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Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

Can You Feel the LOVE Tonight? Fringe Comes to LOVE Park

Posted August 17th, 2018

Love is in the air at this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s suspended seven feet off the ground and arranged in an instantly recognizable design. That’s right: Fringe is coming to LOVE Park.

Located in the heart of Center City, the park is home to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue, which has become a symbol of the City of Brotherly Love and which serves as the photogenic entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Originally laid out in 1965 as part of an urban development project by city planner Edmund Bacon (father of actor Kevin Bacon), the park was designated “JFK Plaza” to honor the assassinated president in 1967. It became better known by the moniker LOVE Park after Indiana’s famous wordmark sculpture was placed there in the late 1970s.

The park became known as a hub for Philadelphians to meet, chat, take a lunch break, go for a dip in the fountain, and hone their skateboarding skills. Situated just across from City Hall, it serves as a haven from the busy streets of the city and a resting point for workers, residents, and tourists. Closed in 2016 for a $26 million redesign, LOVE Park reopened on May 30, 2018, with a brand new look.

To celebrate the grand reopening, FringeArts teamed up with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (with support from ArtPlace America) to present three FREE shows by leading local arts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival: An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park, Chichi Chip (an ode to the Gnarly), and Same Picture Different Poses.   

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Evalina “Wally” Carbonell and Those We Carry

Posted August 16th, 2018

Known affectionately as “Wally,” Evalina Carbonell is passionate performer and creator—an innovator who creates sensual, inspired, highly physical dance that unearths humanity and frames it with clarity. A principal artist at Roxey Ballet Company, dancing as a principal artist from 2005 to 2011, she joined the internationally active Philadelphia company Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers in 2012. As a solo artist, she has presented nationally and locally, including at the last three Fringe Festivals (Traces of She, 2015; Fore-ign/Fore-out, 2016; Mujeres, 2017).

This year, Carbonell premieres her new work Carry Me, an evening-length dance work for five women dedicated to those we carry, those who carry us, and all that we carry inside. (Before the Fringe you can catch a preview 8/24 at The Gathering at the Sculpture Garden and “Dine with the Dancers” 8/29.) She told FringeArts what she’s carrying and what she hopes to communicate.

FringeArts: What are you carrying right now?

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell: At this very moment I am carrying, “Cain,” my son who is due to be born on November 21. I am also carrying the feelings from the rehearsal I just held; a blend of urgent, energized bursts of equal parts thrill and fluster. Lastly, I carry my head in my hand as I consider my strategy going forward.

FringeArts: How has the experience of motherhood affected your art?

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell: Motherhood has given me an increased appreciation of time, efficiency, creativity, generosity, fear, and flexibility. I have learned the values of improvisation and energetic momentum, as applied to life as well as dance. My art has become both more physically demanding, and emotionally fulfilling. The more I expend, the more I absorb. There is less time to waste and the risks I take feel more weighted.

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What’s Going On Underneath: Meg Foley on The undergird

Posted August 14th, 2018

“The goal is to touch without touching—like really feel and be moved to tears among this long landscape of talking about what our bodies are doing, what we imagine they could do, and about death/loss/grief.” Meg Foley

For the last seven years Meg Foley has been experimenting and and refining her improvisational performance practice, “action is primary”. For a year, she paused every day at 3:15pm to dance, wherever she was, embracing the practice’s central tenet to “hold what you are doing at the center of what you are doing, even as slips towards new centers.” After developing the practice individually, she began to investigate how it could be used to make a group dance.

Foley’s entry into the 2018 Fringe Festival, The undergird is a four-person piece which explores the artists’ “felt experiences” of grief and death in a rhythmic celebration of where memory and imagination live inside the body and how they can be remade through movement. FringeArts talked to Meg about her intriguing title, performance practice, and process.

FringeArts: The undergird” is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?

Meg Foley: I knew I wanted to use action is primary, an improvisational practice I’d been developing and performing at that point for almost seven years, to make a piece about grief and my relationship to mortality/death, which at first I was like “oh duh, it’s about my Dad dying”. And it is, but quickly I realized it was about something much bigger. I started writing early on and a lot of other material—my experience as a parent and of child birth, my relationship with my mother, the feeling of my own skin—emerged.

I knew that I was trying to stay close to something that I was either pulling away from or avoiding; I was trying to move towards the center rather than away. And I think I had an image of cement and rebar and how it’s held together, a little bit like going down into the boiler room or something to get to where all the mechanicals are.

