In a repeat collaboration, Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano partners with the dancers of Ballet Hispanico (BH) in the New York premiere of Carmen:maquia for the Company’s annual season at The Apollo, November 22. Founded in 1970 by Tina Ramirez and now lead by artistic director Eduardo Vilaro, BH celebrates 44 years as “…the nation’s premiere Latino dance organization.” In April 2014, Sansano first presented El Beso (The Kiss) in New York for BH to acclaimed reviews: “Full of bold, astute, unexpected choices…. Let’s see more from Mr. Sansano…” wrote The New York Times. And from The Star-Ledger, it “Reflect[s] archly upon human behavior…blend[ing] silliness with moments of pathos and genuine romance.” In 2012, danced by Luna Negra where Sansano served as artistic director from 2009-2013, the Chicago Sun-times hailed it as a “masterpiece.” Sansano is a recipient of many awards in choreography, and has been in demand for commissioned works, internationally. Nationally, he was named one of Dance Magzine’s “25 to Watch” in 2012, and “Chicagoan of the Year in Arts & Entertainment” by the Chicago SunTimes. Sansano responded to some questions about the making of Carmen:maquia for Ballet Hispanico.
Charmaine: The composer, Georges Bizet’s Carmen, much like Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, (The Rite of Spring), draws attention from many choreographers. What drew you to this story?
Sansano: It wasn’t actually that I thought I wanted to do Carmen, but every time I saw Carmen from other choreographers I always wondered how I would do it. I also think that there are some stories that talk to you, in a specific moment, for private reasons. For example, you like a song because something is happening to you that is related to the song. In that moment in time I was Don José [a soldier called to arrest Carmen for her alleged insolence and with whom she develops a complicated relationship], so I completely understood and I empathized a lot with him and I think all of those things made me achieve CARMEN.maquia.
Charmaine: Are there versions of Carmen (dance, music, opera) that inspire(d) you?
Sansano: So many times that I saw Carmen I never really understood the story. I’ve gone to about four different versions of the opera and in Chicago I saw the Lyric Opera present it too. So what I did is I took the opera and wrote my own script by what was happening and my own interpretation of what was happening and then I drew the story.
Charmaine: Were there challenges you faced, or gave yourself, when you decided to take on this historical work?
Sansano: The first challenge was aesthetic; not going with the old interpretation and what people think that Spain is. Then there’s the theatrical aspect, the acting. Most of the things that I did were not that literal, and for me one of the biggest challenges was to make people understand what was happening without any words or any lyrics of the opera because everything is just music.
Charmaine: How close is this work to you, given your Spanish roots and the Spanish origins of the Carmen?
Sansano: Until I actually searched for the story, I didn’t know about its Spanish origins. I knew the music; I saw a lot of versions. Probably the first version I saw with the music of Carmen was of the flamenco type with flamenco shoes. But the first time I saw a different Carmen that caught my attention was the [the late French choreographer] Roland Petit’s version. Even then, I was so involved with the dancing that I just wasn’t as interested in the story. I was interested in the dancing, the aesthetic, and those things.
Charmaine: Your work, including Carmen, has been described as a melding of contemporary dance and the “subtleties of the Spanish paso doble and flamenco…” Is this accurate?
Sansano: It’s everything that anybody thinks is accurate—one of the things that I like about choreography is that you don’t obligate anyone to believe anything. You’re just sharing something and they take it the way they want it and there’s a freedom in that, in the possibilities. The way I see it, especially after 2 years [since the premiere], if I tell you the story with words it will be different than you telling the story, so the only thing that I’m doing is telling this story with my own words. I didn’t try to be more flamenco or less flamenco, I was just telling the story. My vocabulary is influenced by Spanish dance but in CARMEN.maquia, it’s influenced by something weird. That’s what I mean by going back to the words—my words are my words.
Charmaine: Where does the extension of the title come from “maquia”?
Sansano: “Tauromaquia” is the art of bullfighting, and because we compare Carmen to a bull, we took bull, and put in “Carmen” to compose CARMEN.maquia.
