Performances: EDGEWORKS Dance Theater Presents /CLOSE/R

EDGEWORKS Dance Theater presents /CLOSE/R at Dance Place Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September 16th. EDT Artistic Director Helanius J. Wilkins conceived and choreographed this work, which he will also perform. I caught up with Helanius to learn more about his latest work. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit the Dance Place website. If you’re going Saturday night, look out for me. I’ll be there!

/CLOSE/R is the culmination of your performance work for your MFA program of study. Can you tell me more about your MFA program of study?

I returned to the university setting in summer 2011 to pursue graduate studies, as an extension of my artistic journey. I am a Master’s of Fine Arts degree candidate at the George Washington University. This distance-learning program is specifically designed for professionals working in the field, and is low residency, meaning that it is not a traditional three-year program. Participation in this program requires an 18-month commitment. Among the many things that I appreciate about the program is the exposure and work related to new media and technology as well as the opportunities created for building new networks. Specific to my individual research, I have been exploring the topic of “sensing” which is leading me to a new way of molding movement and expanding my movement vocabulary. I am also being guided by my curiosity about how to validate sensing as a way of knowing. This work has opened up new doors for me to revisit, explore, and engage in authentic movement.

/CLOSE/R marks a shift in your creative process. How does this work compare to your previous work? What inspired you to make this creative shift?

/CLOSE/R is very different on many levels when comparing it to my previous work. Most notable is that I return to the solo form. In fact, this is my first-ever evening length solo project. There is a traditional saying that solo projects are confessionals. LOL… What I will share about this work is that audiences will get to see me in a way that is not typical of my body of work created and performed over the past 10 years.

I am definitely on a journey that is leading me to new places of vulnerability, strength, and discovery. As a result of all this I open myself up to connecting with audiences in new ways, including through humor.

/CLOSE/R as well as my creative shift comes out of the completion of a decade-long research and performance process that unfolded as a trilogy of works (Fearless in 2002, Cold Case in 2006, and Trigger in 2011) examining and exploring issues such as race, sexuality, spirituality, and class from the perspective of African-American men. As this process evolved, it framed a 15-year transformation in my personal life. This transformation has left me empowered to reveal the naked truth, the honest force behind my creations—my art. I find myself in the incubation period of a new definition for dance. I am undoing what I’ve come to know and exploring the possibilities of dance as a means to discover new work that reflects a distinct phase of my journey.

What’s next for Helanius and EDGEWORKS Dance Theater?

Fantastic question! Truthfully speaking, I am doing much reflection and soul-searching on that very question as it relates to all the various thoughts floating in my head – and there are many thoughts. As far as the immediate future is concerned, graduating is just around the corner. I will complete my graduate studies this fall. Along with this big achievement, I am thrilled and excited to be guest artist in residence at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) this fall too. I am equally excited by the activities of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s 12th anniversary season, which will begin with the performances of my solo project at Dance Place. The solo project will be touring to Chicago, IL in October and Cedar Rapids, IA in November. In addition, audiences will be able to experience some of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s signature group works in mixed repertory performances at the Jewish Community Center Northern Virginia (JCCNV) on November 17th and on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center on June 3rd, 2013. We have a packed season of activities. Whew! That’s a lot! For more information about EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, please visit their website.

Part and Parcel – A Performance Duo by DancEthos and Word Dance Theater

With a scarf to tempt Isadora herself, Cynthia Word gracefully wafted across the stage opening a two company performance that featured the works of Word Dance Theater and DancEthos. “Part and Parcel” was staged at Dance Place on June 23rd and 24th.

Word Dance Theater (Photo Credit: Stephen Baranovics)

Word Dance Theater preserves the works of Isadora Duncan and creates original works inspired by the Duncan technique. It’s disorienting to take in the intense operatic scores and head-wrapped women without knowing that Isadora was greatly influenced by her time spent in the Soviet Union. Duncan’s work can be very internal and the dances often felt far off despite the black box feel of Dance Place.