I think a lot about the action and embodied sensation of words and linguistics, and so it was very clear to me that the title of this piece was a noun. Also thinking about something stretching underneath, holding other things up, or a constant underpinning. Because right away when I started working on the piece, I started thinking about time as a primary material and research point and also thought about earth matter and our bodies as part of that, so in that sense The undergird is both sort of biological and emotional/personal in terms of what’s going on underneath and throughout all the time.

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Bringing Dance Where It Does Not Belong: Monica Bill Barnes on The Museum Workout

Posted August 13th, 2018

After a six-month run at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum Workout comes to the Fringe Festival with a unique opportunity to rediscover one of Philly’s most iconic institutions. Known for its impressive steps and collections of art spanning 2,000 years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will host the 45-minute contemporary dance/participatory workout routine led by Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Author and artist Maira Kalman, known for her New Yorker cover illustrations and her books for children and adults, chose the artwork along the tour and provides commentary on select works and dance partners Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass lead high-energy, choreographed exercise throughout the many galleries.

The experience turns the typical museum visit on its head and forges a new relationship between visitors and art, to the tune of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (and other high-energy numbers mixed live by creative producing director Robert Saenz de Viteri). We talked to Monica Bill Barnes about the process of developing this work and the how it fits into her company’s mission.

FringeArts: How did the company come up with the idea for The Museum Workout?

Monica Bill Barnes: When the Met [The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City] first approached the company about making a show for one of their galleries, we were skeptical about creating a show in the midst of so much art. We did not want to add more art to this wealth of art. But the opportunity felt exciting and a challenge that we wanted to take on. I visited the museum with each company member and while Kelly Hanson and I were standing in the armor gallery looking at all the knights in shining armor, we started to wonder how long it would take to jog through the entire museum without stopping to look at anything, how many miles it would be, what song would we listen to and would that actually be an interesting thing to encounter as a visitor to the museum? We loved the idea of running in our signature sequin dresses that we have worn for several shows with the brand of running shoes that I grew up watching my dad run marathons in. These sequin dresses are designed to feel a bit like a suit of armor but with sequin.

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Steamy Nights On the Plains: An Interview with Trajal Harrell on Caen Amour

Posted July 11th, 2018

Trajal Harrell is a dancer and choreographer who uses history to inform the contemporary dance he creates. Known for the series Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, parts of which were performed in the 2014 Fringe Festival, Harrell recently completed a two-year residency at MoMA, where he turned his attention to butoh, a form of Japanese dance theater. That study informs his entry into the 2018 Fringe Festival, Caen Amour, a new work that draws inspiration from dance styles of the near and distant past. Harrell gives viewers a look into the hoochie-coochie shows of the early 20th-century, positing that perhaps this early form of erotic dance served as an origin of dance as a modern artform. His piece, which premiered at the Festival Avignon in 2016, is an invitation into a historical imagination, Harrell’s vision of the exoticized, orientalist peep shows that drew in crowds a century ago. FringeArts talked to Harrell about his historical influences and the different styles that all exist in this innovative dance work.

FringeArts: Do you remember how you decided upon the title Caen Amour? Do you remember where you were when you decided upon it?

Trajal Harrell: I don’t remember where I was but the title was an attempt at a cheesy title for a hoochie-coochie show. Another, for example, could have been “Steamy Nights on the Plains.” In the case of Caen Amour, the title is a mix of the city Caen, France, and the word for love in French. Because of my touring schedule, Caen is the place I’ve spent the longest consecutive time since 2009. It’s still reigning. Also, Caen Amour when you say it could almost sound like “quand amour” which means “when love?”

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You can be Le Super Grand

Posted May 21st, 2018

Do you want to be a part of a grand Fringe Festival show? Here’s your chance. Audition next month to participate in Le Super Grand Continental, one of the world’s most infectious art events.

Le Grand Continental® Philadelphia Museum of Art Plaza, Philadelphia Fringe Festival

Photo by Sylvain Émard Danse

The 2012 Fringe Festival kicked off with a large scale performance unlike anything Philadelphia had seen before. One hundred and fifty volunteer dancers of all ages and backgrounds assembled at the iconic Philadelphia Art Museum steps and twirled into a rhythmic human kaleidoscope of celebratory dance. Le Grand Continental was a joyous and intoxicating spectacle, one that united people from across Philadelphia’s diverse communities and was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “fantastic… it left the audience cheering for more.”