Charmaine: How has it been to set the work on Ballet Hispanico?
Sansano: It’s been easy. I think it’s important for a work like CARMEN.maquia that each individual has his or her own personality already imprinted in his or her body, face. For example, I don’t think it would work completely in a ballet company where all the dancers are like clones because you wouldn’t see the differences between them. We would have to work a lot on the movements to create differences between the people, because the costumes are all white, and the set is pale, and the first thing that people see is the differences between the dancers and that is something that Ballet Hispanico has, and it’s really important. Find out more here
This weekend (October 17-19), Christal Brown’s four-movement evening-length work inspired by the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali, The Opulence of Integrity opens at The Kumble Theater. Opulence is performed by an all-male cast and incorporates elements of boxing, hip-hop, martial arts, modern dance, text by Ali and an original score by Farai Malianga. Michael Randazzo of The Brooklyn Eagle offers the following:
"The performance opens with Ali’s relationship with Malcolm X—whom the former Cassius Clay met while training for his 1964 title fight against reigning heavyweight champion Sonny Liston—depicting their relationship as a catalyst for the black power movement. Brown then explores Ali’s transformation from successful boxer into a world-renowned personality, the result of being sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000 for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. The series’ final movement documents Ali’s comeback, when he recaptured the heavyweight title and the public’s imagination for his masterful victories over Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman."
In an interview, Brown responded to some questions about the making of Opulence and more.
Charmaine: Where did the idea to make this work “inspired” by Muhammad Ali come from?
Christal: I was originally approached by the late Fred Ho to create choreography for his album entitled “The Sweet Science Suite.” After premiering a draft of that work at the Guggenheim Works in Process in November of 2011, Fred and I developed our own versions of the work. In developing The Opulence of Integrity I began to look at Ali not as inspiration but as a lens. I believe his life mirrors the struggle of so many men of color who have divine aspirations of greatness, but human shortcomings keep them from achieving their purpose. Ali was driven by a force that he could not explain or harness. That indomitable spirit is what the work is about.
Charmaine: What tools, if any, did you use in preparing your dancers during the process?
Christal: The process of creating Opulence began in 2011 with a solo called No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger. While working with Dante Brown at Bates Dance Festival to create this solo I often referenced my father who lost both his legs in the Vietnam War. The stories I shared with Dante became part of the framework for the larger story. My personal life had a direct connection to the causes Ali was fighting for. I then began to ask Dante and subsequent artist who entered the process to find a personal connection to an aspect or experience in Ali's life and bring the connection into the work. In addition, we watched documentaries on Ali, read through biographies, and talked at length about the commonalities we found within finding purpose in our own lives, striving for greatness, and falling victim to our own humanities.
Charmaine: There is an all-male cast, was this intentional because of the “boxer” Ali, or were there other parts of his life that may have included women that were not intended for this work?
Christal: When I was initially approached about the idea of Ali I was asked to use an all-male cast. Having had an all-female company for 10 years the idea was intriguing. But as I began looking at every aspect of Ali's life I began to see that women were his weakness. I decided to bring this to light in movement two, "Larger than Life." In movement two the audience gets a brief glimpse into Ali's “kryptonite” and how his weakness has the power to change him from extraordinary to ordinary.
Charmaine: What about the “social activist,” “public martyr,” and “human being,” that you mention in other interviews, for example, where do these titles fit, or not in your work?
Christal: All of these titles are relevant to the work. Opulence looks at Ali as a parallel figure to Malcom X during the black power movement and a voice for the people. His denouement of the Vietnam War caused him public humiliation and separation from his title, spiritual teachers, and colleagues. But throughout his life of triumphs, failures and illness he has remained true to himself as a vessel of opulence and integrity. In addition to the physicality of the work, Ali's words are given life by three speakers who use Ali's quotes to contextualize each movement.
Charmaine: What, if anything, has changed since Opulence premiered?
