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Photo: Jonathan Atk/Cunard.
“Boundless as the Sea” is a new piece created for Cunard cruises by Owen Horsley from Shakespearean love scenes, including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Several of my friends are back to taking cruises now that Covid appears manageable. Today’s post is about some new entertainment offerings on cruises. I enjoyed reading about them about as they bring to mind the “Royal Viking Singers and Dancers!” that our family got such a kick out of on our one cruise, 1990.

Siobhan Burke reported in January at the New York Times about a very modern dance group taking to the high seas. And Emma Powell had a Daily Mail story about Cunard Lines tapping the Bard.

Burke wrote, “On a late-summer night, three choreographers greeted friends at the New York opening of their latest show, exchanging hugs and chatting through masks over the blare of pop music. Neon projections in the theater, a nightclub-like space called the Red Room, exclaimed ‘Welcome to the Show!!’ Cocktail servers wove efficiently through the crowd with trays of drinks, as nimble as the dancers who would soon take the stage.

“It could have been one of the many clubs or theater spaces where the choreographers — Ani Taj, Sam Pinkleton and Sunny Min-Sook Hitt — had performed and presented their work over the past decade, as members of the Dance Cartel, a group founded by Taj in 2012 and known for its exuberant, open-to-all, party-meets-performance live events.

“But a few features set this space apart: the screen outside the entrance beckoning ‘Sail Into Something Spectacular’; the fluorescent signs reading ‘PORT’ and STARBOARD to mark stage left and stage right; the enormous pink inflatable whale onstage.

“How had the artists landed here, on a 2,770-passenger luxury cruise ship, which on this particular night was docked in Manhattan, en route to Miami? Among the three of them, they have choreographed for Broadway, television, opera, music videos, museums and other arenas. But as Taj said when they recently got together for a video interview, a foray into cruise ship entertainment was ‘not something any of us expected to be on the timeline of our careers.’

“ ‘We definitely had a moment of: A cruise ship — did they get the right people?’ Pinkleton said, recalling his confusion when he and Taj, who are represented by ICM Partners, were invited by their agents to pitch a show to Virgin Voyages, a new adults-only cruise line founded by the British billionaire Richard Branson. ‘I think we had a very narrow idea of what making a show for a ship would mean.’ …

“Dance shows on cruise ships typically take place on proscenium stages, for seated, stationary audiences. … In the group’s first and signature work, ‘OntheFloor, which Taj and Pinkleton directed, dancers maneuver around and among a standing audience, their irrepressible energy an invitation to join in. …

“Still, she and Pinkleton answered the call for a pitch.

“We said, ‘Yeah, we’ll accept that challenge and come up with something that surely won’t fly,” ‘ Taj said.

“ ‘We were like, “This seems like a fun exercise,” ‘ Pinkleton added, ‘and dared ourselves to present a pretty authentic version of what we would like to make.’

“That exercise, which began in 2017, has now become a full-fledged, hourlong production aboard the Scarlet Lady, the first Virgin ship to set sail for paying customers.”

Funny article. See it at the Times, here.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports, “The Royal Shakespeare Company has teamed up with British cruise line Cunard to take the Bard’s work out to sea as part of a three-year partnership.

“Voyagers on the Queen Mary 2 will be able to enjoy several pieces during transatlantic crossings from Southampton or explorations around Norway’s fjords.

“One such performance is ‘Boundless as the Sea,’ a brand new piece created by Owen Horsley from Shakespeare’s iconic love scenes including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. …

“Workshops will be on offer as well as events ‘where the actors will perform their personal favorite sonnets and speeches, and answer questions from the audience.’

“The Queen Mary 2 will also host touring exhibition, ‘Digital Diorama: An Augmented Journey Through Shakespeare’s Stratford,’ with some of the RSC’s most popular productions including Hamlet, Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It screened in the on board cinema. … The first voyages will run from May 29 until August 12 and then again from September 15 to November 13.”

More at the Daily Mail, here.

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Photo: Ivan Petrov.
Kyiv-born and -trained ballet star Ivan Petrov is working with ballerina Alina Cojocaru to help dancers whose lives are in upheaval since Russia invaded Ukraine.

It’s been interesting to see how many different kinds of groups are pulling together to help Ukraine since Russia invaded. College alumni groups, small towns, chefs, former military, athletes … the list goes on.

When I was reading today’s article on the dance world’s efforts, I was surprised by an observation about how ballet-world organizing after the death of George Floyd affected the speed with which dance folk are taking action today.

Sarah L. Kaufman reports at the Washington Post, “Amid the constant air raid sirens and shelling near her home in Kyiv, 17-year-old Polina Chepyk tried to fill her days with dancing.

“Her ballet school had shut down, so she stretched and spun in the apartment she shared with her parents and 8-year-old sister, Anfisa. Chepyk used the back of the sofa as her ballet barre.

“But lying in bed in the dark, she could not tune out the war. ‘At night you can’t control your feelings,’ Chepyk said in a recent phone interview. …

“Since early childhood, she had devoted herself to perfecting her pirouettes and learning excerpts of the great ballet roles. When war came, she feared that the world of music and grace she longed to inhabit was gone. …

“Yet the international ballet community has swung into action, led by the New York-based organization Youth America Grand Prix. Russian dancers Larissa and Gennadi Saveliev, who began their careers at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet before emigrating to the United States, founded YAGP in 1999 to help students gain access to the world’s most selective ballet schools, through scholarship auditions. But since the war in Ukraine began, YAGP has been tapping its network of dancers and educators to help nearly 100 Ukrainian dance students (and often their entire families) flee danger and continue their art, by placing them in training academies throughout Europe. …

“Suddenly, Chepyk found herself packing a suitcase with leotards, tights, bottles of her mother’s perfume and ‘every gift my parents ever gave me, for remembering them.’ …

“After a five-day journey, she arrived March 21 into the embrace of a Dutch family with two girls. Chepyk said she has become ‘their third daughter.’

“And she has resumed her beloved dance training at the Dutch National Ballet Academy, where she is in the highest level. …

“The war in Ukraine has hit the tight-knit ballet world hard, and dancers have responded with an unprecedented storm of activism. Ukrainian ballet students and professional dancers are being taken in by far-flung academies and companies, swelling their rosters. Dancers are converging across borders for star-studded fundraisers. …

“Ballet is a profoundly international art, as well as a communal one. It depends on continuous, daily interaction with fellow performers, who are typically drawn from all over and who work together on a uniquely intimate physical and emotional level. …

“The ballet world’s rapid mobilization in support of Ukraine was prompted by something much more recent, according to Lynn Garafola, a dance historian and author of La Nijinska: Choreographer of the Modern. She points to the Black Lives Matter movement as helping set the ground for solidarity.