The stage was back-dropped by images that reflected the mood of each piece. They were purposeful while not being distracting. Each flowing crepe fabric dress billowed around the dancers’ form, adding dimension and femininity to their strong shapes. Pianist Carlos César Rodríguez superbly executed every violent piano score and each delicate Chopin piece.

With little pause between works, Word Dance Theater presented nine pieces that transitioned seamlessly between each other. In “Dubinishka,” the dancers flocked gracefully as one, banking and straining to pull invisible giant taffy. Scarves in hand, the dancers transformed into warrior-like Rosie-the-Riveters. In “Revolutionary Etude,” Hannah Goldberg gave the dusty work a fresh level of intention. Seeming to dance for life itself, Goldberg put a driving fury behind each dragging and diving motion.

It’s rare to see works that could be coined with such a description as “original,” but DancEthos presented a diverse array of works that poked at such an acclaim.

DancEthos (Photo Credit: Amanda Kilgour)

In Carolyn Kamrath’s “Incessant,” three dancers lay belly-up, flopping and spasming in timed spurts. The traveling moments were limp and uncontrolled, yet phrased in patterns that created a cryptic beauty. The play on controlled and spastic motion imitated the tremors and instability of Parkinsons patients. The wind in the background was like an incessant white noise, drowning out the waves of raspy French music.

In “Matriculate,” choreographer and poet Matthew Bennett fueled the movement phrases with his vocal nuances. The pedestrian-like dancers created family relationships – mother to daughter and father to daughter – that showed defiance on the part of the children and self-sacrifice on the part of the parents. Bennett begged the audience to love and cherish their families or end up “graveside and holding nothing but what we wouldn’t say.”

A picture frame dictates where to look, but in “Framework,” choreographer Vladimir Angelov drove the focus to everything beyond. The black-dressed dancer created an impassioned Disney-like fairytale of a picture-frame girl come to life. She freed herself from her two-dimensional cell. Liberated but vulnerable, she gradually retreated to her frame but closed with one arm reaching away and the other holding the empty frame out to her side. Even when we want to escape, we can’t let go of the things that hold us up.

Dancer Profile: Sara Lavan of Choreographers Collaboration Project

Sara Lavan is a Pilates teacher, dancer and creative movement instructor based in Alexandria, VA. She currently dances with Choreographers Collaboration Project (CCP), a modern dance company founded in 1998 by Mary Jo Smet and Janet Stormes. Sara’s dance experience includes both ballet and modern. For more information about CCP, visit their website.

Sara LavanWhere do you usually take class? Who is your favorite teacher in the DC area?

I usually take class at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center with one of CCP’s founders Janet Stormes. I also take ballet class at BalletNova Center for Dance with fellow company member Silvia Burnstein-Hendi.

How has dance changed your life? How do you feel when you’re dancing?

Dance keeps me company through the challenges of life. It has given me focus, purpose and an outlet for creativity that has always been a necessity for me. The training specifically has given me a strong work ethic, a deep respect for others and an overall appreciation for the arts and their role in creating a rounded and adjusted society. How do I feel when I dance? Many ways – joyous, disappointed, creative, energized, emotional. It all depends on the day and where I am in my journey. That is the beauty of dance. It changes and can change with you, offer support and help you grow.

Any advice for people who are interested in dance, but have never danced before?

Do it! I have always been a strong advocate for bringing dance to everyone. In my own teaching I focus on the very young to encourage dance, and open families up to the possibilities it can offer. There are many beginner classes of all types in the area. Try different types, ask around, find movement that speaks to you. As a movement enthusiast, I believe moving and wellness are deeply connected.

Anything you want to promote? Anyone you want to give a shout out to?