Christal: Since the beginning the intention has changed from singular to multiple narratives. The work is about Ali and everyone who lives a life of great purpose and does not feel the need to shirk or conform in order to reach their goals.
Charmaine: What do you hope audiences walk away with?
Christal: I want the audience to walk away knowing something about Ali that they didn't know before entering the theater and to be inspired to live a life of opulent integrity.
In the choreographer’s note from the program, Brown adds: “For me, The Opulence of Integrity is an exploration of the homogeneous inner struggle for identity as it pertains to men of color in the United States. Using the life and legacy of Muhhamad Ali as an archetype, I have been able to take an intimate look at the trappings that continually prohibit freedom. This work is dedicated to my father, brother, and uncle who fought but did not win and to my son who's battle has yet begun. Born branded by history, burdened by responsibility and inspired towards greatness requires a committed heart and an opulence of integrity.” Find out more here
Christal Brown (choreographer, educator, performer, writer and activist) is a native of Kinston, North Carolina, and received her BFA in dance and minor in business from the University of NC at Greensboro. Upon graduation, Brown went on to tour nationally with Chuck Davis' African-American Dance Ensemble and internationally with Andrea E. Woods/Souloworks. Immediately following those experiences, Brown performed with and managed Gesel Mason Performance Projects while apprenticing with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Maryland. Upon relocating to New York Brown, apprenticed with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company before finding a home with Urban Bush Women, where she spent three seasons as a principal performer, community specialist and apprentice program coordinator.
Aside from performing, Brown is the Founding Artistic Director of INSPIRIT, a performance ensemble and educational conglomerate dedicated to bringing female choreographers together to collaborate and show new work, expanding the views of women of all ages, and being a constant source of inspiration to its audience as well as members. Founded in 2000, INSPIRIT has been honored to show work at Aaron Davis Hall, St. Mark's Church, Joyce Soho, The Lincoln Theater of Washington, D.C., and various other venues across the country.
Combining her athleticism, creativity, love for people, and knack for teaching, Brown continues to teach and create works that redefine the art of dance and the structure of the field.
Brown is currently Assistant Professor of Dance at Middlebury College in Vermont, and has also been a resident artist of Dance New Amsterdam, Movement Research, and Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
My Q & A with Carmen DeLavallade for Baryshnikov Arts Center's "BAC Stories"
One of the must-see performances this weekend is Brice Mousset’s Oui Danse! Artistic Director/Choreographer, Mousset premieres Travailler: Act 1 & 2, Saturday, July 26 at Ailey CitiGroup Theater. Just one week after a successful run at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Inside/Out Series, New Yorkers will now get the chance to see what ignited audiences at The Pillow, as it is affectionately called.
Travailler takes its name from the French word for work and, according to Mousset, the work is inspired by the mentality of "survival of the fittest." Travailler is further described as “…showcas[ing] how the idea of success infiltrates and pollutes the mind, and portrays the circus of the business world, observing the compulsive behaviors of workers into their everyday routine with stress, repetition, competition and the desire for escape,” according to the release. As such, the movement is terse and direct, yet it leaves room for audiences to question their place as “survivors.” Mousset shares his thoughts on the performance at The Pillow and the upcoming performance at Ailey CitiGroup Theater.
Charmaine: Your Company just received a standing ovation at Jacob’s Pillow, what was that like?
Brice: It brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart! It is pure joy and also a relief! When I create a work, it always comes from personal experiences; from my life and my entourage [circle of acquaintances]. Showing my work always gives me the feeling of getting naked in front of everybody; revealing an intimate part of myself. On top of this, there is the hard work spent in studios, plus my dancers who bring a lot of who they are on stage. So, the standing ovation felt like the audience understood us and gave us so much love. It's just an incredible feeling of connecting and sharing with our audience!
Charmaine: Just one week after The Pillow, the New York premiere of Travailler will happen at Ailey CitiGroup Theater. What are your thoughts?