“ ‘Black Lives Matter primed the ballet community for self-interrogation,’ she said. ‘It responded in a very strong way with a lot of thinking and discussion, across the board, trying to establish new norms for diversity and inclusivity and equity. So people were already thinking in ways that were more ethical. And that’s what has come to the fore here.’

“Echoes of BLM lie in the questions that dance artists have been asking themselves since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Garafola said, such as: ‘What can I do about it?’ …

“Romanian-born ballerina Alina Cojocaru, formerly of the Royal Ballet, and Ivan Putrov, a Royal Ballet principal from Kyiv, trained together in the Ukrainian capital as children. Before joining the Royal Ballet, Cojocaru danced professionally in Kyiv for a year, where one of her first partners was Artyom Datsishin, ‘a tall, very quiet person and very talented dancer,’ she said in a recent video call with Putrov from London. Datsishin later became an internationally known star of the National Opera of Ukraine. Two days after the Russian invasion began, he was hit by shelling, and he died three weeks later of his injuries.

“Datsishin’s death, which made headlines around the world as an especially poignant symbol of the war’s brutality, helped spur Cojocaru and Putrov to organize the Dance for Ukraine charity gala. … The gala came together in two weeks, and was an easy sell to their colleagues. ‘We already knew so many people from all over the world. We are just one phone call away from someone in Cuba, France, Germany and America,’ Putrov said.”

Read more at the Post, here.

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Photo: The Guardian.
Born and raised in Tokyo, Rina Hanzawa is one of thousands of women around the world who have taken up Ori Tahiti, the traditional Polynesian dance.

The joy of dance is international. It’s fun for me to see, for example, that Shagufa, raised in a conservative Afghan community and now a student at Brandeis, is adding belly dancing to a repertoire that has long included golf.

Meanwhile, around the world, many people are discovering the fun of a Polynsian dance form once banned by colonizers. Tiare Tuuhia has a story about that at the Guardian.

“Wearing intricate costumes made of plants and adorned with tropical flowers, the women look spectacular. While their torsos remain completely still, somehow, impossibly, their hips are moving in circles so fast it’s almost a blur.

“These women are performing traditional Tahitian dance, or Ori Tahiti, in Tahiti’s annual cultural festival, the Heiva. And they’re not alone. Thousands of women across the globe, from Mexico to Japan, are doing it too. …

“Ori Tahiti is a broad term that encompasses the many traditional dances native to the island of Tahiti, performed by both men and women. The most well-known is the ote’a, a very fast, hip-shaking dance performed by women. Another is the aparima, which features slower, more graceful body movements. …

“ ‘In my eyes it is the most beautiful, powerful, sensuous and expressive,’ says Tumata Robinson, a renowned Tahitian choreographer, costume designer and founder of acclaimed dance group Tahiti Ora.

“ ‘I think Ori Tahiti is very complete, you know. It’s fierce, but also elegant and powerful, graceful, feminine when we dance,’ [says] says Moena Maiotui, one of Tahiti’s most beloved professional dancers, who has traveled around the world performing, teaching Ori workshops, and sharing Tahitian culture. YouTube videos of her dancing, both solo and with the dance group Tahiti Ora, have racked up millions of views. …

“Self-expression and connecting to nature are what Ori Tahiti is about for Rina Hanzawa. Born and raised in Tokyo, Hanzawa discovered Ori Tahiti in her early twenties.

“ ‘I went to dance school and I found Ori Tahiti there,’ says Hanzawa. ‘At the time I had no clue about Tahitian culture. But I fell in love with Ori Tahiti when I tried it.’ …

“What started as a casual hobby soon became an enduring passion, which led to her competing at a national level. Hanzawa now lives in Australia, where she has set up her own Tahitian dance school, Tai Pererau, in Sydney’s northern beaches. …

The arrival of Europeans in French Polynesia, along with their religion and laws, saw Ori Tahiti banned or repressed for close to 100 years.

“At the end of the 18th century, dance was banned by European missionaries, who labelled it immoral. Then, in 1819, the Pomare Code, a set of laws laid down by the Tahitian monarchy, forbade traditional dancing outright. In 1842 the French protectorate allowed dancing – but with so many conditions that the practice was still repressed.

“It was only in the 1960s that the church began to lose influence and traditional dancing really began to be revived. During this time the first modern dance group appeared on the scene, led by Madeleine Mou’a.

“Damaris Caire, author of a book titled Ori Tahiti: Between Tradition, Culture and Modernity, says: ‘Little by little, by doing dance shows at hotels for tourists, Ori Tahiti became popular – even if the local population initially struggled to accept it.’ …

“Despite a rocky past, Ori Tahiti has today become a way for Tahitians to connect with their ancestors, their land and their language. It is a celebration of a cultural identity and pride that was almost lost to colonization. Now, it has become one of Tahiti’s best exports.

“Hinatea Colombani, a Tahitian cultural expert and director of the Arioi culture and arts centre, says it is particularly satisfying to see Ori Tahiti become popular in the very countries that tried to stamp the practice out two centuries ago.

“ ‘For me it’s a revenge, because they celebrate our culture,’ she says. …

“This year, the Heiva Ori Tahiti Nui international 2021 – Ori Tahiti’s biggest competition – had to be held online due to the pandemic. However, it still managed to attract competitors from 12 countries and territories, including two new participants: New Caledonia and Switzerland. …

“ ‘It was really a superb experience,’ says [Ginie Naea, a dance teacher at the Te Ori Tahiti school in Geneva]. ‘We danced in front of Lake Geneva and the mountains; it was just magic. The best part of the competition was actually the preparation and team cohesion that it necessitated – a connection that’s created when performing. There is a real bond between Ori Tahiti dancers, a real family that is created around the same passion.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Lin & Jirsa Photography.
An example of India wedding choreography as shown at Maharini Weddings.

This is a fun story about the way entertainment has taken over weddings. Although our own family’s weddings have included Swedish customs (e.g. when the bride makes a trip to the ladies room, all the woman go kiss the groom) and Egyptian customs (e.g. a belly dancer with lighted candles in her hair), some families in the southern part of India are really going beyond the beyond. Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj reported the story for the New York Times.

“Weddings in India’s south, particularly in the coastal state of Kerala, have transformed into a festival of color — and dance, lots of dance.

“Unlike those in the north, weddings in the south used to be subdued affairs centered on a feast that, at best, would occasionally include a live band. Now, the ceremonies draw on the latest entertainment from across the country, including the breathtakingly fast rhythms of Tamil and Telugu dance music, and the colorful costumes and drumbeats of Punjab.