Since then Le Grand Continental has travelled across the globe, gathering together hundreds of dance enthusiasts to perform its sensational choreography, which combines festive line dancing with the fluidity and expressiveness of contemporary dance.

“In every city the reaction is the same,” says Montreal’s Sylvain Émard, the mastermind behind this acclaimed work. “No matter the culture, the participants experience the same excitement and emotions. Same for the audiences. There is an obvious sense of pride to achieve such a challenge. It also allows the people to somehow reconnect with the city they live in.”

This year, the Fringe Festival will be ushered in once again Sept 8 & 9, 2018, with Émard’s unifying work, but with one key difference. As the title Le Super Grand Continental suggests, this time around Émard and his team are doing it bigger and are looking to gather 200 dancers to realize this remarkable performance, which features whole-new choreography.

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A Séancers Syllabus

Posted May 10th, 2018

Photo by Julieanne Harris

This weekend, Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko brings his latest work to FringeArts. Informed by the deaths of all his immediate family members, Séancers collapses lyrical poetry, movement forms, and discursive performance to explore how the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shape shift through loss and oppression.

Kosoko’s artistic practice is in many ways guided by his voracity as a reader and, in the case of Séancers, many of the works that inspired the piece were also pertinent to his grieving process, to seeing his loss in a greater context of cultural erasure and systemic oppression of Black people in America. At the top of a recent episode of Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he offered, “I think of a quote by James Baldwin: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’ And I think really situating myself inside of being bookish has allowed me an understanding to know that my story is not particularly unique.”

Below is a list of texts and works that inspired Kosoko to make Séancers—a mix of Black theory, poetry, performance art, and video art—along with links and quotes (some direct, some contextual) to help spark your own exploration into these illuminating sources.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal and Cornel West, “The Empire Files: Black Radical Tradition”

 

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (Viewing and Reading)

“If Raoul Peck’s fiery documentary I Am Not Your Negro piqued your interest in all things James Baldwin, then try this movie as a companion piece… This 1989 documentary is full of archival footage, recordings of Baldwin reading his work, old interviews, photographs and memories from friends like Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka. Although some scenes, like a recreation of Baldwin’s fight with his father, haven’t aged gracefully, the documentary’s focus on Baldwin’s personal and creative life humanizes this literary legend.” Monica Castillo, The New York Times

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Wake Work: An Interview With Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Posted May 7th, 2018

Photo by Leni Olafson

Nigerian–American curator, poet, and performance artist is far more acquainted with loss than a person his age should be. At 34, he is the only living member of his immediate family. In a recent interview with the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, he detailed his tumultuous upbringing and the devastating losses that have marked his life. Kosoko is quick to note that his story is not extraordinary, that the pain and hardship he’s experienced is far more common than some might care to acknowledge. However, what is unique about Kosoko’s story is his ongoing journey towards “post-traumatic enlightenment,” which has seen him allowing grief to inform his artistic process and letting his work inform his healing process. “In grief work, you may know that in order to help someone move beyond a hard moment, there’s this idea of a transitional object,” he notes in the episode, adding, “That’s really what my creative work is doing for me.”

This weekend, Kosoko will bring his latest work, Séancers, to FringeArts and as the show’s title suggests it is one that approaches loss head on. Presented as a literal séance, complete with a different guest artist/theorist who helps frame the witnessing of each performance, it explores the ways in which the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shapeshift through loss and oppression in surreal and fantastical fashion. “I’m thinking a lot about trying to heal, strategies of survival that have been embedded in black thought, black life, really since black people landed on the Americas—about larger societal traumas and my own personal traumas and how they’re engaged in this dance,” Kosoko shared in a recent The New York Times profile. In this way, Séancers reaches beyond personal loss to encompass cultural loss as well, particularly those that relate to rituals, to old modes of congregating among African-Americans that Kosoko sees as extinct or dying.

Recently, FringeArts caught up with Kosoko to learn more about the theories and art that informs Séancers and what audiences can expect to witness.

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Séancers?