Brice: It's amazing!! What an experience to go from the prestigious Jacob's Pillow to Ailey CitiGroup in NEW YORK CITY! It's also going to be very interesting to go from the gigantic open space of The Pillow, back to a black box theater which is also full of history. Ailey is a completely different venue, with a completely different crowd. This is a great challenge for us. I can't believe how fast it's going!
Charmaine: How did the idea for Travailler come about?
Brice: Travailler came about in a dark place while observing my close entourage [circle of acquaintances] suffering. It is about the corporate world and the insanity that the idea of success can bring. I had, and still have, way too many friends and family members who are miserable in their everyday life at work. They suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, boredom from doing a job they don't like, is too demanding, or consumes them. They suffer from their relationships with their co-workers and/or bosses. It's a world still too often dominated by men, a world where differences are not easily accepted. The idea of success and profit kills the humanity in people. So, I wanted to make a sweet and sour satire that portrays this circus of the business world with exaggeration and a splash of humor. I am convinced that in the end it's all just an act that must be played, but we are all screaming for humanity and looking for love and compassion. Of course some people are very happy about their job, I just didn’t have much time to explore that side of the subject!
Charmaine: It’s been about one year since you began making Travailler and now there are two Acts. Is it complete? Are there more “Acts” in store?
Brice: Travailler is still a work-in-progress. There are aspects of it that I didn't have time to explore, or that I want to develop more, like the acceptance of differences (homophobia, racism and many more). There are also some props and technical elements that I had to give up in the process because it was too expensive and complicated to deal with for now. So yes, there is at least an Act 3 in store.
Charmaine: What goes through your mind now during these last few days of rehearsal?
Brice: Way too much is going through my mind! The pressure is up; it's in NYC, at Ailey, after a standing ovation at Jacob's Pillow. We can't disappoint, we have to be better, stronger. I have to get the best out of my beautiful dancers, as I try to make adjustment in my work to improve it as well. I also think of the lights, the costumes, the ticket sales, the publicity, the press, the very critical New York audience. But I also try to stay calm and enjoy the process, trusting my team who works so hard to make it happen!
Charmaine: What’s next?
Brice: On August 1st OUI DANSE is performing at Wassaic Dance Festival. I will also be working on a dance film with the Company. In September I will give workshops in Argentina, France, Romania and Italy. In October I will create an event for a fashion designer using OUI DANSE (but I can't say more yet), and in the fall I will be back in the studios with the Company to start a new work (we are still hoping to find a great residency to help the process). Then, in 2015, OUI DANSE will again perform French Amour, the 2nd work from the repertoire, and participate in different festivals.
For the Ailey CitiGroup performance, works from special guest artists Matthew Powell and Mike Esperanza are added to the program.
Here is a teaser of Travailler from previous performances.
Find out more here
For RIOULT Dance NY’s 20th anniversary season (June 17-22) at The Joyce Theater, Artistic Director/Choreographer Pascal Rioult will premiere Dream Suite, bring back key repertory works, and honor his mentors May O’Donnell and Martha Graham. “Program A,” titled Martha, May & me will highlight O’Donnell and Graham, plus two by Rioult, while Dream Suite and more from Rioult will be featured in “Program B.” Rioult and his wife, Associate Artistic Director Joyce Herring, both former Graham Dance Company principal dancers, lead the company of twelve dancers. With a repertoire of over 40 dances, as Rioult puts it, he continues to make work because of “…the urge.” Read on to hear Rioult speak candidly about this season, the works, some memories and what’s next:
What does it feel like to celebrate 20 years?
Most incredible. I never thought we would get here and keep growing as one of the most vibrant companies in New York. It is very rewarding in terms of the works created; but also the opportunities offered to the dancers.
Do you remember those early days/years, celebrating 5 years, for example? Can you share one or two mile-stone memories or anecdotes?
Yes I do remember the early years; they felt very exciting, but so uncertain. But I always looked to grow the company to a “mainstream” dance company. From the beginning I used to say that either it would become a “full-fledged” dance company, or it will not.
Our invitation to the Cannes International Dance Festival in France after only 3 years of existence is a major memory; making us believe that we could have an international career.
