Thursday, August 16, 2007

New York International Fringe Festival

(my 1st press pass with the many brochures I received with it)

For the past week I have been assigned to review dance performances at the 11th Annual New York International Fringe Festival for this off-Broadway website called Not only do I get to attend any number of free shows at my will but I get to voice my opinion and get paid for it! This week has given me a glimpse into the arts critic’s life I aspire to have (I even received my first official “press pass”!) See my published reviews here, here, and here.

Being a ballet fanatic, the only performances I’ve been to since coming to the city have been strictly ballet. Of course I’ve been to Broadway shows and even a couple of modern performances, but after seeing the avante-garde kind of performances at the Fringe Festival it is clear how limited my, and perhaps that of much of the ballet world, exposure to the broad realm of dance theater really is.

The shows I’ve seen have been extremely out of the ordinary. One major difference between these and traditional dance performances is the use of multi-media and technology. Of the 3 productions I reviewed, all of them made extensive use of video and 2 used computer generated images. I think this epitomizes what’s coming in dance in the 21st century.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the special effects and loud visuals distract from the actual dancing. No matter how talented they are the dancers can get lost in the flashiness, especially if they are positioned against or beside a film screen in a way that forces the audience to decide to watch only one or the other.

In a world where audiences for dance, especially ballet and modern, are already dwindling it makes sense to attract newer, younger crowds to performances with different media. But since our society is constantly drowning in media it seems a shame to overshadow something as precious as dance.

These kinds of audiences are exactly what the Fringe Festival invites, with $15 tickets and downtown location and atmosphere. The venues (including 19 off- and off-off-Broadway theaters) are small, and the number of attendees even smaller. It was interesting, though, to get a glimpse of the community that appreciates these kinds of performances. After each of the shows I attended I was surprised to hear fellow viewers discussing the work in depth, as if they were close friends rather than complete strangers as they actually were. People were far more open to opinion than conversations I’ve overheard at other ballet performances. I suppose these pieces leave more to the imagination.

All in all my experiences with the Fringe Festival have been really amusing. I’ve really enjoyed my new exposure to various companies and types of dance (Japanese hiphop, anyone?) and what’s even better is that I’ve been given the opportunity to challenge myself and write about them in a critical format. Just another day in the life of an aspiring dance writer!

(FringeCENTRAL - headquarters of the Fringe Festival downtown)

[If you’re located here in the city I strongly encourage you to attend one of these shows - any show! - as part of the NY Fringe Festival! You really haven’t seen anything ‘til you’ve been to the Fringe. It runs through August 26 at various theaters, with its home base at FringeCENTRAL, located in the Village on Carmine Street at Varick. See Fringe website for show times and descriptions. Also see NY Times coverage here]

NY Int'l Fringe Festival - Anna & the Annadroids

My third and final review of the NY International Fringe Festival for was of a very interesting show. I was in more of a hurry trying to write this one as opposed to the others because they were trying to get my a press kit (but didn't...) so I didn't write an extended version. Below is the one that will be published (see here).


“Anatomical Scenario is an unconventional dance theater company exploring the art in artificial,” reads the program from the Ohio-based company’s August 15 performances of Anna and the Annadroids: Clone Zone at the Linhart Theatre. Unconventional is an understatement.

The multi-media enhanced dance production follows a narrative of 5 robot girls battling through the videogame inspired world of Anna’s mind (named after company director Anna Sullivan). Supposedly based on psychologist Carl Jung’s psychoanalytical model of the psyche, the scenes resemble those in a mental hospital.

The girls walk around pigeon-toed, twitching and bouncing as the music sings repetitive lyrics like, “Free your addictions” with a video-projected background of a storm of raining pills. In one section the girls run in place before a moving road, similar to the old race car Nintendo games, while a computer generated voice complains about her needs: everything from Prozac and running shoes, to couples therapy, and an internet love match.

Perhaps this is a comment on the overindulgence of society, seeing as Sullivan’s work claims to “explore interior disorders by exaggerating and manifesting them externally. The mission is accomplished through interrogating and critiquing the conventions of a social order that celebrates robotic conformity and idealizes a plastic-souled way of life.” Through the integration of film, dance, and technology generated graphics the show succeeds in making bold statements about humanity and its dysfunctions.

