To be the founder of a Dance Company requires a vivid balance, because it's a challenge that juxtaposes two kinds of artistic effort that are, if not explicitly contradictory, at least a little paradoxical. On the one hand, the undertaking would be unthinkable to anyone with less than a profoundly individual sense of motivation. Directing a Company is a daunting enterprise, and like any artistic beginning, it demands a compelling personal vision, a clear but always-unfinished visualization of art that should be created but hasn't been yet. But unlike the artist who approaches a blank canvas or an as-yet unwritten musical score, the individual who sets out to begin a Dance Company immediately embraces an unpredictable and unending series of challenges and limitations to their individual vision, because the process of Dance is inevitably so collaborative. Collaborative with the performers who must present a choreographer's composition, but just as importantly, in all of the logistical and financial challenges that come with funding, staging, and administration.
Any work of art is the product of the experiences of the artist who creates it, and although many artists think of their creative process as more dependent on imagination and skill, the way that creativity forms the reality of art is inseparable from the experiences that shape an individual. In his new work, "A Path Home", Craig Kaufman creates a study in Dance of something he has experienced, perhaps more imaginatively than most: how to choose a path. Kaufman's biography is already a study in dedicated but unusual choice; for Kaufman, who now lives and works in Chicago, home is both the hard-working world of western Pennsylvania where he grew up, and the aesthetically intricate world of professional choreography. Although such paths are not unusual in the arts, they usually imply contradiction, but for Kaufman the different worlds he's experienced are fluid and balanced aspects of the same choice, the same path.
The Dance Program at Point Park University's Conservatory of the Performing Arts has an impressive history of developing respected professionals; their presence in the Dance and Choreography community has always been notable. With Point Park graduate, and Pittsburgh Connections choreographer, Craig Kaufman setting a new work entitled A Path Home at Point Park now, it was a particularly good time to discover the Conservatory's Pittsburgh Playhouse video channel, where you get a closer look into the program that turns out so many successful artists. It's at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Channel at YouTube, and there's still more at the Pittsburgh Playhouse website.
Here's a video of Extensions Dance Company performing Lizzie MacKenzie's award-winning work "Time Now", set to an original score of the same by 'ohana Dreamdance. The performance is from the Extensions Showcase, which we was one of the finest shows we got to see last year.
We've done a few stories about this amazing company --- here are a few links to some of them, along with a free download of the piano version of the 'ohana Dreamdance track "Time Now":
Extensions Dance 2010 Showcase
Extensions Dance's Awards at ADA 2010
Choreographer Profile: Lizzie MacKenzie
Podcast: Composing "Some Time" For Lizzie MacKenzie (Part 1)
Podcast: Composing "Some Time" For Lizzie MacKenzie (Part 2)
Podcast: Composing "Some Time" For Lizzie MacKenzie (Part 3)
Craig Kaufman left Point Park University in December of 2005 and set out, like so many other graduates from the prestigious dance program, to see what he could see in the world of professional dance. It's not that long, but he's already returning to Point Park as one of the choreographers for the University's widely respected Pittsburgh Connections series.
The cover of the October issue of Dance Magazine features Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet, who is the featured artist in an informative cover story written by Hedy Weis. Ballet is a world of its own, and Weiss manages to combine a cohesive biographical story about Jaiani (quite a story at that) with some very three-dimensional insight into life at the Joffrey. It's one of those articles that serves as an informative introductory guide to a subject you're aware of but don't know well, which is a fair description of the ballet and aotpr.com.
Weiss finds a lot of those remarkable details that take you into a world that somebody else lives every day. One of my favorites is when the Joffrey's Artistic Director Ashley Wheater (whose several appearances in the article paint a fascinating picture of the role of an Artistic Director) is describing some of what makes Jaiani so good. "... Her jump seemed to spring from nothing, like a deer". That's an intriguing observation, and clearly an important idea in ballet, where verticality often seems so primary, but from there Wheater moves on to a concept that was new to me. He continues with an idea that implies a very different way of seeing ballet performance: "She has such a fluid upper body --- something I think we've lost globally in ballet --- so she really stands out." Quite an insight into what an Artistic Director has to perceive, and into how movement in ballet defines its own evolving ideals. It's a very enjoyable read, despite everything you end up learning. Worth finding at the news stand, or take a look at the article at dancemagazine.com.