Our first Joyce Theater “All Together Different” season, after 6 years was another major recognition; a test of things to come.
What brings you to that place each year to want to make a new work? What is that like?
Well … it is what I do, what I love to do, what I am meant to do (as my mentor Martha Graham used to tell us: “You do not choose to become a choreographer, you are chosen”. So … What can I do? After I tried my hand at it, there was no choice and, if it is not easy every day, there is nothing else I would want to do and no other people I would want to spend my days with but my dancers. Meanwhile, I try to not take it (myself) too seriously … every day, I just go to work. And I hope it will make a very small difference.
Program B features Wien (1995), Iphigenia (2013), and the premiere, Dream Suite to music by Tchaikovsky, but that’s all we know. Can you tell us more about Dream Suite?
The new work “Dream Suite” is a whimsical piece inspired by the spirit of Chagall. It is new territory for me as I am not known for whimsical or light hearted works. The central movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite #2 is called “Child’s dream” and it gave me the clue about what the piece would be about. There is also a definite folk feeling to the piece that fits Tchaikovsky’s music, and it is uncharted territory for me. The dreams are surreal landscapes; some inhabited by contemporary people with animal heads. One of the attraction (and challenge) for me was to see if I could do something different to this highly romantic and balletic music.
Program A is colored with connections from your past (“Martha, May” - Graham’s El Penitente (1940) and O'Donnell's Suspension (1943)? Plus early works by you (“Me”- Black Diamond (2003) and Views of the Fleeting World (2008)).
Why these iconic works? And why the pairing with these particular works from your past?
The idea was to honor my roots in American modern dance and say: “I did not invent anything, I am just building upon a shared past … Nothing is born out of a void, all transforms”. Those two works are iconic for me: Suspension was a shock to me as it was the first totally abstract dance I had ever seen. My Black Diamond was a turning point for me in trying to make poetry with abstraction. El Penitente is a work that I loved to dance for Martha as it is so simple, primitive yet shows brilliant craftsmanship from which I learned so much. It is also the work I danced at the Paris Opera and performed with my wife Joyce Herring and Michael Baryshnikov. Lots of great memories.
What keeps you making work?
In our ever-challenging world of art-making what do you hope for your work and your company’s future?
To stay alive for at list another 20 years, to stay vibrant and changing while keeping to a high professional and human standards.
RIOULT Dance NY opens this Tuesday, June 17. Find out more here
Read more about the works below
Award-winning New York/Zimbabwe dancer/choreographer, Nora Chipaumire presents the world premiere of rite riot, a two-part work, October 3 -5 as part of the French Institute: Alliance Française’s (FIAF) Crossing
the Line Festival at FIAF’s Le Skyroom, 22 East 60th Street (between Park and Madison Avenue).
Without a doubt, Nora is one of the most daring and note-worthy performers in dance today. For this new work, Nora joins the long list of dance-makers as they celebrate the centenary of composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky’s revolutionary work, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) which premiered in Paris by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on May 29, 1913, at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Remembered as causing an incredulous riot among the affluent in Russia because it dared to present paganism, revolt, rivalry, sacrifice and abject passion at a time when ballet was not seen as such, Sacre as it was affectionately
called, was the cause for uproar in the dance world. Reportedly influenced by the myth about the power of the Russian pagan spring, Stravinsky set out to tell the tale in three parts: The Awakening of Nature to the thawing of earth, the Adoration of the Earth (with fertility rites that bring forth spring), and the eventual climax wherein a maiden dances (sacrifices) herself to death as she propitiates to the God of spring. Today, Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring is revered as a legendary ballet of the 20th century; a riot that is forever remembered. Nora will perform part one of her solo rite riot created in collaboration with Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole, a Crossing the Line 2011 artist, and Kenyan-born visual artist Wangechi Mutu.
Nora shared some thoughts on this new work:
Charmaine: That is a fabulous photo of you by Antoine Tempe! Does it say anything about Nora, or the work? Or is it just a fabulous photo of you?