“Dr. Sheha Pfizer’s wedding had something extra. …The ceremonies in Kerala have become so colorful that they are the talk of the town and viral discussions online. There is the favorite Punjabi dhol drumming, but also troupes that perform Egyptian, Mexican and Sufi dances — all with lavish outfits. People hire water drummers, pole dancers and acrobats.

“About 60 percent to 70 percent of the weddings in Kerala now include choreographed dances, said Mayjohn P.J., a former wedding singer who started a wedding management agency, Melodia, a decade ago.

“Mr. P.J. has no doubt about what has fueled the transformation: social media. Couples find inspiration for their weddings on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, before posting their own ceremonies onto the same platforms.

“Wedding planners, part of an industry that brings in tens of billions of dollars every year in India, offer video and photo packages that are tailored to get clicks. The packages, usually costing $2,000 to $5,000, include an ‘Instagram teaser’ and the ‘wedding highlight,’ essentially your own five- to seven-minute blockbuster film.

“The most ambitious ones incorporate the narrative tricks of Indian soap operas for emotional effect, and deploy the latest technology — steady cams, drones and lots of musical special effects — to create the climax of a techno concert. …

The lingering pandemic has also brought changes to weddings in India’s south, where the peak season runs from December to February.

“Health regulations limit capacity to 200 people (as opposed to as many as five times that in pre-Covid times). So families have turned them into multiday affairs of smaller ceremonies — inviting a different set of guests for each so that everyone feels part of the celebration.

“Perhaps the busiest man during the wedding season is the choreographer Manas Prem.

“He has been commissioned to choreograph 500 wedding routines in the coming months. Most of them are small, and Covid has forced much of the training online.

“His frequent challenge is older relatives who get cold feet when they see the audience. ‘They get shy and they don’t want to do it,’ Mr. Prem said. ‘Then I have to fill the gaps.’

“Both Dr. Pfizer, 25, and her husband are Muslims. Their wedding was a display of Kerala’s largely seamless diversity. Her childhood friends performing for her wedding were a mix of Hindus and Christians. …

“Dance runs in Dr. Pfizer’s family. Her mother was a dancer. One of her grandmothers performed with a folk ensemble in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The bride started training as a dancer even before kindergarten — a large stretch of it under the tutelage of Mr. Prem. Pictures of competitions when she was younger adorn the walls of his small dance studio. …

“As the guests took their seats in the hall for the evening ceremony, the dance troupe changed costumes repeatedly — a Sufi entrance with the groom, a Punjabi bhangra number that included a cameo by the bride, a mash-up of the latest hits where the dancers displayed their hip-hop moves. Another group, all women, performed a traditional Keralan Muslim dance, oppana, a hip-hop dance in jeans and T-shirts, and a flamenco-inspired routine.

“In between, the tall wedding singer, wearing a turtleneck and chic glasses with transparent rims, entertained the crowd. He announced the bride’s first entrance.

“The heads turned to the back, where Dr. Pfizer, surrounded by the female troupe of dancers, beamed with excitement in a dazzling ocean-green dress paired with stunning jewelry. Mobile phones came out for pictures. Music blared as the dancers shimmied and snapped their fingers, parting the aisle for the bride.

“But before the bride had climbed the stage to take her seat, someone realized that the main camera that films the ‘wedding highlight’ for YouTube and Instagram wasn’t set up yet.

“The bride and the dancers had to go back to their starting point at the entrance and do it all over again.”

More at the Times, here. Lots of great pictures.

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Dance at a Powwow

Photo: Linda Dulan.
In July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at New York’s Queens County Farm Museum. Seen here, an old-style men’s dance.

I’ve always wanted to get to the Narragansett tribe‘s summer Powwow in Rhode Island. And I will do it yet — never mind how busy summer gets.

In today’s post, Dance magazine whets my appetite even more with wonderful pictures from a “dance powwow” in New York State.

“Over the course of three days in July, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers hosted its 42nd annual powwow at Queens County Farm Museum. Founded in 1963 by members of the Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and Kuna (San Blas) tribes, Thunderbird is the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York, and puts on the city’s largest powwow, drawing dancers from more than 40 tribal nations for a series of performances and dance contests, as well as crafts and food stands.

The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well.

Dance Magazine joined [a] sunset bonfire to capture some of the competitions, and asked Thunderbird director Louis Mofsie and company dancer Michael Taylor to share their insights on the place of dance within the powwow.”

They write, “The powwow is a social gathering where we get together to dance and sing, to meet old friends and make new ones. Originally a Western/Great Plains tradition, it does not have any religious or ceremonial significance — our religious and ceremonial dances and songs are restricted and closed to outsiders.

“Dancing is the major activity. Over the weekend, there are dance competitions and also what are called intertribal dances, where the dancers from all tribes are invited to participate. Our bonfire each evening during the gathering is there to help us travel back in time to the days when we had no spotlights. It reminds us of our past, our connection to our heritage and how it has survived through all our hardships to this day.

“As Native American people, we start dancing at a very young age. Dancing at powwows is how we learn the different styles of dances and what they represent. It helps us to connect to our roots and reinforces our awareness of who we are. It also reminds us that Native American dance is the original dance in America—and is still alive today. …

“Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance. This dance dates back to around 1945, right after the Second World War. Native American women and men had volunteered for the armed services and traveled all over the world. During their travels they observed how the women in many different countries were dancing. When they returned home, they decided to introduce a different style of dancing. Traditionally, the women did a very slow, graceful movement around the outer edge of the dance circle, and the men would be doing more vigorous movement on the inside. The Fancy Shawl Dance is much faster in rhythm, more vigorous and permits them to dance on the inside of the circle. The women wear shawls with very long fringe along the edges, and as they move, the fringe reminds you of the feathers that the men wear. Although the women do not wear the feathers and bells on their legs like the men do, their footwork and movements are very similar.

“Men’s Fancy Dance. They say this dance also originated around the end of the Second World War. When the men returned home from the war, they also wanted a more vigorous style of movement. Fancy dancing is much faster than traditional men’s dancing. Each of the dancers tries to create as many fancy steps as they can while keeping time with the singing and drumming. The men wear feathers with ribbons attached to each end, and they carry dance wands that are decorated with ribbons and feathers.

“Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. This dance tells the story of its origin. There was a mother who had a very ill daughter. One night she had a dream, and in it she had a vision: She was told to show the women how to make a special dress with little cones or jingles on it, show them how to do a special kind of dance and sing them a very special song. If she did all these things, it would help her daughter get well. The next morning the mother showed the women how to make the dress, showed them a special dance and sang a very special song for them. Sure enough, her daughter got well. The dance started out as a healing dance but has come down to us as one of the more popular competition dances at the powwow gatherings.”