We have a great show coming up at Dance Place in June. You can get more information about the show at Shout out of course to Janet Stormes and Mary Jo Smet for giving me this opportunity to continue my dance journey in such a profound way after leaving New York City. My life has truly taken an amazing turn.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 3/19-3/20

Ajnin Intensive 2Tomorrow I’ll be making my way to Gaithersburg, MD for Ajnin Precizion’s second intensive workshop at Halo Dance Studio. $18 for four classes is a great deal and if you don’t think you want to dance for five hours (but who wouldn’t?), you can pay $5 per class. KODACHROME also hosts their monthly workshop. This time, they’re down in Williamsburg at William & Mary College. When are you guys making your way back up to NoVa or at least somewhere Metro accessible? Shout out to DC Fit Week which starts next Monday. In case you missed it, check out my DC Fit Week blog post ‘Don’t Fear the Dance Studio.’ Finally some news you can use:

Dhoonya Dance celebrates Spring this week with its Dhoonya Dance Holi Week! It started Monday and lasts til this Sunday. Click here for more info.

Dance Place’s open house was also this week. It ends this Sunday at 3:30pm. $12 special drop-in rate for current students and FREE classes for new students. Check out the schedule on the Facebook event invite.

Eureka Dance Festival has extended its deadline for choreography submissions to March 25th. If you apply, please let Eureka Dance Festival know that Cecile Oreste of danceDC referred you.

Saturday, March 19th

Sunday, March 20th

Dance Place: From Adams Morgan to Brookland

Dance Place

I met with Carlo Perlo, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of Dance Place, last month to talk about the organization and the Brookland community. I found myself asking a lot of questions about the neighborhood and why they chose to move there from Adams Morgan. I guess living in the Dupont/Logan area got me interested in the topic of gentrification and how it affects local businesses.

From 1980 to 1985, Dance Place rented a space on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan. According to Perlo, gentrification and quadrupled rent forced the organization to find a new space. If she couldn’t find a permanent location for Dance Place, Perlo said it would have been the end. She wasn’t renting anymore. Luckily, she did secure a Metro-accessible place in the Brookland neighborhood near Catholic University where the organization remains today.

Her other choice for Dance Place was the current location of The Studio Theatre on 14th Street NW. Needless to say, that area went through some dramatic changes of its own since the 1980s. I imagine if they had decided to move to Logan Circle in 1986 that they would be facing a similar situation now. When asked why she chose Brookland over 14th Street, Perlo said it was a safer neighborhood. Perhaps Perlo had a crystal ball to look into the future because Brookland turned out to be the perfect area for the dance organization.

“Low cost housing will stay affordable,” she said about Brookland. “There are efforts to maintain a better balance of citizens from different economic backgrounds.”

She mentioned the Edgewood Terrace housing complex in Northeast DC as an example. And now thanks to Dance Place’s partnership with Artspace, whose mission is to create, foster and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organization, the area will have even more affordable live/work units available to residents.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Brookland Artspace Lofts, an informational meeting is scheduled for Saturday, March 26th from 10am to noon at Source on 14th Street NW. For more information about Dance Place and their programming which Perlo describes as high quality, affordable and innovative, visit their website.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 2/19-2/20


EDGEWORKS Dance Theater perfoms at Dance Place this weekend.

I am beyond excited for the long weekend. Are you? Sorry if you don’t have Monday off. That sucks. Luckily, there are lots of dance events going on to keep you entertained. My picks for the weekend include Fly by Night – a dance salon hosted by the Dance Exchange. If you haven’t been to the Dance Exchange, it’s very Metro accessible. Only a short walk from Takoma.

I am also hoping to make it to EDGEWORKS Dance Theater’s performance at Dance Place. I interviewed Founder and Artistic Director Helanius J. Wilkins previously for danceDC and also took his modern class at Joy of Motion/Friendship Heights as part of my 10 day dance challenge. No news you can use for now, but if you hear anything let me know. Happy President’s Day!

Saturday, February 19th

Sunday, February 20th

Twitter Tips for Dance Organizations

Earlier this week, Dance Magazine tweeted a link to an article from its February 2008 2011 issue titled “Dancing in the Twittersphere” by Nancy Wozny. Wozny talked about how dancers from So You Think You Can Dance? and dance companies like Houston Ballet have embraced the micro-blogging tool to connect with their communities. The story got me thinking about dance organizations in the DC Metro area; and how even after three years since the article came out, many have yet to effectively utilize this social networking tool.