Nora: The photo says everything about Nora, the work, and equally says as much about Antoine and about the
chemistry between the camera /object - photographer /sitter relationship. It also says what the attitude of the choreographer is to herself, and to whoever should gaze back at her. The old adage, “A picture says a thousand words,” [in this case] is true. We [Antoine and I] call [the photo] “Grace” after the fabulous [singer,
model and actress] Grace Jones. But it might as well be [Pablo Picasso’s] “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon!”
Anyway, it makes you ask, “Who has the power”? “Who is beholding whom”?
I love the “so-what-ness" of it. You know I am a disciple of Miles Davis!
Charmaine: With the world already celebrating the centenary of The Rite of Spring, what made you want to
make a version?
Nora: [The Rite of Spring is a] …ritual of spring, as it is celebrated, conjured, invented, described, manufactured by Stravinsky and Nijinsky. This innovative opportunity is something every creative mind is gunning for; the real deal, a falsehood that is true. I wanted to participate (un/commissioned), in this
celebration. I want to shout my praise to these daring Russians. I wondered if I could dare to make a rite myself. So I am attempting a riot instead. I think I could manufacture a riot; “occupy my body" type thing. I
cannot invent a pagan past, [but] I want to invent a pagan present.
Ayodele Casel is one of my favorite hoofers of all times. Lucky for us she is one of the five that are part of Savion Glover’s STePz currently at The Joyce until July 6. The other talented tap dancers are Marshall Davis Jr., Robyn Watson and Sarah Savelli. Ayodele was kind enough to answer some questions about her time with Glover as a young dancer and now in the current show. (Please see her bio at the end).
Charmaine Warren (CW): How long have you been working with Savion?
Ayodele Casel (AC): Savion and I first started working together in 1997 when he created N.Y.O.T.s (Not your ordinary tappers). As a group we toured the country and the world for 3 years consecutively. It was one of the best times of my life. I was so young, and young in the dance as well. I loved that time period because I learned so much. Everything was exciting and inspiring. I was learning at every moment from the absolute best people in this art form. Savion, Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, Gregory Hines, my peers, Dianne Walker, Brenda Bufalino, to name a few. It was a magical time. Really.
CW: Do you remember when you first met Savion? What was that encounter like?
AC: Baakari Wilder, a beautiful dancer from Maryland who was attending NYU at the same time I was, introduced me to Savion. Baakari had been mentoring me for about a year and he was so generous from the start. His love of the art form cemented my interest, love, and respect for Tap dancing as an art and it changed how I viewed putting my tap shoes on from the very first moment I saw him shuffle at Fazil's studio on 8th avenue. I remember him telling me he was working on a show with Savion for The Public Theater and I said: "Does it have tap dancing in it?!" LOL. I was so naive. I hadn't seen anything in recent times that included Tap dancing the way I was learning it. He said " Yes, definitely". Needless to say when I saw "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" at The Public, my life changed forever. That show was brilliant, on so many levels. It spurred a movement, in my opinion. I was introduced to Savion outside of the Ambassador Theater one afternoon once the show transferred to Broadway. I remember Baakari was looking forward to Savion meeting me. It felt like he was a proud teacher. It was a very casual encounter but by this time I had been coming to see the show almost every day and I was soaking up all of the information being poured out nightly. I had developed somewhat of a reputation for knowing the choreography without being in the show—I was so obsessed with it. At the time, Savion used to do these concerts at Nuyorican Poets Cafe and at the end of the show he'd open up the floor to the dancers in the audience. One night I was itching to express myself and I took the floor and I think it was that particular evening his interest was piqued. I remember he asked me to prepare a 4-bar phrase for him to see in the near future. I didn't know where he was going with it but I was so excited and so nervous to do something good. Ironically, to this day, he has never asked me for that 4-bar phrase lol!! But our first encounter was very casual, he was very genuine and I was thrilled to meet this electrifying and magnetic dancer who was clearly anointed with something divine.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a faculty member at Hunter College, Kean University, Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member of The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."