I never thought about it before, but why should any community have an art form that never evolves. I love the idea that indigenous people who returned from WW II incorporated new influences into traditional dance. More at Dance, here.

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Photo: Colorado Public Radio.
Cherish Ross is with FLOW, a sign language interpreting agency that specializes exclusively in performing arts.

So many interesting kinds of jobs in the world! And the luckiest people are the ones whose work aligns with what they love doing. Consider those who interpret for the deaf at concerts.

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim has a cool story at the New York Times. “On a recent afternoon in a brightly lit studio in Brooklyn, Mervin Primeaux-O’Bryant and Brandon Kazen-Maddox were filming a music video. They were recording a cover version of ‘Midnight Train to Georgia,’ but the voices that filled the room were those of Gladys Knight and the Pips, who made the song a hit in the 1970s. And yet the two men in the studio were also singing — with their hands.

“Primeaux-O’Bryant is a deaf actor and dancer; Kazen-Maddox is a hearing dancer and choreographer who is, thanks to seven deaf family members, a native speaker of American Sign Language. Their version of ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ is part of a 10-song series of American Sign Language covers of seminal works by Black female artists that Kazen-Maddox is producing for Broadstream, an arts streaming platform.

“Around the world, music knits together communities as it tells foundational stories, teaches emotional intelligence and cements a sense of belonging. … As sign language music videos proliferate on YouTube, where they spark comments from deaf and hearing viewers, the richness of American Sign Language, or A.S.L., has gotten a broader stage.

“ ‘Music is many different things to different people,’ Alexandria Wailes, a deaf actress and dancer told me in a video interview, using an interpreter. Wailes performed ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the 2018 Super Bowl, and last year drew thousands of views on YouTube with her sign language contribution to ‘Sing Gently,’ a choral work by Eric Whitacre. …

“A good A.S.L. performance prioritizes dynamics, phrasing and flow. The parameters of sign language — hand shape, movement, location, palm orientation and facial expression — can be combined with elements of visual vernacular, a body of codified gestures, allowing a skilled A.S.L. speaker to engage in the kind of sound painting that composers use to enrich a text.

“At the recent video shoot, Gladys Knight’s voice boomed out of a large speaker while a much smaller one was tucked inside Primeaux-O’Bryant’s clothes, so that he could ‘tangibly feel the music,’ he said in an interview, with Kazen-Maddox interpreting. Out of sight of the camera, an interpreter stood ready to translate any instructions from the crew, all hearing, while a laptop displayed the song lyrics.

“In the song, the backup singers — here personified by Kazen-Maddox — encourage Knight as she rallies herself to join her lover, who has returned home to Georgia. In the original recording the Pips repeat the phrase ‘all aboard.’ But as Kazen-Maddox signed it, those words grew into signs evoking the movement of the train and its gears. A playful tug at an invisible whistle corresponded to the woo-woo of the band’s horns. Primeaux-O’Bryant signed the lead vocals with movements that gently extended the words, just as in the song: on the drawn-out ‘oh’ of ‘not so long ago-oh-oh,’ his hands fluttered into his lap. The two men also incorporated signs from Black A.S.L.

‘The hands have their own emotions,’ Primeaux-O’Bryant said. ‘They have their own mind.’

“Deaf singers prepare for their interpretations by experiencing a song through any means available to them. Many people speak about their heightened receptivity to the vibrations of sound, which they experience through their body. As a dancer trained in ballet, Primeaux-O’Bryant said he was particularly attuned to the vibrations of a piano as transmitted through a wooden floor.

“Primeaux-O’Bryant was a student at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington in the early 1990s when a teacher asked him to sign a Michael Jackson song during Black History Month. His first reaction was to refuse.

“But the teacher ‘pulled it out’ of him, he said, and he was thrust into the limelight in front of a large audience. Then, Primeaux-O’Bryant said, ‘the lights came on and my cue happened and I just exploded and signed the work and it felt good.’ Afterward the audience erupted in applause: ‘I fell in love with performing onstage.’ ”

Find information on things like the role of ballet training in ASL interpretation, the impact of the pandemic, and Egyptian Arabic Sign Language at the Times, here.

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Photo: Library of Congress.
Maypole dancers at the Bavarian Celebration of Spring festival in Leavenworth, Washington.

Since 1889, May 1 has been recognized as International Workers’ Day around the world. But a much more ancient May 1 tradition involves dancing around “maypoles” to celebrate spring.

According to Wikipedia, maypole “festivals may occur on May 1st or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer (June 20-26). In some cases the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilized during the festival, although in other cases it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.

“Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighboring areas which they have influenced, its origins remain unknown. It has often been speculated that the maypole originally had some importance in the Germanic paganism of Iron Age and early Medieval cultures, and that the tradition survived Christianisation, albeit losing any original meaning that it had. It has been a recorded practice in many parts of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods, although it became less popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the tradition is still observed in some parts of Europe and among European communities in the Americas.”

Olivia Waring and Jack Slater offer more details at Metro. “As today is the first of May, communities across the world might be getting on their sunny day best and heading to dance around a maypole – a tradition which is around 600 years old. But what does dancing around a maypole on May 1 involve, and what does it represent? Here’s all you need to know.

“Dancing around a maypole involves a group of people taking a colored ribbon attached to it and weaving around each other, often to music. Traditionally the dancers position themselves in pairs of boys and girls before beginning their routine.

“The dance creates a multi-colored pattern which creeps steadily down the pole. The dancers then reverse their steps to undo the ribbons. This is said to represent the lengthening of the days as summer approaches, but the significance of the pole itself is not really known. Some communities have a permanent maypole up all year round on village greens and in squares. …

“In Austria and Germany, the maypole is known as a ‘maibaum’, is painted with Bavarian white and blue stripes and is erected (sometimes by villagers) in the middle of a village. This may be accompanied by a procession. …

“Though not always held on May 1, maypole celebrations also happen in the States, Malta, Scandinavia, Canada, and Italy – with Italians using the pole to celebrate International Worker’s Day, too. In other countries, including Sweden, a maypole is referred to as a Midsummer pole and is a part of their annual Midsummer celebrations in late June.”

Watch the video below to see how the weaving works. Trust me: it takes many rehearsals to get those ribbons to lie flat and smooth. More at Wikipedia, here, and at Metro, here.

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Photo: Associated Press.
Marc Raibert, founder and chair of Boston Dynamics, with an Atlas robot that can dance with near-human fluidity.

We can probably all think of discoveries that initially seem frivolous or peculiar and later turn out to be important to humanity. So perhaps we shouldn’t laugh too much about a robot dancing to Motown. Who can tell what will come of it?