I am no Twitter expert, but I like to think that I’ve attended enough professional development events, spoke with enough social media enthusiasts and read enough articles to learn a thing or two. If you need some additional reassurance, Klout – the standard for influence – considers me an ‘activist.’ I have a cause I want to share (dance in DC) and my audience counts on me to champion this cause. After thinking about my interactions with and reading the Twitter feeds of various dance organizations, I came up with suggestions on how these groups can improve their social media outreach:

Dance Place1) EngagementMany of the dance organizations I follow on Twitter have never acknowledged my direct messages or mentions. I don’t expect a response to every tweet, but at least answer questions. To improve engagement with followers, listen to what your followers are saying and seek out opportunities to communicate. Use to monitor conversations about your organization and respond with a personal touch. A great example is this tweet from Dance Place.

2) ConsistencyYou don’t have to tweet every hour to be consistent. Decide what works best for your organization and stick with it. There are too many feeds out there that have been created and have no tweets. Or even worse, the last time they tweeted was May 21st, 2010! I’m talking about you, @Velocity_DC (also your background and bio information says 2009!). If you don’t have the resources to manage your feed, get rid of it.

3) Tools – Finally, there are a lot of simple tools out there to help make the most out of your 140 characters. URLs can be long, but there’s to shorten your links. Social media dashboards like Hootsuite also have this function and allow you to schedule tweets in advance so you can focus on other tasks. I also learned about What the Hashtag?! from Amanda Miller Littlejohn and Alex Priest at their DC Power Twitter workshop last August. This site allows you to find out what hashtags have been used so you can create a unique one for your event.

I could go on and on about Twitter, but hopefully this is a good starting point. There are tons of articles and websites that provide Twitter tips, but I really like this list from Chris Brogan. You can also check out the upcoming PR and Social Media Bootcamp: Kicking Up Your Social Media workshop presented by C. Fox Communications and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County Friday, February 25th.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 2/5-2/6

If you’re in Baltimore this weekend, support Baltimore Dance Crews Project by attending their February Community Dance Workshop. Also show your love for Culture Shock DC at their Speed Dating Fundraiser tomorrow at Ulah Bistro on U Street. I’ll be at dance class Saturday then watching No Strings Attached. Judge all you want, but you know you want to see it! And now I leave you with some dance news you can use:


Unevenlane performs at Dance Place this weekend

Fresh Produce Festival of Live Art kicks off tonight 8pm at the fridge. Contradiction Dance will be performing.

Dhoonya Dance auditions that were scheduled for Tuesday, February 1st were canceled due to the weather. They have been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 8th. E-mail for details.

Tickets are now on sale for INTERSECTIONS: A New America Arts Festival. Dance performers include Coyaba Dance Theater, Urban Artistry, DCypher, Furia Flamenca, Jane Franklin Dance, Step Afrika! and more.

Saturday, February 5th

Sunday, February 6th

alight dance theater presents Speechless at Dance Place

SpeechlessLast October, I was at The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage for the premiere of alight dance theater’s Speechless. According to their website, Speechless “explores the struggle of parents of special needs children with communication issues to care for and understand their silent child in an increasingly noisy world.”

In addition to performing this work at The Kennedy Center, alight dance theater performed a reprise at the Greenbelt Community Center in November 2010. Their performance of Speechless this weekend at Dance Place will be the last so don’t miss out on your chance to see this moving work. Despite an incredibly busy week, alight dance theater founder Angella Foster was kind enough to share some information about Speechless.

When did you come up with the idea for this piece? How long was the process?

Speechless was inspired by my fifteen-year-old cousin Taylor who cannot communicate using verbal language. She’s a remarkable young woman who has also faced many physical struggles such as seizures and multiple surgeries. I’ve wanted to make a work that shared her story for most of her life, and receiving the Local Dance Commissioning Program funding gave me the resources to finally bring her story to the stage. I got word of the funding in February, so I had about nine months to cast dancers, interview the families involved and set the whole work. Sort of an appropriate amount of time…nine months!