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: My previous piece #negrophobia was described as a kind of séance as I toured it throughout Europe over the past couple years. It felt like a natural progression to lean more into themes of paranormal activity, loss, and resurrection as it relates to Black identities. Of course I’m also thinking a lot about Black theory, which has been incredibly healing and informative for me as a way to come to terms with personal and societal trauma. Black conceptual technologies such as fugivity (Fred Moten), afro-pessimism (Frank Wilderson), and intersectionality (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw) have given me a deeper intellectual framework to ground the ideas and metaphors that are situated inside my new work, Séancers. Lastly, the work has literally become a way for me to stay in close relationship to my dead family. I’m the only living member of my immediate family.

Have a listen to an interview I recently did here.

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Always the Same and Never the Same: An Interview with Jérôme Bel

Posted March 7th, 2018

Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

This Friday, Jérôme Bel is returning to Philadelphia with his 2016 Fringe Festival smash hit Gala, a performance featuring 20 dancers, from professional dancers to first timers—including children, teenagers, pensioners, and people with disabilities. Back in 2016 we spoke to Bel about working with a new cast and creating a piece which anybody can understand and learn within a few days of the performance. In advance of this one-night-only remount, we’re reaching into our archives to share his insights.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for Gala?

Jérôme Bel: I was giving a workshop for amateur dancers in a suburb of Paris. I immediately thought that it would be very interesting to put on stage people who are not skilled in dance, people who are very different—old, young, good dancers, bad dancers, terrible dancers.

FringeArts: How did you develop Gala’s basic structure?

Jérôme Bel: 1, Amateurs are not traveling, they can not go on tour, because they have their jobs or they have to go to school if they are young. So my idea was to have a local cast in each city where the performance would be invited. 2, Amateurs can not rehearse a lot because they have a job, so the piece should be rehearsed very, very fast. 3, Consequently I found a very simple structure that anybody can understand and learn within a few days in order to perform the piece.

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The History of Cherdonna Shinatra: From Name to Fame

Posted February 23rd, 2018

Photo by Lou Daprile

This weekend, Seattle-based dancer and choreographer Jody Kuehner, aka Cherdonna Shinatra, will take the stage in all her queer drag glory for Clock that Mug or Dusted. It’s sure to be a wild ride, one filled with live installation art, dance, birthday cake, found objects, and a commentary on all things queer feminism. While getting ready for Ms. Shinatra to perform, I feel it’s important to discuss where her stage name derives from and the journey she has gone through to make it to this point.

The first artist in her name is none other than Cher, the Goddess of Pop, known for songs like “I Got You Babe,” and she’s “got” the queer community on her side. Cher has become a gay icon, in part through her son Chaz, but also for her sense of style and fashion. Drag queens—specifically Chad Michaels and Charlie Hides from RuPaul’s Drag Race—have imitated her, feeling that her struggle and story relates to their coming out processes. Madonna, the other half of Cherdonna’s namesake, is another another legend worth talking about. The Queen of Pop, known for bestsellers including “Like a Virgin,” is also considered a gay icon. She was introduced to the queer community as a teenager, and since then, has been a welcome presence. Like Cher, many drag queens have imitated her, seeing her journey to stardom as very similar to their struggles. And then we have Frank Sinatra who, while not necessarily a gay icon, was a legendary singer known for classics like “My Way.” Adding his name at the end of her stage name cements Cherdonna Shinatra as the legend that she is. In discussing the origin of her character, she also offers, “I feel like Cherdonna is an extension of myself in a way that’s not like an ‘other’… For me it’s a heightened version—more or less myself, or my less censored self.”

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna’s work has been shown in every major venue in Washington State and all over the country, but she hasn’t always been alone in the spotlight. From 2008-2013 she performed with Ricki Mason, also known as drag king Lou Henry Hoover, as “The Cherdonna and Lou Show.” The character of Cherdonna started with Lou in this cabaret-style series of performances which often included dance, theater, drag, burlesque, glitter, and featured celebrity impersonations, including an infamous Sonny and Cher routine. Both artists would transcend their queer identities with how they presented themselves on stage—Cherdonna with her long legs, platform heels, big blonde hair, and copious makeup and Lou as a petite drag king wearing a neat mustached face and all. In a 2016 interview, Kuehner commented on her and Mason’s stage duo’s gender play, noting, “We’re both queer people, and we had started diving into more work about gender and gender play… Over the last six years, it’s been diving in more. I got hooked, and just felt there was so much to explore in it.” Kuehner performing drag as the gender that she identifies with is a revolutionary concept, as it transcends what the audience expects from drag.