Although the show is extremely entertaining, it is difficult to imagine it being presented in a venue other than the Fringe Festival due to its take on mental illness, innate quirkiness, and near nudity. Sullivan is informative in her visual explanations of psychiatric disorders through video demonstrations of the occurrences in the brains of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. However after each segment the words pass by sarcastically: “Treatment: Take Drugs.”

The nature of the production calls for dancers to have flawless timing and energy so as not be usurped by the flashy commotion of the background film. They surpass these expectations, remaining fully in character as they demonstrate strength and skill. The choreography is full of angular movements and headstands, lending itself nicely to the music and lyrics.

The technical aspects of the production are outstanding. Elaborate costumes are changed often, while the clown-white makeup and glittery eyelashes remain a constant. The lighting and video create the sense of being enclosed in a videogame. The audio blends well with the action. It is these factors that truly steal the show and make it a must-see for Fringe audiences.

NY Int'l Fringe Festival - Orientarhythm

I had to do a second review of the NY International Fringe Festival for See published review here. I was again limited to 400 words but had more to say, so here is the extended review.


A ninja is defined in Japanese as “one who utilizes clandestine skills.” Hip hop is defined in America as a “popular urban youth culture including rap music and break dancing.” Somewhere in the unlikely intersection of these, between Japanese tradition and American commercialism, lies Orientarhythm, perhaps the most exciting and entertaining blended theater to hit the melting pot of New York City.

Performed at Our Lady of Pompei Demo Hall on August 14, the show claimed to “combine elements of traditional Japanese culture with Hip Hop dance to create a completely new type of dance performance.” It’s impossible to define the show as just one form of entertainment. Is it dance? Is it martial arts? Is it mime? Is it a drum concert? The answer is, all of the above.

Though the 8 pieces comprising the evening varied considerably, an audience favorite was Drum’n’base, where 2 dancers improvised to drum beats. After remaining in the signature Orientarhythm hybrid dance style, which was created in 1999, they shifted to a game of throw and catch with an invisible ball. Though convincing on its own, the act truly took off when audience members were invited to join in. “Can you see it?” one of the dancers asked before hurling the invisible ball at a member of the third row. Before long the audience was entirely engaged.

The defining factor in the troupe’s original style is their use of nunchakus, a self-defense weapon often seen in clichéd Jackie Chan films. Traditionally they are made of two foot-long wooden sticks linked by a chain that stretches to the width of the body. Here they are used not only for martial arts purposes but as complementary props to the dancing. The company is holding a free workshop (Monday, August 20th, 10am) at Peridance Center for those willing to learn.

Their rapid movement is exhilarating, and only gets better when the lights go out and the nunchakus glow in the dark. The firework shapes are reminiscent of those a child makes with a glow stick on the 4th of July.

This is certainly not the only nod to American culture. At several points during the dance fights they go into slow motion with a change to a green background as a reference to The Matrix. During the glow in the dark scene, the music sings, “May the force be with you”, à la Star Wars. In between peaceful oriental rhythms and ethnic drums a familiar Gwen Stefani song blares about Harajuku Girls.

Though the majority of costumes reflect conventional Japanese robes or marital arts uniforms, in the piece titled, Mirror, the dancer and his supposed mirror image (another dancer) sport bright Adidas jackets. This serves to not only demonstrate another influence of American culture but to enhance the image of the figure on the other side of the mirror by the respective dancer’s jacket reading Adidas backwards. The reflection is a subtle but effective touch.

Like the costumes, the lighting played a key role in the production. A projector showed various images and videos in the background. A mixture of red, dark, and bright lights helped to set the tone for the different pieces, from the softness of Sakura to the fear of Shadow Master.

The only downside to this culture-infused show is that it strongly plays upon many of the overused stereotypes of the Japanese. To this point, Asians have remained somewhat of an ignored minority in the realm of American theater. With minimal representation it seems a shame to use preconceived notions to this extent in such a groundbreaking show, though the reasons are clear. Perhaps any representation is better than none at all (think blackface exploitation in the vaudeville and minstrel shows of the 1920s and 30s).

Still, though, Orientarhythm, stays true to its goal of presenting “Japanese cool.” It may be with this energetic show that the Asian culture makes a permanent mark on American culture.

NY Int'l Fringe Festival - All Aboard

I reviewed this show in the New York International Fringe Festival for the website See published review here. I was limited to 400 words, but had way more to say, so below is my extended review.

