Archive for March, 2009

Fieldwork in Northern Kenya

Friday, March 13th, 2009



Samburu welcome

Samburu welcome

Turkana women's presence is strong; the chanting, sometimes overpowering

Turkana women


Recent fieldwork in northern Kenya took me to Samburu District where, over the course of several days, I was fortunate to view Samburu- and Turkana-traditional dancing. I paid for the viewing; videotaping and photography were both allowed.

The dancing reminded me (a bit) of the days I spent, 15 years ago, practicing with the National Dance Theatre of Kenya in Nairobi. Those dances were mostly coastal in origin. Working with such artists was both an honor and a privilege.

Each day, I was reminded of the tremendous challenges the dancers faced as food providers, as well as emerging artists. Never were the challenges so great as now, with much of the country facing starvation (see The fact that such brilliant dancers continue to practice their craft, and thus, protect cherished traditions, is reason to hope that their work may some day be valued appropriately in the cash economy in which we are all enmeshed.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s NEW WORKS

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I am quite fortunate to write reviews for Dance International and Dance Magazine, although there is the occasional blog here (see ( ), and below. 

The following is a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s New Works, which played November 6-16, 2008 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle. Basically, Bravo! Brava! It is dedicated to our fallen hero, “Tuba guy.”


Pacific Northwest Ballet’s fall program, New Works, featured much new talent. It was a delight to see two casts, in two different locations in the theater. From the dress circle, Mark Morris’s impressive opening for A Garden is that much more visible.

This irreverent piece, with its constantly changing partners, mélange of costume colors and fabrics, and odd gestures requires performers to move with a sense of humor and whimsy. Morris’s trademark folk steps are there — and set dances (a tightly-set pavane, say). But he works the movement so differently – battements that ripple through and among those on stage, sissones that seem to catch the dancers by surprise, and a finale that has an “aw, shucks” feel to it, as if the dancers were saying, “ok, we’ve been through a lot, but now we’re at the end and there’s much to be happy about.”

The piece has its soft moments, which provide a nice counter to Richard Strauss’s allegro music.  At one point, dancers flex their hands as if barely skimming the air.  In another tender moment, Rachel Foster and Josh Spell dance smartly to the sweet and rarely-heard sounds (outside of Nutcracker) of the Celeste.

A Garden challenges all of the dancers to not take themselves too seriously, to really throw their weight around, and to master the wacky dynamics. The trio of Stacy Lowenberg, Kylee Kitchens, and Brittany Reid ably met this challenge, as did Carla Korbes and Olivier Wevers in their stylish duet – chests opening on every turn with both lightness and grace. Kaori Nakamura was radiant, with long line and admirable  twists into unusual shapes, and quick – now she’s on the stage, now she’s off. Foster, so comfortable in contemporary works, was at ease throughout.

M-Pulse showcased the inspired moves of PNB’s Kiyon Gaines set to a challenging score by emerging composer Cristina Spinei. Spinei’s music features many exposed instruments, including piano and other percussion. In this first repertory work for the company, Gaines uses a smattering of principals and soloists, relying mainly on the very talented corps. The dance moves quickly. Each beat of music provides the impulse for the movement – a roller coaster of percussive music punctuated with some occasionally sweet-sounding chords.

Costumes are sparkling – floral prints and gold bodices designed by Mark Zappone, but it’s the dancers’ temperaments that shine — Foster and Benjamin Griffiths’ wildness, Jordan Pacitti’s quickness and calm, Lindsi Dec’s liveliness, with Carrie Imler functioning as the human metronome of the dance, guarding all tempi, and Andrew Bartee (in another cast) its MC, its life and soul.

The work combines bossa nova with step dance, jazz squares with neoclassical posturing, and presents certain motifs, for example, a huge battement, fully controlled – suggesting that anything is possible. With arms wildly circling and other frenzied activity, the believable pairings of Spell and Kitchens, Kari Brunson and Pacitti, and Leslie Rausch and Karel Cruz tell us that this is so.

Also delightful was New York City Ballet’s Benjamin Millepied’s debut work for the company, 3 Movements. Part ballroom dance, part neo-classical,  the dance is a fine mix of moods. It sits well with the company, as evidenced by a stunningly nuanced Maria Chapman (reminiscent of the incomparable Louise Nadeau) to the exuberant and confident new apprentice, Margaret Mullin. Korbes and Batkhurel Bold provide some welcome quiet but bold movements in the piece.

One Flat Thing, Reproduced, William Forsythe’s problematic for how to dance in a confined space (a set of metal tables fills the stage), premiered at PNB in Seattle in March, 2008. Described as “team choreography,” it has the feel of competing squads. The chaotic work, set to composer Thom Willems’ score of construction sounds, startles with something as ordinary as the women moving to and fro — sliding on the tables like the cartridge of a typewriter.

In this pas de quatorze, especially memorable moments were the thrilling glides of Wevers, Nakamura, and James Moore, and the cautious approach then ballistic battement of Jonathan Poretta and Rausch (moving their Gumby-like hips), as well as the magnetic presence of Lucien Postlewaite and Jerome Tisserand.

This was a hopeful dance, as were the other pieces on this imaginative program – perhaps fitting given the seriousness of its tribute. The program was dedicated to Edward McMichael (1955-2008), who regularly performed popular tunes on his tuba outside the Seattle Opera House. “Tuba guy,” as he was known, died tragically in November. His serenading of patrons as they streamed into the theater will be forever remembered.  

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Bellingham Stars – the joy of dancing

Friday, March 13th, 2009
Bellingham Stars in debut concert

Bellingham Stars in debut concert

Finding balance in dance is about identifying what you like to do best, and then finding the most supportive places to do it. One of the most joyous events I witnessed this past year was in Bellingham — a showcase of Ballroom Dance, performed at U & Me Dance Studios there. For those classically-oriented purists, ballroom dance can be an absolute eye-opener to the truly affirming power of dance.


Living in Italy now, we have not yet found such comfortable, proficient places (although we’ve had a few false starts). I’ve had the best luck with a small dance studio – SAD, just down the street from where I live in Florence. There, the 40-year olds dance on pointe, even the men. It’s a wondrous sight.