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Making a Radical Mess: An Interview With Jody Kuehner aka Cherdonna Shinatra

Posted February 7th, 2018

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna Shinatra is a drag queen who’s not a drag queen. Not in the way we’ve come to expect, anyway. She’s the alter-ego of Jody Kuehner, a Seattle-based dancer and choreographer, and a queer woman. That last bit makes Cherdonna—a simple, brilliant portmanteau of icons Cher and Madonna—a bit of an anomaly in the world of drag, as does her penchant for dipping her creative toes in the worlds of performance art, experimental theater, and contemporary dance.

Over the last several years Cherdonna has evolved from a cabaret performer with her former artistic partner, drag king Lou Henry Hoover (played by dancer Ricki Mason), to one of Seattle’s preeminent boundary pushing performance artists. She’s created evening length performances like Worth My Salt and more recently Kissing Like Babies; she regularly performs with drag artists like former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant BenDeLaCreme, Kitten LaRue, and the aforementioned Hoover; and she recently “crashed” a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at Washington Ensemble Theatre. And that’s simply scratching the surface.

Her solo piece, Clock That Mug or Dusted, rolls strains of all her artistic endeavors into one. Then through some paint. And maybe a birthday cake. Kuehner has described the work as a “conceptual and inspirational homage to feminist performance artists” and an artistic dare to “find what present day queer/drag feminism might be.” It’s a search left open-ended by the show’s improvisation-friendly structure and reflective of Kuehner’s own avoidance of easy categorization. We caught up with her recently to learn more about the piece’s origins, its challenges, and why she’s looking for a “might be” rather than an “is.”

FringeArts: What made you think up the title Clock that Mug or Dusted?

Jody Kuehner: The title came out of a drag saying that you’ve “clocked” something, meaning you’ve noticed something you like or dislike or generally want to bring attention to. This work is largely improvisational so the idea of noticing things as they come, “clocking” every moment is central. Giving “face” aka “mug,” means giving attention to. Dusted coming from the idea of putting on your face, “being dusted,” and also it’s used as a word to mean being under the influence or even death—“turning to dust.” All these layers are in the work.

FringeArtsHow was creating Clock That Mug or Dusted an artistic leap or creative challenge to you?

Jody Kuehner: Using so many materials continues to be a creative challenge. Not knowing exactly how they will play in the space or what I will be inspired by, it changes with every show. The materials add a whole new cast member to the piece. I like the risk in that. It’s an unknown.

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An Uncanny Approach to Presence: An Interview With Megan Bridge and Peter Price

Posted January 22nd, 2018

Sp3 is shorthand for “space, pulse, pattern, and presence,” four abstract concepts from which storied Philadelphia multimedia dance theater company <fidget>‘s latest show grew from. Developed over the last two years, this interdisciplinary work, utilizing music and movement, obliquely grapples with the increasingly post-human nature of modern living, where technology is wedged between us all, disrupting our interpersonal relationships as well as our relationships to time and our environment. The show seeks to disrupt this interference, positioning the notion of presence as something radical.

Recently we spoke with <fidget> co-founders and co-artistic directors Megan Bridge and Peter Price to learn more about the concepts behind Sp3 and the development of its music and movement.

FringeArts: What was the first idea behind Sp3?

Peter Price: Sp3 is shorthand for space, pulse, pattern, presence. So the initial kernel of the work came out of discussions around those somewhat abstract concepts. We knew we wanted to make a work in a way we have not in some time—mostly set choreography to composed music.

Our last large piece was to preexisting music by the late great composer Robert Ashley, and much of our collaborative practice involves improvisation of both music and dance. So it had been some time since I wrote a piece of scored music of significant scope and Megan choreographed to it.  We began by thinking about the different ways these concepts map to sound and to the body. What does pulse mean and how is it articulated musically or by a dancer? What does playing with pattern do compositionally or choreographically?

Megan Bridge: Peter and I were having brunch (sans kids . . . rare!) on the day after Dust closed at FringeArts, and we were discussing our next projects. We knew that Peter was going to be the lead artist on our next collaboration, and after making Dust I was really excited again about music coming first and letting the body be moved by sound, treating sonic material as a physical phenomenon in the space, and figuring out what it does to the other material that occupies that same space.

