Caili Quan, for philly.com
Dance encompasses a broad range of movement. Dance is a performance. Dance is a play. Dance can express emotion, tell a story without words. I remember spending my school days getting excited for my next dance class. So when BalletX Co-Artistic and Executive Director Christine Cox presented the opportunity to teach dance through the new BalletX afterschool outreach program, Dance eXchange, I jumped at the chance.
Last month, I, along with other members of BalletX and several people from the Philadelphia dance community who signed on to participate in Dance eXchange, were able to work with the National Dance Institute (NDI) during a one week long training residency at Andrew Jackson School in South Philly. NDI was founded by New York City Ballet dancer Jacques d’Amboise in 1976 with the intention of teaching school aged children structured movement and has now grown into a flourishing arts education program. Thanks to the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge, a program of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, PECO, as well as grants from several other foundation sponsors, BalletX was able to bring NDI to Philly for a week to watch them in action and learn from their teaching methods. Our hope is that Dance eXchange will eventually grow to become an associate program of NDI here in Philadelphia.
Back on February 24th, we observed NDI’s Artistic Associate Tracy Straus and Artistic Director Ellen Weinstein as they led three classes of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders back to back. The two of them managed to keep each class of around 30 kids entertained, engaged and behaved. As an observer and assistant, I too was swept up in their loving and contagious energy. I found myself smiling alongside the students of Andrew Jackson, excited to be a part of it all. Following the morning classes, NDI met with us trainees for a three hour workshop to further analyze, discuss, and digest everything we observed that morning. In the afternoon, I was expecting to continue observing and assisting. Imagine my surprise and terror when they encouraged us to dive right into leading the after school class! For the rest of the week, Tracy would assign each of the eleven of the Dance eXchange members a part of the class to lead during the after school program. My teaching experience has been limited to teenagers who’ve had years of dance experience. I’ve never taught pure movement class to elementary school students. But I learned very quickly that NDI’s methods work. The base line of NDI’s curriculum starts with presenting a student with a challenge: to learn a dance step and perform it with energy and precision. Their methods keep children engaged by using tools such as games and positive peer mentoring.
Early morning on a fall day in October of 2012 I landed in Philadelphia with two suitcases and a backpack. Dazed from the red-eye flight, I hailed a cab to the Double Tree Hotel on Broad Street in Center City. Until that moment, home had always been Irvine, California and the longest I had ever been away was for various intensives and projects in the summer.
I moved across the country to Philadelphia for my first professional job in a company (BalletX) that I had watched in admiration during the Laguna Dance Festival in California just six months before. Everything was new. A new city that I had never stepped foot in until that morning and new people around me that I had yet to meet. I no longer held the title of "student"; I was now considered a "professional dancer." Nervous for all the usual reasons when someone begins something new in their life, missing the familiarity of home, but a buzzing sense of excitement to start. Now that I have been here for a year it doesn't seem as extreme but there are some differences between my home in California and my new home in Philadelphia.
Moving from the suburban utopia of Irvine to the big city life of Philadelphia, I could not have asked for a better life path. Being able to experience life in two cities that are at the opposite ends of the spectrum is a luxury that I feel very fortunate to have come across. One obvious difference between west coast and east coast living is the weather. I love the warmth of California but after moving to Philadelphia, I finally get all four seasons, in which I find so much beauty. Also, what I really enjoy about my life in Philadelphia is not needing a car to get from place to place. Not being in a car daily has allowed me to be able to walk around and see the architecture of the city along with the diverse personalities that fill and decorate the streets and sidewalks. I enjoy the art that is displayed for everyone to see such as the many murals that are painted against building walls and art installments throughout the city. There is so much to take in visually that I sometimes forget I am in a busy, fast paced place and tend to mosey around as people dart and dodge past me on the street (You can ask some of the other dancers in the company who sometimes get frustrated with the slow tempo of my walking).
Philly.com sat down with Flashdance, The Musical lead Jillian Mueller backstage at The Academy of Music to talk theater, growing up in New Jersey, and cheesesteaks.
When were you first exposed to Flashdance the film? Did it inspire you to pursue theater?
I got the Flashdance film when I was seven years old for Christmas, and it was one of those movies I would watch over and over again. I have these vivid memories of going into my basement, sitting in my red beanbag chair. It was totally one of those movies that really inspired me. I was like ‘I want to do that. I want to be like that.’
You grew up not far from Philadelphia in New Jersey. How does it feel to be close to home? Do you have friends and family coming to see your performances?