Also of interest is the NY Times review of the performance by Jennifer Dunning (I want her job), which gives a similar opinion to mine. Read here.

All Aboard? We’re Getting There…

The first thing that came to mind at the opening of All Aboard, presented by the Armstrong/Bergeron Dance Company as a “multi-media dance work based on trains,” was an old work that left audiences running out of the theater screaming.

With a beep of a horn in darkness followed by an oversized film of a subway heading towards the audience, the similarity is strong between this scene at the Linhart Theatre at 440 Studios and the experience audiences had in 1895 while watching one of the earliest moving films, L’Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat by the Lumiere brothers. Being unfamiliar with the medium of film, audiences were reported to be terrified of the looming locomotive.

Like the Lumiere brothers, co-artistic directors Carisa Armstrong and Christine Bergeron are innovators of their field, challenging the conventions of modern dance by using multimedia. Their work doesn’t send audiences scrambling for the door, but it does leave something to be desired.

Broken up into seven sections, the dance portrays aspects of a typical train ride: from finding the best seat to the final departure. This work evades the downtown dance genre because of its extensive use of film. In addition to the opening sequence, interviews are shown with train conductors and passengers. Other footage includes the dancers repeating live movements but in Grand Central Station.

The video, projected on a constantly changing screen, notably distracts from the dancers, pulling the focus away from the suspension-filled choreography.

The exception to this is in A Look into the Past, a solo for Ms. Armstrong. Her lyrical style subtly demands attention more than the video. She relates to the screen in a more complimenting way than the other dancers.

Another successful excerpt without film is Chug-a Chug-a Choo Choo, featuring 5 of the company’s 7 females. Without challenging technique, the choreography allows the personalities of the dancers to shine as they impersonate a train. The dancers are visibly more comfortable performing to familiar music, by the Asylum Street Spankers, rather than the mix of train noises and verbal anecdotes to which most of the work is set. Ms. Bergeron seems the only one to move naturally to these sounds.

While the purpose of including film is clear, All Aboard may be more effective if the video is limited to the opening segment. A single clip could set the stage for an evening of dance alone based on the transitory nature of trains. Theater audiences may not appreciate the contrast of dance versus film, but modern dance enthusiasts can certainly be on board.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Home, (Bitter)Sweet Home

(me and the family - brother, grandmother, mom)

This past week was literally my first time having more than two days off from life in exactly one year. Between rehearsals, extra school courses, internships, and everything I haven’t had a chance to breathe until now. To start of my 3 weeks of freedom I went home to Boston to visit my family whom I haven’t seen since Christmas (imagine, they’re only an hour flight away and I never see them!).

Since leaving home four years ago I’ve always missed everyone but dreaded making the trip to visit home. It’s just something about reverting back to the old ways…even for just a short period of time. Going from big city independence to small town boredom isn’t necessarily something to look forward to. There’s not much to do in our area, and since I don’t have my driver’s license (God bless public transportation) I can’t really be free.

However, this past visit was really nice. Unlike most visits, I had no looming pressure of school or performances ahead, so I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by taking time off. And being summertime, all of my family and friends had time to reminisce. We had a lot of laughs and it was a nice break.

(friends reminscing and dancing in my living room)

We celebrated my (belated) birthday, and I got to visit my mom’s new dance studio (it’s quite pink inside, like tradition…the last studio was pink for 50 years!). I got to see all my friends I grew up with and even relive some old dance routines (haha).

(me dancing in my mom's studio)

As I was growing up in my small town driving 2 hours a day to commute to ballet I always regretted not being born in a big city. Looking back, though, as a New York City resident (with high rent and hardly enough space to stretch out) I love that I have that alternative to look forward to for a change whenever I visit. No matter how far I go in this world, that place will always be my home.

(my mom and I)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Winger - Online Dance Community

So this post is not my normal lengthy rant on ballet…it’s actually an announcement.

As of yesterday, I am a contributor to the online dance community and blog The Winger ( I requested to be a contributor a while ago and when I hadn’t heard back I started this blog instead. It turns out that the founder/editor was busy dancing with New York City Ballet that whole time, so everything just came together recently.

I will still be updating this blog regularly because I get carried away sometimes and there are some things I still want to say but don’t necessarily think the entire dance world cares about. Basically I’ll be posting here and then giving a more concise version of my thoughts on The Winger.