Rodrique Ngowi writes at the Associated Press (AP), “The man who designed some of the world’s most advanced dynamic robots was on a daunting mission: programming his creations to dance to the beat with a mix of fluid, explosive and expressive motions that are almost human.

“The results? Almost a year and half of choreography, simulation, programming and upgrades that were capped by two days of filming to produce a video running at less than 3 minutes. The clip, showing robots dancing to the 1962 hit ‘Do You Love Me?’ by The Contours, was an instant hit on social media, attracting more than 23 million views during the first week.

“It shows two of Boston Dynamics’ humanoid Atlas research robots doing the twist, the mashed potato and other classic moves, joined by Spot, a doglike robot, and Handle, a wheeled robot designed for lifting and moving boxes in a warehouse or truck. …

“[Says Boston Dynamics founder and chairperson Marc Raibert], ‘We didn’t want a robot doing robotlike dancing. We wanted it to do human dancing and, you know, when a human dances, the music has a beat and their whole body moves to it — their hands, their body, their head,’ he says. …

‘It looked like the robot was having fun and really moved with the music. And I think that had a lot to do with the result of the production.’

“Teaching robots to dance with fluid and expressive motions was a new challenge for a company that spent years building robots that have functional abilities like walking, navigating in rough terrain, pick things up with their hands and use attached advanced sensors to monitor and sense many things, Raibert says.

“ ‘You know, our job is to try and stretch the boundaries of what robots can do, both in terms of the outer research boundary, but also in terms of practical applications. And I think when people see the new things that robots can do, it excites them,’ he says.

“The advanced Atlas robot relies on a wide array of sensors to execute the dance moves, including 28 actuators — devices that serve as muscles by converting electronic or physical signal into movement — as well as a gyroscope that helps it to balance, and three quad-core onboard computers, including one that processes perception signals and two that control movement. …

“ ‘We’ve gotten calls from all around the world,’ Raibert says. ‘We got a call from one of the sound engineers who had recorded the original Contours performance back in the ’60s. And he said that his whole crew of Motown friends had been passing it around.’ “

More at AP, here.

A dancing Atlas robot at Boston Dynamics.

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Photo: Christian Kuntz
After Gurdeep Pandher
became a Canadian citizen in 2011, he traveled across the country, dancing bhangra with people of all faiths and finally settling in the Yukon because it reminded him most of his village in Punjab.

I liked today’s story about bringing joy through dance. I especially liked learning about research showing that differences drop away when people move in unison.

Sara Miller Llana writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “He has led firefighters and police officers to the rhythms of bhangra – a centuries-old dance that hails from the farming fields of Punjab. He has danced in front of Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa and amid crashing waves of the country’s Pacific Coast.

“But these days, Gurdeep Pandher has more fans than he ever has – by posting videos of himself dancing in the snow-covered forest behind his cabin near Whitehorse in Yukon, Canada’s northwesternmost territory.

“At this time of year, it’s not until about 11 a.m. that the sun comes out, filtering through the trees and drawing him outdoors. ‘It looks so beautiful, to me it looks just like magic,’ he says. ‘I do feel like I live in a winter wonderland.’

“On the winter solstice last month, in a bright blue sweater, an orange turban, and brown snow boots, Mr. Pandher posted a new video of himself doing what he calls a ‘happy dance’: arms raising to the sky, knees as high as they go, and the broadest of smiles. …

“Bhangra began as a farmer’s dance in Punjab to celebrate a good harvest, but it’s found its way across the globe, from trendy DJ fusions to entertainment on basketball courts of North America. Mr. Pandher has been dancing it since he was a child, and he says there’s no surprise to him that it’s caught on – for its upbeat sounds and its core value of joy.

‘If you’re dancing bhangra, and you are not happy, that is not bhangra, even if you are doing all the moves perfectly,’ he says.

“That’s why he believes his videos, one after the other, keep going viral during the pandemic, when there is so much darkness and heaviness.

“ ‘There’s a Punjabi saying that when there’s a lot of darkness, we value brightness more. And I’ve noticed that, a lot of the sort of people who never cared about watching my videos before, like lawyers, or politicians, or diplomats, are sending me messages,’ he says.

“ ‘Before maybe they didn’t feel like something light was professional, or important, but now in these difficult times they realize the importance of someone dancing to create happiness, someone who’s preaching that kindness is important, what our ancestors from centuries have been preaching.’

“He’s not the only one feeling a new buzz around bhangra. Harshjot Singh, who founded Power Bhangra with his wife in Montreal, is these days offering popular bhangra fitness classes over Zoom. It’s a physical workout, but he says it’s also the culture of bhangra that he believes keeps his students – who span Canada and even North America – signing up. ‘You have to smile, it’s just the rule of the dance. And as students learn about it, slowly and steadily, it just comes naturally.’ …

“Peter Lovatt, the author of new book The Dance Cure, says that dancing, unlike just plain fitness, has four key benefits in the realms of social, thinking, emotions, and the physical – which, fittingly, spell STEP.

“All of those areas are suffering during the pandemic, and everyone benefits from things like physical activity or disconnecting from the Internet. But there is something especially compelling about the synchrony of dance in today’s climate. ‘When people dance in synchrony, it increases how much they like each other,’ Dr. Lovatt says.”

More at the Christian Science Journal, here.

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Photo: NBC
Promotional photo of Ray Bolger from the television program the Bell Telephone Hour.

This story sent me straight to TikTok. I love both the creativity of Cory Linger’s idea and his professional execution. He is someone who really made isolation work for him.

Leigh Scheps reports at DanceSpirit, “With #SocialDisDancing still very much in place, it’s a challenge for dance partners to perform safely, and even harder to perform safely together.

“But Broadway’s Cory Lingner may have found the solution — on TikTok. He’s using the app to tap alongside some of the most iconic movie stars. …

“Lingner has perfected the use of the app’s duet feature. On one side of the video is a clip of the tap-dancing icon and on the other is Lingner, dancing in unison. And as a bonus, Lingner’s also giving viewers facts about the stars and the performances as they watch.

“Lingner’s danced in everything from On the Town to An American in Paris, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Carousel. But still, his tapping TikToks may be one of his favorite challenges yet. …

“Without a stage and a live audience, he’s getting his fill of performing from his social media duet series. And it’s so popular on TikTok, he’s gained more than 8 thousand followers in a mere month.