Dance is an ethereal art form. Even if caught on film, nothing can fully replicate the experience of watching someone dancing live. The process of dance-making can, therefore, be very hard. A choreographer cannot tape a sequence and then go home and edit the steps together in the way they would prefer; the dancer becomes the medium through which the choreographer articulates their vision in real time. During the creation of a new piece, dancers are required to repeat a section twenty or thirty times, replicating steps that tax the body in unusual ways. Often the dancer has no idea how the overall piece looks at all- they are simply one color in the overall palate which is gracing the space. And yet, that is also the excitement and intriguing part of being a dancer taking part in a new creation; you never really know what the piece looks like until you can reflect on it later.
These are the sentiments I am feeling now, working on the BalletX Fall Series, which premieres on November 20th at The Wilma Theater. This show will feature three world premieres, which is a gargantuan feat to accomplish in a month and a half, on a company of 10 dancers. Because again, we cannot go into rehearsal, learn steps which have already been laid down, and focus on honing and perfecting them; we must first help the choreographer figure out what the steps are, clarify their intent, construct them into a working order, set them to musical cues, and then hone and perfect them. It’s very physically and mentally demanding work.
And yet, though my body is admittedly hurting right now, there is an immense thrill in the knowledge that this movement is unique to me, that no one has ever moved in this exact way, and that I am helping contribute the realization of someone’s vision. I am a part of something larger than myself, something which I have no way of seeing completely in the present moment, but which I am eager to see wholly. And besides that, the exploration process contains within it gems of ecstatic movement (which are a serious perk of my day job). Who knows what will happen on stage later this month? I hope you will consider taking the ride with me.
Walnut Street Theatre
This holiday season the Walnut Street Theatre is producing Elf. Based on the hilarious film starring Will Ferrell, this show had its Broadway premiere in November of 2010 and ran through the holiday season. It’s success led to a return engagement on Broadway in 2012.
The Walnut cast Christopher Sutton as Buddy the Elf. He returns to the mainstage after last appearing as a different type of Buddy. He played the title role in The Buddy Holly Story in 2012.
Christopher visited the Walnut for an early pre production photos shoot. Take a look behind-the-scenes in this short video.
This month, I attended the Americans for the Arts 2013 Annual Convention in Pittsburgh, where approximately 1,000 arts professionals from around the country came together to exchange ideas and experiences — as AFTA President Bob Lynch put it, to “explore all the ways in which the arts are truly transforming America’s communities.”
The recurring theme at the convention was storytelling — how to create deeper connections through personal, authentic stories of your organization, your artists and your work. The arts are ripe with these vibrant narratives, and yet many organizations still seem to struggle with making their stories resonate.
Much like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is a great example of a city that has been truly reinvigorated by the arts; thanks to AFTA and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, conference attendees had the opportunity to really dig in and get to know Pittsburgh’s impressive cultural scene, from performances at keynote lunches (my favorite was Balafon West African Dance Ensemble) and an opening party at the Andy Warhol Museum, to “ARTventure Tours” that explored various cultural hot spots around the city.
If fireworks are what you’re after this Fourth of July, all you have to do is look up — from Penn’s Landing to the Ben Franklin Parkway, Philly’s got spectacle covered from river to river. But if you’re looking for a more nuanced way to celebrate independence this weekend, don’t forget about some of the city’s better-kept patriotic secrets, from historic bell-ringing in Germantown to a Society Hill soda festival.
Music: Summer Nights Concert at the Penn Museum
July 3, 5 p.m.
This Latin ensemble is dedicated to the interpretation of folk and traditional music from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. Puerto Rican boleros, Cuban sones, Mexican mariachi music, Colombian cumbias and Dominican merengues are some of the many styles they perform.
Theater: Patrick Henry's speech by the American Historical Theatre at Independence Hall
July 4, 1-2:30 p.m.
Dedicated to the art of historical interpretation, the American Historical Theatre brings Patrick Henry and the PA Sons of the Revolution to Independence Hall on the Fourth. Hear an impassioned speech by the famous Virginian, and show up a bit early for a photo op.
Megan Wendell, Canary Promotion
Fringe season is just around the corner: Guidebooks for the 2013 Fringe Festival will hit the streets in August, fervent festivalgoers will start to painstakingly plan their show schedules and artists will take over all corners of the city from September 5 to 22.
As the PR firm for FringeArts (formerly the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe) for 10 years, Canary Promotion staff meets each year with artists who are self-producing shows to offer tips on how to get in the spotlight, even on a shoestring budget.
While all shows take a bit of blood, sweat and tears to successfully get on stage, most people don’t know what goes into self-producing a Fringe Festival performance. These artists put on their shows without the support of a producer or presenter. They handle every detail of their productions, from fundraising and finding a venue to casting, designing, rehearsing and marketing. Some artists have a team; many go it alone for the opportunity to have total freedom and control over their art.