SpeechlessHow has the piece changed since you performed at The Kennedy Center?

Honestly, the work hasn’t changed a lot technically since The Kennedy Center. We have made some changes but not anything drastic. I thought I might alter the work radically after the premiere, but the constraints of time didn’t really make that possible. And, at this point, I’m not sure I am really emotionally ready to look at the work completely objectively with a fully critical eye. I still see the piece and remember the moment when Taylor recognized herself on stage as Lucia. I guess it is hard to change the work much knowing that it resonated with Taylor the way it is.

What do the props represent? Who designed them and why did you decide on those shapes/colors?

The colorful forms featured in the piece were designed by a mixed media artist named Jessica Braiterman. I had seen a previous work of hers at the Greenbelt Community Center where alight rehearses, and it just reminded me of Taylor so I approached her about making something for Speechless. Originally, the forms were meant to be a reflection of Taylor’s fascination with small, textured objects like beads and flexi-straws. She rubs little objects like that as a way to soothe her nerves when her body is under a lot of stress. My family calls them “holdies.” Anyway, I wanted something in the work that was bright, playful and tactile enough to evoke the things that appeal to Taylor. Over time, we used the forms in lots of ways–as objects of play, comfort and even in place of therapeutic tasks.

SpeechlessHow would you describe your choreography/style to someone who has never seen alight dance theater?

We’re really committed to the power of story. Everything on stage–from the movement to the costumes and lighting–is carefully crafted to serve the story we’re telling. As a result, our work often juxtaposes full-bodied physicality and subtle human-scale gestures. We have a group of beautiful, technically gifted dancers on-stage, but we want you to forget about the technique and experience the characters and the story they have to tell. Our goal as a company is to be transparent, so the story…and the way you connect to it personally…is what you see and remember–not us or our “style.”

What has been the audience reaction to Speechless?

Overall, the reaction to Speechless has been tremendously positive. My family came to the premiere at The Kennedy Center, and the other families I interviewed were able to watch the work online through the Millennium Stage’s live streaming. All of them were touched by the work and felt we clearly communicated the essence of their stories which was really important to us as a company. Beyond that, I’ve had lots of parents of children–with and without special needs–say that the work spoke to them about the joy and burden of loving children unconditionally. Considering none of the cast, myself included, are parents, we’re relieved to have “gotten it right” according to some real experts. I’m confident there are critics of the work out there, but usually those people don’t wait around to talk to the choreographer after the show!

SpeechlessWhat do you hope viewers will take away from the experience of watching Speechless?

So many things…I want people to fall in love with these families and their great kids and see the realities of their struggles without reducing them to a case study or a diagnosis alone. I want people to go home to their families or call up their mother or whoever loves the worst version of them and say thank you. At some point, every one of us has felt as small, vulnerable and misunderstood as Taylor and other special needs kids feel everyday. And if you’re making it through life mostly okay, it is probably because you’ve been loved and that has shaped you more than the pain. The kids in this story are remarkable not just because they’ve faced sickness, silence and sometimes death but because their stories are really marked by celebration, more than brokenness.

The Deets

  • alight dance theater presents “Speechless”
  • Dance Place – 3225 8th Street NE; Washington, DC 20017
  • Saturday, January 29th at 8pm and Sunday, January 30th at 4pm
  • Tickets $8.00-$22.00

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 10/29-10/31

I’ll be working at a conference this weekend so unfortunately won’t be doing much dancing, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Unevenlane has a free performance tomorrow night at 6pm at The Kennedy Center Millenium Stage and Beat Ya Feet Kings will be performing at Dance Place Saturday and Sunday. If you want to get in the Halloween spirit, sign up to learn Michael Jackson’s dance moves from the video Thriller. Nikki Gambhir will be leading the workshop at Joy of Motion’s Atlas studio on Friday night (video from last year is shown above). Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 29th

Saturday, October 30th

Sunday, October 31st


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