In terms of the evolution of the work, I’d say we started very abstract, just playing with material, but as stuff started to stick we realized it had this dark, uncanny vibe. The mood of the piece started to feel very related to our perception of the world around us right now—tension-filled, edgy. So for me the biggest evolution is witnessing that mood and subtle narrativity weave its way into the work.

FringeArts: How is Sp3 structured? What does that structure enable you to do?

Peter Price: Part of the original conception of the piece for me was that the music was going to be continuously pulsed over for about an hour. So the historical models would be the classics of “pulse-pattern minimalism” like Terry Riley’s In C or Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. As we developed the piece that conception evolved and much of the first half of the piece is now concerned musically with non-pulsed dark atmospheres. The second half of the score remains continuously pulsed and unfolds in six main sections. Each of these sections, though sharing tempo and meter, has their own characteristic sound world and compositional approach to rhythmic pattern. A major concern compositionally is exploring the balance between novelty and redundancy so that the perception of the passing of time changes from section to section even if the clock time of the pulse does not.

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Happy Hour on the Fringe With Jorge Cousineau

Posted November 10th, 2017

FringeArts is excited to announce the launch of our very own podcast! Hosted by our Communications Director Hallie Martenson, Happy Hour on the Fringe is our chance to sit back, relax, have a drink, and chat with some of the most imaginative artists in the world.

This premiere episode features an in depth conversation with Subcircle co-founder Jorge Cousineau. The Dresden-born, Philadelphia-based artist has worked as a theater designer for the last two decades with many of this city’s—and others’—most lauded theater companies, receiving widespread acclaim for his imaginative integration of technology into many performances.

The conversation covers a wide-range of topics including Cousineau’s beginnings in theater, his relocation to Philadelphia, some of his most memorable projects, as well as the concepts behind and his work as a live sound designer for Subcircle’s latest show, HOLD STILL while I figure this out (coming to FringeArts Nov 16-18). You can hear snippets of this sound work, generated during rehearsals, throughout the episode.

Check out the trailer for HOLD STILL while I figure this out below and find more info and tickets here.

A New Foundation for Growth: An Interview with Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters

Posted November 2nd, 2017

Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters are co-directors of the Philadelphia-based performance company Subcircle. Founded in 1998 by Niki and Jorge Cousineau, for nearly two decades Subcircle’s work has transformed theatrical and site-specific spaces, merging dance, sound, set design, lighting and film, conveying to audience and performer alike an inseparability of performance from environment.

This month they bring their latest piece to FringeArts. HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT is a daring experiment in spontaneous creation featuring Niki, Scott, and Christy Lee, with live sound design from Jorge. Each night a previously unseen performance will unfold before audience’s eyes, with most of the movement, sound design, and set construction being created in the moment. Described by thINKingDANCE as “a dance of mild idiosyncrasy, enhanced by the dancers’ subtle balance between logicality and lunacy,” witnessing these artists’ ingenuity from moment to moment is enthralling, entrancing, and giddying all at once. Earlier this year Niki and Scott shared some insight into what it’s taken to create a show that constantly recreates itself.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT came into being? 

Niki Cousineau: The title came about during the rehearsal process at the Maas Building. There is a section of the piece where we narrate/interpret what is happening on stage. As I was going through my notebook after a few rehearsals I was looking at some of the texts we generated during these improvisations. One of the things I’d written down was “hold still while i figure this out.” It felt both fitting for the piece, art making, and life.

FringeArts: How has the show evolved from where it started?

Scott McPheeters: The vast majority of material in this work is developed live and in direct relationship to one another. For the year and a half that this piece was being created, we often found ourselves entering the studio in dismay of the state of the world. What had originally been a weekly exploration of various improvisational scores eventually turned into a question: “What if we could start all over from scratch?”

We spent a year and a half essentially studying how to begin again, and how to build upon different proposals of a new foundation for growth. We were fascinated by how quickly entire environments could be constructed from a single source of inspiration and that depending on the day and the source of inspiration, the environments would be completely different.

FringeArts: Can you discuss how the various components, from movement to sound to visuals to text, relate to each other?

Scott McPheeters: Each time we perform the work, it is from scratch. We choose a starting point—usually an image from a book or online along with a piece of text chosen from a book. This informs a movement solo which inspires original text generation. A new audio landscape is developed nightly from sound bites sourced only from the performance space itself. Set design is constructed live to complement or provide contrast to the dance taking place. The most exciting aspect of the work is that everything unfolds for the very first time right in front of you. Through example, we hope to inspire deep listening, reflection, and action.

