consider each summer, but The Yard has crafted an event that is surely unique, bringing together some of the best talent from the Northeast. Did you really need another excuse to visit the Vineyard? If so, this is it - and best of all, each performance during the festival is different from the others, with varying casts, plus a tap jam and a benefit concert, not to mention daily classes. It's worth the trip to expand your rhythmic repertoire and see some of today's finest dance talent all assembled in one magical place.
My eighty-year-old mother died on June 12, 2013 after a nearly two-year struggle with lung cancer. As most readers of this blog already know, she was among Boston's most loved and celebrated philanthropists. Her fund-raising efforts gave sustenance to gay-related charities like Community Servings and PFLAG as well as to numerous dance and theater organizations. Though she'd never pursued a stage career, she was an inspired and indefatigable gala performer who, at the age of 79, was memorably hoisted by harness to the top of the Big Apple Circus tent as an embodiment of rising donations. Her speeches revealed a bawdy tongue with a pronounced preference for the F-word which she deployed to foil her meticulously flamboyant appearance--equal parts Chita Rivera and Brooke Astor. She had fantastic comic timing, inserting a puff of air after the "f" in fuck, drawing it out to maximize the shock factor and yet lend it a Lady Bracknell flourish. This public personality was arrived at sous vide. Mum lived in Massachusetts her entire life and was raised to be an haute bourgeois matron. That both did and didn't work out; she became an haute bourgeois matron and hated it. She spent her housewife years in quiet (and, okay, occasionally noisy) desperation. Wanting more "meaning", she went to graduate school in the sixties, taught college for a while, and later worked in educational administration for the state. She and my father tried writing screenplays together but it was not her calling. Nothing seemed to match her peculiar gifts. It wasn't until she was in her sixties that she discovered the joys and exigencies of philanthropy. This happened serendipitously when she arranged a performance event for my then-fledgling dance company to benefit Community Servings which was a charity she'd recently discovered. Her creativity was at once ignited. Suddenly she opened up arteries of communicationand community throughout the Boston area, mixing and matching people from all areas of her life and cultivating scores of new friendships and alliances. She was always fiercely loyal, retaining the social contacts she'd made in her teens but also makingnew and often decades-younger friends with alacrity. She was at last in her element and from there she built an empire.
Right after she died, Karen Krolak, who is no stranger to the loss of parents, wrote to me to tell of a conversation she had with my mother. She asked her how she chose whom to support. My mother offered a weighty pause and then replied slowly. "Everything has to connect back to my sons." And so it did. She had found a way to integrate her talents with her vision for the best life possible for my brother and me. Because we're both gay she wanted our culture to evolve to embrace various orientations so she supported Community Servings and PFLAG, because I'm a choreographer, she supported dance organizations, because my brother Dan is an actor, she supported theater groups. There was no hesitation here, her values were firm. Local politicians sought her endorsement but they got her imprimatur only if they declared their support for marriage equality. Ten years ago this was less readily done by Massachusetts legislators and if they hedged she would not support them. She was very basic about this and I admired her enormously for it.
Gradually I began to address this in my own artistic work, asking myself if my work had in it the things that matter most to me. I wanted to be able to look at my life and my work as my mother did. I wanted to see a through-line. More and more I took this on. I believe that different kinds of dance, like different kinds of people, can come together without hierarchy. That they can find underlying common ground. I think tap dance can be experimental and experimental dance can be entertaining. I detest aesthetic bigotry and the notion that a category of art is superior to another category of art. I reject false dichotomies like gay/straight, male/female, high art/low art, art/entertainment, sex/romance, form/content. I insist on the absolute equality of different kinds of love and I am convinced that, on the deepest level, we can respond romantically and sexually to people beyond the limits of gender (this is not a rejection of orientation, it's an addition to it.) I realized that I needn't convince anyone of these things, I merely need to generate work that deals with them and in ways that are, for lack of a better word, true.
I've written and spoken a great deal about my father's influence on my work: his probity, his discipline, his legitimization of a disreputable genre, his comic agility. All these formed my understanding of what it is to make art. But I hadn't been as conscious of my mother's influence on me and my work until she died and Karen told me of their conversation. I now see how holistic her view of living was and how much that shaped me and transformed me.
I teach dance composition at The Juilliard School, Barnard College and The Alvin Ailey School. One of the things to which I am committed is the teaching of choreographic craft as a strategy for opening a channel to each student's passion. It doesn't matter what it is, it matters that their creativity ignites when they approach it. It can be toe-dancing, show dancing, no dancing, autobiographical dancing, dancey-dancing, mathematical dancing, pedestrian dancing--anything. Just let me give them the way to get there and the tools to build with. In the final analysis, that's what Mum gave me. I shall be forever in her debt.
Every month I send out dozens of emails, do endless amounts of research and more dragging and dropping (and copying and pasting) than you would ever think possible to get this newsletter together. Some months it all seems to fall into place, others it's like pulling teeth. Earlier this year I was feeling unsure about the whole process when arts supporter, musician and director of the Multicultural Arts Center, Shelley Neill, took me aside one day to tell me that she reads every word over breakfast and since then has often come in to discuss one article or another. Shelley's enthusiasm reminded me to step back and look at how the newsletter has grown over the years and how many amazing people go into it's production every month.