I’m pretty excited about it though because it gives a lot more visibility to my writing. I’m also listed next to some really important people: dancers from the major companies, famous choreographers, and the dance editor of a magazine.

Who knows where blogging can take you?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ballet Counselor: Just for Kids

me as an assistant teacher & summer counselor
Having attended numerous dance “camps” growing up, I’ve met my fair share of counselors and mentors. It wasn’t until this summer, however, that things changed: I WAS a counselor (I guess the old saying is true: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em)! I have spent the last 6 weeks working as a counselor and assistant teacher for 18, 7-year old ballerinas, and yesterday I said goodbye to many little friends and memories.

I was a bit skeptical about the job at first. I have been assisting in ballet classes twice a week over the past year, and many of the teachers and administrators complimented my ability to work with the kids. It made sense for me to take the position, but before the camp started, and possibly more so after day 1, I wasn’t so thrilled about it. As the summer progressed, though, it turned out to be almost as fulfilling of a “camp” experience for me as it was for the little ones!

The days were long, but once we got into the swing of things it got easier. I was supposed to be at the studio at 8:45 every morning, with the kids arriving for check-in at 9am. I always ended up getting there at 8:30 to do the necessary preparations for the day (set up coloring supplies, lay out ballet slippers, line up tap shoes). The other 3 counselors and I would laugh over something one of the kids said the day before as we guzzled our coffee and got set up.

Then the herd arrived. One by one they trickled in, kissing their mothers in pearls goodbye (this is the Upper East Side, after all…). After taking attendance and going through the routine of “what did you do over the weekend?” with each one, we finally got to the dance activities.

Though it IS considered a regular summer camp, including other things like crafts, origami, gymnastics, swimming, and games, it is first and foremost a ballet school. With that in mind, it was interesting to me to see the schedule of events each day. Our group, the oldest of 3 age groups, was there Monday-Thursday, 9-3:30. In all that time they only had 2 ballet classes!

To supplement the short time for being on their toes they had a range of other dance classes: jazz, tap, modern, and choreography. Of course they each had their favorite of the selection, but they were all required to participate in each discipline. Granted these were beginner classes and attention spans were short. But the amount of material and choreography these children were exposed to was unbelievable.

I think it’s really important for people to experience a wide variety of styles so that we don’t become one dimensional in our art form. It is wonderful and so fortunate that these children were given the opportunity to learn about different ways of moving and creating movement at such a young, influential age. They even had their first Yoga classes (and, as funny as it is, it was MY very first time taking yoga as well)!

Once I got over the shock of responsibility to the these kids and the amount of constant attention they need, I was able to enjoy myself. Not only did I befriend many of them (and get babysitting jobs as a result) but I got to observe the process of teaching and learning dance from a new perspective. Over the course of the 6 weeks I saw physical improvement in each of them, not necessarily in the challenges of ballet, but in dancing in general.

It made me think back to my early days of summer dance camp. I attended regular day-camp at our local high school when I was really young, but I began traveling an hour out of town for dance camp at the age these kids are now: just 7. I don’t remember the specifics of what these days were like or even if I particularly enjoyed them, but I do know that they inspired me enough to enter that ballet school for my first year of pre-professional training that fall.

As far as I can recall, we didn’t have such a wide variety of classes outside of dance. It was truly ballet based, but we did get our jazz and modern classes on occasion. Another difference from today’s camp is that (to my knowledge) we only had one teacher in the room with us at a time, whereas here the kids had a teacher, and assistant, and at least 2 counselors in the studio at all times to help learn the steps. I think this factor may be truly unique to this camp, in which case it is really outstanding because the kids have that sense of personal connection and attention while dancing.

This sense and the notion of variety truly diminish in the later years of ballet training (even summer training). Gradually teachers become distant from students, both physically and emotionally. Perhaps some of it is about being politically correct, but that can’t account for all of it.

There is a major shift in attention and interest as students age. In addition to this change, the emphasis on diversity is replaced by a desire for a cookie cutter effect of perfection. Jazz and modern classes are often seen as a distraction rather than a useful cross-training supplement to strict technique.

Perhaps if the principles that make a youthful dance camp so successful were applied to older summer intensives I, and others, would be able to respect and appreciate ballet in a renewed way. But for now, I think I’ll remain in my role as counselor/teacher. As they say, “Those who can’t do, teach!”