SEE THE SHOW | Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert

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Yeah, that’s right. I’m writing about a show that I’m in. (OK, technically I was in the UNCC Faculty Show; this time I’m presenting – and previewing – my own work.) But it was bound to happen. Even when one ventures out of the bustling metropolis of Charlotte (kidding) to the smaller, artsier city of Durham (not kidding), the pool of dancers and dance stuff is still relatively small. Also, this show is really freaking great, so… yeah.

Last summer, in Frankfurt, Germany wrapping up my second summer in the MFA Dance Program at Hollins University, I think I was a little homesick and happened to check the NC Dancers Facebook page. I noticed a call for submissions by Tobacco Road Dance Productions and the deadline was in a day or two. Having only planted the seeds of my final thesis work over the preceding weeks, I quickly composed a submission based on a dance I had not even started and just an inkling of a vision (which ended up changing all together in the following weeks). Shortly after returning home, I was surprised and elated to receive an email of acceptance to the showcase, especially since I had very little idea as to what I was doing.

But that’s how TRDP founders and co-directors Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck and William Commander like it. They don’t want polished pieces that have been tried, tested, and performed out the wazoo; TRDP looks for raw material, or works to rework. Six selected choreographers participate in four choreography workshops from September to March, during which three panelists (this year Jessi Knight, Amy Love Beasley, and Anjanée N. Bell) “offer critical feedback on the work so far, and the entire TRDP community [discusses the] process, results, and the experience of each dance.” Woodbeck and Commander have crafted an inspiring and ingenious way of curating a diverse, yet cohesive professional dance concert. The integrated feedback process ensures a high-caliber show without making it homogenous. The TRDP format “translate(s) into more thoughtful, developed dance makers within our growing Triangle dance community.” I’m honored to be sort of a satellite cog in the Triangle dance network, being the only choreographer not living in the Raleigh / Durham / Greensboro area.

17311300_1004910972975915_1748731370405136762_oAnother great thing TRDP does is hold auditions for choreographers who need bodies, and this year’s open call rendered dancers for two group pieces on the bill. Marsha Thomas’ Over and Next is “a study of life as we, the dancers, see it, feel it, and live it in the moment.” Thomas and I danced together in Queen City Jazz Company years ago, and I was delighted to once again see the fluid, risky, and whimsical physicality of her work. Set to an earthy selection by Michael Wall, this pattern-oriented piece is the largest in the show with nine dancers. Thomas says that Over and Next “waits, holding steadfast to its creation and then quickly flows infinitely towards its own destruction. It pulses by enfolding and unfolding through the entire body and through the dancers’ physical relationship individually and as a whole being.” Whoa.

Jade Poteat’s quintet, I am deliberate, “explores the moment when you can no longer hide your identity, your politics, or yourself.” Created in response to recent personal and political events, Poteat’s work is “about knowing when your identity makes you more or less privileged than those around you, about making safe spaces for folks who are targeted with personal and systematic hate and violence because of their identities.” The deliberate dancers exude sass, strength, and support to music by Jude Casseday and their own recorded voices offering a poem by Mary Oliver. According to Poteat, “It’s about banding together when our lives and livelihoods, rights and freedoms are threatened.” Preach.

16422263_972820029518343_2603689830899733065_oHypnagogiacs, a duet between The Bipeds artistic director Stacy Wolfson and Banjo player Curtis Eller, is not the typical girl-dances-man-plays-music collaboration. Wolfson sings and Eller moves, both with the confidence and craft of seasoned double threats. The haunting duet “deals with the mysterious threshold between sleeping and waking,” and their curious cat-and-mouse relationship creates a “space where phenomena such as lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis and hallucinations are apt to transpire.” Watching it, I don’t want to wake up.

The third annual TRDP concert features two solos, both utilizing text in very different ways. Dana Livermore’s The Ogre’s Wife: for love of features music by Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, but don’t let the cheery connotation fool you. Livermore is wonderfully gross and purposefully unsettling, conjuring an alter-ego who spits at the notion of demure femininity and unconditional happiness. Anna Barker, a mover who I could watch for days, has made a dance about making a dance. Her recorded voice all too familiarly narrates the stream of uncertainties, revelations, and distractions that any choreographer experiences. Both solos are deliciously funny-not-funny.

Oh, and my piece, Moving In, is an exploration of the potentially interconnectedness of dance and meditation. For months I’ve been researching the intriguing and multifaceted relationship of movement & stillness, experience & performance, and sensation & spectacle. Hopefully this quartet version of my thesis work (the final piece will have six dancers) yields an interesting and accurate representation of what has been consuming my life for the better part of a year. Obviously I’m not very good at describing it, so I’ll just leave the cliché but fitting words of Rumi here: “In order to understand the dance one must be still. And in order to truly understand stillness one must dance.”

Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert 2017 is a really freaking great show, and the being a part of the culminating process makes it all the more gratifying. Triangle friends, I hope to see you there (and for drinks!) and Charlotte friends, Durham is just over two hours away. Get out there, check out some amazing dance by some amazing people you may not know, and walk the talk of supporting North Carolina grown art.


Tobacco Road Dance Productions: In Concert
Friday, April 14th at 7:00pm | Saturday, April 15th at 2:30 pm & 7:00 pm.
$15 General Admission | $13 Students & Seniors
Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theatre (120 Morris St. Durham, NC 27701)

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SEE THE SHOW: The Birth

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As a faculty member at Charlotte Ballet, I enjoy the perk of getting comp tickets to all of the academy and company shows throughout the season, including The Nutcracker. The Christmas classic got $1 million total makeover this year, promising grand new sets and dazzling costumes. Even so, I gave my tickets to a friend to take her daughter, just as I do every December. The Sugar Plum Fairy, Drosselmeyer, and the rest of the sparkly (albeit blatantly appropriated) candy cane land are just not part of my holiday tradition, and they’ll enjoy it more. However, there is another, slightly less glamorous, wintertime show that I never miss – The Birth by Starving Artist Productions.

Last night I saw The Birth for I belIEVE the sixth year in row. Local actor/director Nathan Rouse conceived, developed, and adapted the writings of of Fredrick Buechner for the stage eleven years ago, and has been producing The Birth at the Duke Energy Theater for most of the last decade (after a few years of performing in homes and churches). The cast consists of two actors (Rouse and James K. Flynn), a handful of musicians, and one dancer, Kate Micham (Rouse’s sister, who has also been part of The Birth since its inception). In full disclosure, Micham is one of my bestest friends and company dancers, and I may have had a hand in choreographing her Birth solos a few years ago, so I’ll try to be as objective as I can (and not feel weird about calling her by her last name).

The Birth is a barebones production. There are no sets, just some chairs on the stage for extra seating or audience members who want to get closer to the action. The whole cast wears simple black shirts and jeans or a dress, and there are no microphones or electric instruments. The intimacy of the Duke Energy Theater perfectly houses the welcoming warmth one immediately feels upon walking into the space, accompanied by the sounds of Jonsi (thanks, Kate). The players and content of the show are what fill the space, and sometimes they they overflow. All three components of The Birth (acting, music, and dancing) are polished, genuine, and unassuming.

I won’t spoil too much, but it’s about the birth of a certain baby boy in a certain manger a long time ago, as told by three different auxiliary characters. Flynn sets the tone as the grandfatherly storyteller and Rouse exquisitely delivers all three monologues. Music and dance weave throughout the tale, one element never overshadowing the other two, but each one shining brightly in its own time. Flynn speaks as if he is old friends with everyone in the room, and Rouse is powerful as he is adaptable (kudos for keeping character while that pesky fire alarm went off, brah). Kate, I mean Micham, moves big in the small space, effortlessly balancing strength and sweetness, per usual. The music, played by Seth Dresser, Chris Pittman, Westley Renner, and Jessica Hahn, is lovely and lingering. All songs are original to The Birth, except one Christmas standard at the end, which still feels contemporary enough to not feel like Contemporary Christian music. My only wish would be to bring back some of the spirited volume of Births past, as the tunes got a little too soft at times. Namely, I missed the vocal prowess of Sarah DeShields, one of the original music writers and performers.

There’s not much more I can tell you about The Birth that you don’t 1) already know or 2) shouldn’t know before going, but I can tell you this… it’s beautiful. I don’t use that word to describe much, as beauty is such a subjective beast. But if this girl – an atheist with Buddhist tendencies, whose ties to Christianity boil down to doodling and giggling with my sister in the pews, attending church retreats for the sole purpose of getting into trouble with my friends, and the reminiscently sweet taste of communion holding me over till lunch. If someone like me giddily looks forward to The Birth every year, I think you might like it a little. And I don’t go just to support my friend (although that would be reason enough); I delight in the week it rolls around because for any Birth regulars, and certainly the cast, the holiday season has not started until Flynn and Rouse walk out on that blackest of black box stages and hug. I love this show because AND despite the fact that I get a lump in my throat and try to hide my wet eyes like the too-cool-for-school Grinch I am EVERY FUCKING TIME. You don’t have to believe in, know anything about, or love Jesus to enjoy The Birth. You don’t have to go to church, but you should be comfortable sitting in a theater full of nice, decent people who happen to be churchgoers. You don’t have to have faith in ANYTHING, except maybe art and humanity, and I think we could all use a resurrection of that, especially now.