“Dance Spirit: How did your ‘Cory’s Duet Series’ on TikTok get started?
“Cory Lingner: … The very first spark of inspiration was another fellow tapper, Nicole Billow. She actually did the first side-by-side with Gene Kelly from An American in Paris. I watched it and I was like, ‘This looks really fun.‘ …

“The majority of what I’ve tried to focus on is introducing new performers so I don’t repeat dancers too much. The last time that I repeated was with Vera Allen in White Christmas, since it was the holiday. I also try to find sections where not only I can do the choreography in my limited space, with my little piece of plywood, but also if they’re able to stay on a single camera shot for long enough for the 20 to 30 seconds. …

DS: What do you think about the skill level of some of Shirley Temple’s tap steps?
“CL: It’s remarkable the fact that she did that many films and had that kind of tap dance skill set at such a young age. … People were commenting on that video too, writing, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize what she can do.’ …

DS: What is some of the feedback you’ve been getting?
“CL: Oh, my goodness. It’s so lovely, all the comments and messages. There was a grandmother that said, ‘I think you just inspired my 3-year-old grandson to start taking dance.’ It warms my heart. …

DS: What are some dream duets that you need to do?
“CL: There were other duets people were recommending, like James Cagney. So I’m trying to find a moment when he stays still. I learned ‘Moses Supposes’ from Singin’ in the Rain many years ago, which would be really fun to tackle again. Maybe I’d do that one in two separate sections, so I can do one with Gene Kelly and one with Donald O’Connor.”

Are you on TikTok? It’s worth it, just for this. More at DanceSpirit, here.

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Back in January, I read Michelle Herman’s Slate column about taking up ballet late in life, and I’ve been wondering if she’s kept it up during the pandemic. Even professional ballet dancers have found it challenging to practice.

Here is how Herman got into ballet at age 62.

“The dance studio had just opened on my corner — I didn’t even have to cross a street to get there. So what I asked myself was just how lazy I would have to be not to try a class. I had fond, if vague, childhood memories of the weekly modern dance classes I took for five or six years at the famous Marjorie Mazia School in Brooklyn. …

“It had left its mark: The thought of a dance class did not fill me with despair or fury the way a Pilates class or the contemplation of a gym membership would have. Plus, I enjoyed dancing at parties. So maybe this would be fun, I told myself. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it.

“I didn’t hate it. I didn’t hate it so much that almost right from the beginning I was in tears. … There is no reason it should have felt so right to have one hand on the barre as I extended a foot that I was concentrating very hard on simultaneously turning out and pointing — concentrating not only on that pointed foot, but also on muscles throughout both that leg and the other leg, the one that was supposedly just standing still. And on my right arm in second position.

“I believe what happened that day was that I fell in love.

“There were only four of us in the room that first day. Three students (two old, as in over 50, and one young, as in under 20) and Filippo Pelacchi, the teacher (who was very young himself, although not in dancer years—he had just turned 28).

“If I cannot recreate every one of the 75 minutes of that first adult beginner class I took in the summer of 2017, it’s because by now I’ve spent approximately 84,000 more minutes in that studio—that is, 1,400 hours, something like 950 dance classes plus rehearsals for performances, and those minutes run together in my mind. But I do know this—that in that very first class, …  I had a moment of what seemed like perfect clarity: My body and my mind were working as one. …

“I’m a writer and a teacher, so all my work is mental work. But in ballet there was what seemed to me a remarkable twist: I was living that mental work in my body. In my body — with which, even more remarkably (even more improbably), I was making art. …

“In ballet, there is no separating the body and the mind. I have to think hard to create the shapes, to make the movements, of ballet. Even standing still in first position — which to the observer doesn’t look like anything — requires the engagement of muscles that will not turn on without my express command, muscles that do not engage reflexively the way my muscles do when going about ordinary tasks. There is nothing ordinary, nothing of the daily life, about ballet. …

“And there is this: Almost from the start I saw that ballet would fulfill a longing I’d had as far back as I could remember, a longing that accounts for the pleasure I take in hosting and leading a Passover Seder although I am a firmly nonbelieving Jew. …

“Sometimes the ballet advice sounds a lot like life advice.

  • Build a solid structure, Filippo tells us, and then find the open spaces where you can experiment, be yourself, and make it your own.
  • With stability comes freedom. If you are strong in your center, the rest can move freely around it.
  • Everything is connected. Everything you do is informed by what you have done before.
  • Commit to the transitions, he urges us. Even though they are not the highlights, they are the platform for the highlights.
  • And: No matter what happens, stay in it. Even if you forget or make a mistake, keep moving. “Here I am!” Own it. And then find your way back in.
  • Search every moment for what is there. Especially in the pauses, you have time to find something new, the next thing.”

More at Slate, here.

Art: Natalie Matthews-Ramo

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Photo: Devin Muñoz
” ‘Cooped-Up’ is a contemporary dance performance viewed entirely from behind car windows,” reports Margo Vansynghel at
Crosscut.

I’m fascinated by all the different ways the arts are reaching out during our lockdown. Some efforts come off better than others, and a given organization may be kind of lame on one evening and on another delightful. We’re all learning as we go.

In this story, Seattle dancers offer performances for an audience in cars.

Margo Vansynghel writes at Crosscut, “Gedney Barclay sat in her idling car in a North Seattle Safeway parking lot, awaiting instructions. She could feel herself getting anxious. … She looked around — unsure of what would happen next — and glanced at the phone in her hand. The call from an unknown number would come anytime now. And then there would be no turning back.

“Barclay wasn’t involved in some kind of nefarious plot. She was about to participate in ‘Cooped-Up: Drive-in Dances for Cooped Up People,’ a contemporary dance performance by local company LanDforms, in which audience members view the proceedings through their own car windows. …

“Guided by pins on a digital map and a downloaded soundtrack — featuring songs,  poetry, a couple of old voicemail messages and mysterious clues — ticketed audience members drive through the city and visit performers at their homes. The dancers perform from porches, sun rooms, front yards, alleys and balconies while the audience, cocooned in 20 cars (one per household), drives up to watch at 10-minute intervals.

“ ‘It’s a wild journey all over Seattle,’ says LanDforms’ Leah Crosby. She and co-director Danielle Doell describe the show as a whimsical mashup of a drive-in movie, scavenger hunt, escape room and ‘durational performance’ tailored to and inspired by COVID-19 restrictions. Basically, they say, it’s like curbside pickup of food-to-go, but for dance. The first, mid-April performance of Cooped-Up sold out almost instantly. …

“Crosby and Doell are among the many local artists finding front yard and window workarounds to the stay-at-home order and ban on gatherings.