Michel Rodriguez was one of three finalists at the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show in Chicago, and his duet "Moi Aussi" is in performance again September 23 and 24 at The Other Dance festival. Rodriguez himself performs the duet with Jessie Gutierrez as part of the Hedwig Dances presentation, and the work's dramatic -- and athletic --- complexity suggests an already rich background of dance experience, even in the early stages of this choreographer's career. We asked Rodriguez about his days in the professional Dance community in Cuba. Here's some of what he told us about the experiences that inform his work:
"I started my professional career in 2003 after graduating from the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Right away I was chosen to be a member of Danza Comtemporanea de Cuba, the largest dance company in the country, and became a principal dancer in 2006. There I worked with several European choreographers --- only European, because there was no way that an American choreographer would go to Cuba because of the political situation. The first European choreographer I worked with was Jan Linkens, from the Netherlands, who was working with the company for the second time. The production was “Compas” and it was a huge succes in Cuba. What surprised me the most from Jan was his musicallity, he’ll know the score of the music perfectly, like a musician, before starting to work on the movement. I also danced another work from him, “Folia”, a piece that marked a new era for the company, the opening to a more european style, but still keeping the Cuban essence.
Choreography on film and video is not a new idea, but it still seems in many ways to be in its very early stages, not so much as an art form, but as an idea in the Dance community. Here's a video from Amberley Productions, a film and video company in Berlin, that is visionary in its sense of how to visually record choreography.
Comparing the often divergent, often converging worlds of music and dance is irresistible whenever this subject comes up. Way, way back, music was always performed, and never recorded, and it took decades, maybe six of them, before a gradual creative understanding emerged that the record does not have to be the same as the live performance. The record includes the performance, but it will always be more than, and less than, a live performance of the same song. You lose the intensity of immediate personal communication, but you have access to immense areas of more complex, more colorful communication; there are realms of technology-induced imagination that become available to the expression of the creative ideas in the composition.
"Grey Noise" by Joanna Rosenthal, "Moi Aussi" by Michel Rodriguez, and "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" by Jacqueline Stewart made for an outstanding final evening in the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show in Chicago. The three works express the three distinctly different visions of Rosenthal, Rodriguez and Stewart and, as is fitting to the final evening in a prestigious competition, each of the works was carefully thought-out and executed at award show level. Jacqueline Stewart was awarded the 2010 prize for her intoxicating duet, presented in a stunning performance by Grace Whitworth and Charlie Cutler, on the basis of a decision by a panel of four judges: Lane Alexander, Homer Bryant, Roeli Schmidt and Linda Shelton. The final decision is actually determined by five votes, one by each judge, as well as one vote based the results of an anonymous ballot of audience members.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show tries to establish parameters for how to choose among the works presented, but it can never be easy to compare such richly different voices in any hierarchical way. Stewart's "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" is certainly a uniquely compelling vision, not only because of the imaginative way that a simple light on stage serves as a focus of the work, but even more so because of the effortless flow of movement ideas in an unspoken story. One of the real challenges of judging a competition though, is where to even find a basis for comparison, how to even begin to judge creative ideas. Is there really any way to compare the somber mysteries of "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" to the expansive and bright "Moi Aussi"? Although also a duet, in Rodriguez' work Jessie Gutierrez and the choreographer perform a dynamic, intricately athletic drama, effortlessly commanding the full scope of a large stage. Joanna Rosenthal presents yet another challenge to a judge, and at The A.W.A.R.D. show that includes everyone in the audience, with an excerpt from her work "Grey Noise", in which a cast of five dancers develop a broadly-conceived architecture to some of the boldest soundtrack ideas that a choreographer could design.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show is presented in a really unique format, with work by the twelve finalists in the competition divided between three consecutive nights. Last night's presentation was the first of the three shows that leads up to Saturday's finale, where three works, one from each evening, are presented again to complete the selection of the award winner. Wednesday's show included works in four very different styles. The first was the duet "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" by Jacqueline Stewart, which was followed by an innovative solo work entitled "Sometimes/Always", both choreographed and danced by Alicia Wilson. The third piece in the program was an intriguing excerpt from the ballet "Curiosity" by Mike Gosney, performed by seven dancers, in an interwoven series of solos, duets and trio. The final work of the evening was Kate Corby's imaginative "Go", which was choreographed in collaboration with the dancers Erin Kilmurray, Emily Miller and Anna Normann.