At the talkback after the show, I asked Nathan (’cause we’re friends too) what changed over the last twelve months. In the program notes last year, it sounded like The Birth might not live on past its tenth anniversary, in a tired and swan-songy voice. This year he wrote:

I know we need this. If you’re here, it would seem you did as well, whether you knew it or not. I won’t spoil the mood by openly reflecting on the troubles of 2016, but if Art has any meaning, if Faith is to have any meaning, then they mean something in relation to the world outside our front door. And to the world on the other side of our own little worlds. It all means something. It all matters.

Yes, Nathan, Kate, and all the Starving Artists, past, present, and future. It matters that we make art when times are not just tough, but downright tragic. It matters that we create when the nights are so long and dark we can even imagine the light of tomorrow. It matters that, as Nathan pointed out, you performed on the evening of the Sandy Hook shooting four years ago, and honored the memorial in parking lot of Spirit Square last night. Thank you for the gift of The Birth this and every December, although I know you won’t take full credit for it. Thanks for welcoming me, a cynical and jaded realist, to your beautiful production season after season. Cheers to next year’s show, and getting through whatever lies before.. together.


Until then, you’ve got two more chances to catch The Birth this year:

Friday & Saturday, December 16 & 17 @ 7:00pm
Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square
BUY TICKETS HERE (looks like they’re going fast!)

SEE THE SHOW: UNCC Faculty Dance Concert

Most concerts on a university campus showcase work produced or performed by undergraduate students. But next weekend the UNC Charlotte Department of Dance will present two nights of work choreographed by professors E.E. Balcos, Rachel Barker, Kim Jones, and Tamara Williams. The Faculty Dance Concert will also feature musical selections by  the department’s new music director, Shamou. Performers on the concert include guest dancers from Charlotte and beyond, as well as other faculty members, ensuring two diverse and well-crafted evenings of dance.

E.E. Balcos, in collaboration with music director Shamou, presents Ancestral Tides: A Contact & Music Improvisation. This 15-minute work is performed in three sections of improvised contact dance and electronic and acoustic music. Additionally, microphones suspended above the stage will capture the dancers’ vocalizations, blurring the lines between musician and mover. Also featuring Anthony Oliva, a former member of Pilobolus Dance Theater, this integrative performance is a tribute to the people of Balcos’ and Shamou’s respective ancient tribes.

Rachel Barker’s Welcome follows a stream-of-consciousness format, a result of revealing physical, sensory, and cognitive attentions that occur at any given moment. For this piece, Barker’s rehearsal process focused on awareness in improvisation and performance and embracing vulnerability. This trio, funded by the UNCC Faculty Research Grant, is performed by Juliana Tilbury-Carson (director and founder of PLEXUS dance) and two UNC Charlotte dance alumni: Caitlyn Swett (co-founder of Triptych Collective and independent Winston-Salem based artist) and Audrey Baran (director and founder of Baran Dance… hey that’s me!).

Two solos will make their Charlotte premiere on the concert. Kaddish revisited by Kim Jones, régisseur for the Martha Graham Resource Center, is based on the Jewish prayer of mourning. Choreographed in reaction to 9/11 and recent events in Syria and inspired by the work of early modern dance choreographer Anna Sokolow, Jones will perform to live music on violin and piano by guest artists Ludovica Tassani and Andrea Giovanni Lucchi. New Assistant Professor of Dance, Tamara Williams will present “Of the Past”, a section of a larger work, Morning Honeysuckle, Sunday’s Greed (2012). Exploring the history and ongoing injustices of African Americans in the United States, this piece is an affirmation that the current status of black lives is an echo of what has occurred in the past.

A poo-poo platter of artistry, the UNCC Faculty Dance concert presents a variety of movement and musical styles. The works presented are as diverse as the choreographers themselves, but the show is bound by the thoughtful intention, innovative creative practices, and overt professionalism behind every piece. UNC Charlotte is often forgotten in the view of Charlotte’s performance art community; it just seems so far away. But as an alumni, occasional adjunct lecturer, and performer in this contemporary dance concert, I can vouch that the 15-minute drive is well worth it. Some of the most avant-garde thinkers, movers, and makers are born in an academic setting, and UNC Charlotte is no exception. So take a leap, jump on North Tryon (eventually the Light Rail!) and check out what’s happening in the arts at your hometown university.

UNCC Faculty Dance Concert
September 16-17 @ 7:30pm
Robinson Hall for the Performing Arts
9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223

TICKETS: $18 general admission / $12 UNC Charlotte faculty, staff, and alumni / $10 seniors / $8 all students. Buy online or call 704-687-1849.