“Earlier in March, artist Rachel Kessler and On the Boards director Betsey Brock staged a citywide performance titled ‘Going the Social Distance,’ for which they collected song requests (and home addresses) from participants, donned cheerful costumes and biked to people’s houses blasting the songs through Bluetooth speakers. Isolated fine art photographers are venturing out to photograph people from a safe distance either outdoors or behind windows. In late April, KEXP radio DJ John Richards started broadcasting live concerts from his front yard. …

“Cooped-Up deals explicitly with our new corona-colored reality. In seven different dances created collaboratively over Zoom, the participating dancers bring their personal quarantine experiences (and corresponding cocktail of emotions) to the makeshift stage. However whimsical, the show doesn’t shy away from expressing the loneliness and the boredom specific to this cultural moment. …

“On a Zoom call with production manager (and frequent collaborator) Ari Kaufman in late March, the duo wondered: ‘How can we make a live performance right now?’ Doell says. …

“When Doell, who is also a youth educator, noticed that cooped-up kids in her neighborhood had been hunting for the stuffed animals neighbors placed in windows as a way to pass the time, she wondered, ‘Maybe we can make kind of a dance teddy bear hunt?’ …

“These are not improvised performances. Everything is timed to the minute, if not to the second: when the first audience member’s car leaves; when they should arrive at the next location; where every car should theoretically be at each point in the performance; when the next song is supposed to start; and when each dancer resumes their short loop. ….

‘At any given time during the show, there are basically seven miniperformances happening simultaneously, Crosby says. That’s a lot to keep track of.

“During the five-hour run of the show, she sits in her room in West Seattle, headphones on, surveying multiple screens and spreadsheets like an air traffic controller. Meanwhile, pacing in his kitchen about a dozen miles away, production manager Kaufman has his phone at the ready, in case a car gets lost or runs into any trouble. …

“The dancers, including Doell, say [they] miss the collective warmups and preshow rituals, the murmur as the audience trickles into the theater. When they’re done, there’s no applause. It’s a new shade of loneliness. But also one that has Doell reconnecting with her neighborhood, she says.

“ ‘A lot of neighbors were poking their heads out and being like: “Wow, what is happening?” ‘ Doell recalls. …

” ‘Normally, the audience member’s job is to pay money and then sit face-forward in a dark room where their identity is masked,’ she says. [In this performance, they] have to figure out where to go. Follow the clues. Find the dancer. Park by the gray garbage bin, not the green one — and don’t knock it over while backing up. …

“[Audience member Barclay] hadn’t ventured outside her neighborhood for a long time. Driving through the city was a poignant reminder of something she already knew: So many people, in house after apartment after studio, were going through the same isolation, the same loneliness. But for a few hours, from the relative safety of her car, Barclay felt like she’d made a connection — rekindled the kind of mutual appreciation between dancer and audience that electrifies live performance.

” ‘It made me feel way less alone,’ she says.”

More here.

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tik-tok-videos

Photo: Natalie Bell
Natalie Bell and her kids, says CBC, “have been making Tik Tok and Instagram videos together to pass the time while they’re isolating at their home in Winnipeg, Canada.”

The other day, I took an online seminar on how to do TikTok. Just because. But even before I read today’s story, I was pretty sure you would need a teenager in the house to move to the next level. (Namely, the level beyond downloading the app.)

Rachel Bergen at CBC Manitoba writes, “Families cooped up together during the COVID-19 pandemic are turning to Netflix, board games and puzzles to get them through — but a few are going renegade and taking on TikTok dance challenges.

“Take Pat Tetrault and his three daughters in La Broquerie, Manitoba, who found they had an abundance of time on their hands and decided to use it making TikTok videos together.

” ‘They showed me a few TikToks that I thought were hilarious, so I said, “What the heck, let’s do something crazy. Let’s get something done,” ‘ he said.

“TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, with more than 800 million people around the world using the app regularly to create and share short videos. It’s mostly popular with teens, who often post videos of themselves taking on dance challenges. …

“Although Tetrault is still going to work, his daughters are home and isolated from their friends. It can be challenging, he said, but the videos are ways they can have fun together — and his daughters can make fun of their dad. …

“Making creative videos is a great outlet, says parenting commentator Ann Douglas. The parenting book author and columnist for CBC Radio says children and teens are likely feeling very vulnerable and out of control, so parents ceding control of activities allows kids to take a bit more ownership of a challenging situation.

” ‘I think it’s great to let kids take the lead on some of the activities because right now, a lot of kids are feeling like they’ve lost all control over their life,’ she said. … ‘One thing kids can control is coming up with a way to have fun.’

“Tetrault’s daughters control their TikTok videos and, apparently, his dance moves.

” ‘I’ll be honest with you. I’m old school. I’m not a big dancer. … The girls are teaching me all sorts of new stuff. … We’re actually getting closer because of it. … It’s a different avenue of connecting with them.’

“Natalie Bell is also making TikTok videos using her account @pegcitylovely with her children to pass the time.

‘We try to do things more now as a family than we ever have before because, of course, it used to be just the business of the day. … It’s just something fun. There’s no stress, there’s no pressure. It’s just if we want to do it, we do it,’ Bell said. ‘We have fun and we don’t care who sees it.’ …

“In Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Nellie Guimond, Alexa Haley and Lily-Jade Haley create daily videos on TikTok featuring their mother, Cindy Guimond, and their dad, Éric Haley — whom they are teaching to dance.

” ‘Showing this to the world, to our family and friends, was really entertaining for everyone, and everyone loved it. I think that’s the main reason for our little popularity … his goofy side that people didn’t think he would, or could, show,’ Nellie said in a CBC Quebec AM interview.

“Lily-Jade said making the videos keeps them happy and connected.

‘Sometimes we laugh about our dad, because he doesn’t get the moves right away,’ she said. …

“[Parenting commentator] Douglas said there are many creative ways parents can connect with their children during the pandemic, and they don’t need to use social media to do it.

“For example, it can be an opportunity to try new things in the kitchen and access a kind of ‘improvisational inspiration,’ she says. ‘What if you only have these five or six ingredients? And what could you Google and find a recipe for? And how might it really turn out?’

“For parents of craft-loving kids, Douglas suggests making signs with community-minded messages to put in the window for others to see.”

OK, but if you ask me, TikTok videos of dancing dads who don’t know how to dance sure beats signs in the window.

More at the CBC, here.

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harss_plainspoken_img_0

Photo: Timothy Norris
Choreographer Mark Morris is currently learning to make films remotely with his dancers. Above, he leads audience members in a sing-along at California’s Ojai Music Festival in June 2013. The image is from an article in the
Nation.

As we all try to learn new technologies to continue valued activities under social distancing, I’m noticing that some technologies turn out to be pretty hopeless while others will be a good addition to our repertoire. Figuring out why my sound system’s feedback was disrupting an ESL teacher’s online class wasn’t worth repeated failures. I contribute to the teaching other ways. But basic features of Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime have been great. Those are keepers.