Recently, company member Aisha Cruise has taken the reigns of the Upcoming Events listing and done amazing things with it. You can even submit your own upcoming events to her to be considered for the listing! Another of our newest company members, Sarah Friswell, has become what we like to call "team copy and paste" and takes every article and gets it up on to Monkeyhouse's blog for the coming month. Every member of the company (Nikki, Sarah, Courtney & Caitlin) steps up to write articles, share ideas and help with the endless research. Not to be left out, our interns (David, Katelyn, Rosie and Marie) are article writing machines, too! And, of course, hard at work (occasionally) behind the scenes are the other two thirds of the "Momentum Committee" and my favorite partners in crime, Karen and Jason.
None of what you see here would be possible without each and every one of these amazing people. I am always honored and grateful to have them by my side on stage, in the studio and here on your computer screen. Please take a minute to thank them if you see them! They deserve it!
In the past few months we've also begun having some wonderful guest writers. It has been so exciting to watch the newsletter grow with these fabulous additions! I am thrilled to share with you this month's guests, two brilliant choreographers who just so happen to be eloquent writers as well. If you're a regular reader here you are already familiar with David Parker and Ryan Casey, so they need no introduction.
The last thing that makes me love curating this newsletter is YOU! Whether you share your good things on Facebook, send me a note (like the ones I used to get from Rita Krolak every month) about what you've read or forward the newsletter on to someone new, you are the most important part of what we do. Monkeyhouse is all about creating communities and cultivating conversations. So if you have a comment about an article, have a topic you'd like someone to cover or just want to say hi, please don't be shy! I love hearing from each and every one of you!
While in New York I was lucky enough to spend some time studying with Andrew Nemr. His classes always managed to challenge me and keep me on my toes. (By which I mean completely befuddle me (in a good way). The man's brain works on a level that I do not.) Andrew is a wonderful performer and a strong tap dance advocate. He has dedicated himself to the performance, education and promotion of both the art of tap dance and its history.
Andrew began the Tap Legacy Foundation alongside his mentor, Gregory Hines, to create a home for the art of tap dance. In last decade TLF has produced concerts and tap jams, become an online resource about tap history and generated support for current and upcoming tap dancers and choreographers.
Andrew is the director of Cats Paying Dues and has performed extensively as a soloist as well as with numerous musicians and as founding member of Savion Glover's TiDii.
This month, Andrew celebrates is birthday, so make sure you wish him a happy one!
We would also like to wish a very happy birthday to the rest of our July babies...
The American Tap Dance Foundation has been supporting and inspiring tap dancers since 1986. Its founders Brenda Bufalino, Tony Waag, and Charles 'Honi' Coles are known for their work on the stage, however this program may be the most important piece of their legacies. It began as a New York City studio for performances, classes, and workshops, but has blossomed into an influential community outreach program. Perhaps its most well known and appreciated program is the Tap City Youth Ensemble. The group offers the opportunity for young tappers to work with world famous choreographers and perform at venues that any artist would drool over. Practically the pipe dream of any percussion enthusiast, ATDF hosts "Tap Jams", in which dancers use overturned buckets, drumsticks, and their tap shoes in sessions of improvisation (which are sometimes accompanied by a jazz ensemble!). ATDF preserves the history of tap, immerses dancers in the progress of the art today, and secures a future of phenomenal artists through its work in collaborative choreography, Tap Preservation Awards, scholarships, youth outreach, and community events.
The American Tap Dance Foundation is hosting their annual Tap City festivalJuly 6th through July 13th, and anyone who loves Monkeyhouse should absolutely attend! Master classes, collaborative tap sessions, performances, and events will be taking place all over NYC. Make sure to check it out!
Jacob's Pillow is in full swing, and with performances Wednesday
through Sunday every week this summer, we're spoiled for choice with
amazing companies. So here are some of the better kept secrets about
performances at the Pillow.
The Inside/Out series takes place on the Henry J. Leir stage Wednesday-Saturday
at 6:15pm every week of the festival, and it is completely FREE! In
case of inclement weather, the event is moved to a small indoor
performance space, so be sure to call ahead if it looks like rain.
At every Friday
performance, a limited number of tickets are sold to individuals under
35 for just $19. Tickets sell out fast, so if there's something you're
dying to see, call the box office to reserve your tickets ASAP!
July 6th @ 8pm "Transitions" - An Evening of Tap Dance Hey
New York! Don't miss another chance to see the amazing Ryan Casey
along with Kelly Kaleta and a host of lovely ladies at the Marjorie S.
Dean Little Theatre!
July 8th-13th Tap City It's
that time of year again when tap dancing takes over New York City!
There are tons of events from boat rides to talks to performances for
you to take in. You might even catch our own Nicole Harris tapping in
Times Square on Saturday, July 13th!
July 25th - August 3rd Tap the Yard 2 Join
Michelle Dorrance, Derick Grant, Jason Samuels Smith, David Parker and
so many more wonderful rhythm makers on Martha's Vinyard!
And my personal recomendations for concerts at the Pillow:
Reach program is putting on a totally free outdoor performance,
featuring intergenerational dancers made up of professionals and
students from Boston University and teens from Cambridge and Boston.
Check it out!
loves the BOOMTOWN Festival! We've done interactive performances and
workshops at BOOMTOWN in the past, and we're excited to be back again
this year! You can come join the workshop from 5:30-6:30 on July 30 and 31, and be sure to check out the hip hop workshop on Monday the 29, Tango Concert on Tuesday the 30, and DiverseCity Dance Party with MetaMovements on Thursday August 1.