In an example from the dance world, choreographer Mark Morris is teaching himself to make films with his quarantined dancers.

Sarah L. Kaufman writes at the Washington Post, “Choreographer Mark Morris says to his dancers. ‘Go as far away as you can in your room.’

“Morris, in a black T-shirt and a string of beads, peers through his reading glasses at his computer screen. Arranged around his own image in rows of little boxes he can see who’s on this recent videoconference call: his rehearsal director, music director and three Mark Morris Dance Group performers.

“Stuck at home like everyone else in New York, the dancers jog backward, past couches, beds and bookshelves, to the rear walls of their apartments. … It’s all he and his performers have to work with.

“Choreography in the age of covid-19 is hardly a graceful undertaking. Morris, the esteemed modern-dance artist whose company has performed to acclaim for more than 40 years, suddenly finds himself out of place in a world of seclusion. His profession depends on working closely with people, getting them to move exactly as he wants. But he’s determined to keep creating. No matter that the city’s quarantine makes gathering in a rehearsal studio impossible.

‘Now, let’s dance a little bit,’ he says. ‘Foot articulation is not important ’cause I don’t see that. What’s more interesting is swooshing’ — he swirls his hand in a serpentine movement — ‘and depth changing.’ …

“The three dancers in their separate squares whirl and glide into view with a smooth, floating quality, winding side to side as if drifting on wind currents. In his chair, Morris echoes their moves with his upper body, lifting his arms as they do. He gasps, he gapes. He sucks in a breath and runs a hand over his hair. Suddenly he waves frantically at the screen.

“ ‘Stop, stop!’ He grabs his head in his hands and pitches backward in his chair. Something has bowled him over — but what? Anguish, despair? Has he been horrified into silence by what he’s seen?

“The dancers wait, breathing hard. Finally the choreographer snaps himself upright.

” ‘That was great!’ he shouts, beaming.

“He adjusts his glasses and adopts a lilting Italian accent: ‘I feel like-a Federico Fellini.’

“That captures this weird, tilted reality perfectly. There is a certain hallucinatory, Fellini-esque quality to this scene, where a giant of the dance world struggles to master the same awkward video technology that remote office workers are using to teleconference. And where top dancers are limited to a few feet of floor space and bad lighting, using bathroom doors as stage wings. …

“Morris has retooled himself as a filmmaker. He began working on this dance last fall, devising the movements in his company’s spacious Brooklyn headquarters with a pianist and 15 dancers. He was nearly finished before shuttering the building last month. …

” ‘My job is irrelevant, if not obsolete,’ Morris says in a phone interview. … ‘The truth is,’ he continues, ‘I’m not making up a dance. I’m making a film. But I’m not an auteur, I don’t understand this technology.’ …

“The dancers have been taking company class every day on Zoom, and having weekly Zoom singing sessions and happy hours. But rehearsing with Morris — even with his tendency to tease them about their unmade beds — fulfills a deep-seated need. Gazing into his virtual studio, Morris appears to be comfortably in his element, scanning each face, each body, picking up every move and gesture, editing freely. No one escapes his focus.

” ‘Can you exit stage left or stage right?’ Morris asks the group. Christina Sahaida and Laurel Lynch slip out of view through nearby doorways, then simultaneously strut back in like Ziegfeld showgirls.

“ ‘Oh, my God,’ he exclaims, delighted. He leans in, like a scientist studying specimens under glass. …

“ ‘There will be more dance products coming from me,’ Morris says later. … ‘When I’m done with this I’ll start something else. Even though it’s not my medium.’ ”

More here. (There’s a firewall at the Post, but you can get a free subscription for a short period of time.)

Photo: Mark Morris Dance Group

DANCE-MORRIS

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Photo: Stephen Gosling/NBAE
The Wizdom is a dance team made up of exuberant and talented woman, no longer kids, who are good enough to dance at pro-basketball games.

I have listened to WBUR’s sports show Only a Game for years and was worried when host Bill Littlefield left. There was no need to worry. The program still excels at human-interest sports stories that draw in people like me as well as genuine sports fanatics.

Gary Waleik filed this one on some high-energy, over-50, pro-basketball dancers.

“Last year, Anna Cruse began to experience dread,” he writes. It was around the time her youngest was leaving for college, and she wondered what she would do with an empty nest. What was she good at? …

“To answer those questions, Anna Cruse had to look back at something she was good at four decades ago. In 1978, Anna Cruse was 21 years old. …

” ‘I was driving home from work one day and heard an ad on the radio for tryouts,’ Anna says. The NBA champion Washington Bullets were holding auditions for their dance team. ‘And I thought, “Hmmm … I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna go and try out.” ‘ …

“She made the 1978–1979 Washington Bullettes dance team.

” ‘All of it — the friendships and the performances, even the practice — it was all exciting,’ Anna says.

” ‘[But] in the fall of ’79, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.’ After a year of fighting, Anna beat the cancer and returned to her job as a word processing specialist, but not to the Bullettes. … Sometimes, when Anna watched dancers at an event or on TV, she’d remember how much she loved being one. …

“The years flew by, and Anna’s two oldest kids left their home in Greenville, South Carolina. Then, in March of 2018, the Washington Wizards held a 40th-anniversary celebration of the franchise’s only NBA title — from back in the days when they were still the Bullets.

” ‘And so they invited all the players back, and the coaches,’ Anna says. ‘And then any of the dancers through the years — I think there were about 60 of us — and we got to perform at this event. It sure reminded me of how enjoyable it was.’ …

“In early September, about a month after her daughter left home, Anna got an email. The Wizards were holding tryouts for a new dance team — or perhaps a new older dance team. It was for dancers 50 and older and was sponsored by the AARP. It would be called ‘The Wizdom.’ …

“In late September of 2018, undeterred by the eight-hour drive from her home in Greenville, she tried out for The Wizdom. … Anna had hardly danced over the previous 40 years. She says there were more than 80 dancers at the tryout, ranging in age from 50 to 76.

‘Absolute characters,’ Anna says. ‘Totally uninhibited. Comfortable in their own skin, and just entertaining folks.’ …

“Late one night, she got an email. … Anna Cruse had been chosen as one of the 20 members of the Wizdom over-50 dance team. …

“The Wizdom got just four practices in before their debut on Nov. 24, 2018.

” ‘The fans … so gracious. And the affirmation from them, and the excitement of the fans to this over-50, like, “What are these women out there doing?” Anna remembers. ‘When we came off the court that first game, I mean, these ladies were screaming and hugging.’ ”

More at Only a Game, here.

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