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There’s Nothing Called African Music: A Conversation with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 12th, 2017

“Dance and music are one in our tradition, and they come in one body.” This is what Burkina Faso-born dancer, choreographer, musician, and composer Olivier Tarpaga offers when asked about the relationship between the two mediums in his latest show Declassified Memory Fragment. Positioned as an “open letter” to life in a few African nations that have experienced cultural and political tumult over the last several decades, the piece opens tonight and runs from Oct 12-14 here at FringeArts. As the dancers move throughout the performance space, a group of virtuosic musicians play from the sidelines, informing the dancers’ movements and energies. “Live music affects everything and the dancers feel different and create different when the music is live,” Tarpaga asserted in a previous interview. Live music has always been a hallmark of Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, likely because music has always been a hallmark of Tarpaga’s life.

Growing up in Burkina Faso, Tarpaga didn’t have to look far to find great music. His father was a saxophonist and the leader of Supra Volta, a popular band that played West African musics with modern instrumentation, even a rhumba influence. They were active throughout the ‘60s, soon after the country gained its independence from France, and often played for heads of state and dignitaries. They were based out of an empty bedroom inside the Tarpaga household, and young Olivier couldn’t help but be drawn to their infectious tunes.

“I’d just walk there and listen to them, and they’d all walk out—somebody was smoking a cigarette, everyone was talking—and then I’d go in with my brothers and we’d start banging on everything. I was always on the drums.” In the ensuing chaos things would get broken, and as a result he was often in trouble with his father. Even so, he simply couldn’t get enough. “Music was an addiction,” he said, and though he’d repeatedly beg his father to teach him to play, he’d always be told to study his math and science, that music would have to wait. Even when his father was teaching Tarpaga’s brothers to play saxophone—despite their total lack of interest—he was still pushed to focus on math and science. Nowadays, he’s the only musician in the family.

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Fragments of Unrest: An Interview with Olivier Tarpaga

Posted October 4th, 2017

Co-founder of the Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project, Olivier Tarpaga is both a choreographer and a musician who brings together disparate nations and identities to create powerful and meaningful performances. Working with his partner, Esther Baker-Tarpaga, the duo have generated a project-centered, transcontinental company that is based in both Philadelphia and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Their work has been noted for its intensity that “proved unforgettable” (Los Angeles Times) and for their projects that “metaphorically and abstractly decenter whiteness” (The Dance Journal). In their newest work, Declassified Memory Fragment, Olivier “declassifies,” or uncovers, experiences that many in Burkina Faso have lived through that are hidden from the world. Through the melding of dance and music, Olivier Tarpaga has created an exhibition of the memories of men in political military unrest from the many uprisings within Burkina Faso. We got the chance to talk with him about his process in creating the work and the contexts that informed it.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title Declassified Memory Fragment came into being?

Olivier Tarpaga: It came to me during a research trip in Kenya in 2010. I grew up in Burkina Faso and have witnessed military coups in 1980, 1982, 1983, a very bloody one in 1987, and the revolution in 2014. This piece is addressing the issues of military coups. The irony is that in 2015 a coup in Burkina Faso happened the day of the avant-premier of this very piece at Denison University in Ohio. It felt like history revisited. Our country has been independent from France since 1960 and there are many fragments of my childhood memories during this time of political instability. I wanted to bring this issue into the open air and expose it with an artistic approach.

FringeArts: How did the choreography come about?

Olivier Tarpaga: I began the piece in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. With my cast we first began with speaking about the politics of ethnic conflict during the Kenya election and Ivory Coast war. We spoke about our memories and knowledge of the war zones. Several cast members grew up in conflict zones and their families were directly affected. I gave specific tasks, images, gestures and directions to research movement based on memories and experiences of different conflicts in the region. I then selected, transformed and composed phrases based on themes and emotions. We worked with live musicians creating the work and making solos, duets, and group work.

FringeArts: What made it important for you that it was an all-male dance troupe?

Olivier Tarpaga: This is purposeful because all these conflicts and wars we are focusing on were all created and directed by men. Men fighting for power. I am pro-feminist and thus I am specifically making a critique of men creating violence to grab more power. This is our first project with only men. Our company is not all-male, in fact it is founded by Esther Baker-Tarpaga and I. We frequently have mixed gender casts.

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Alone Together at Close Music for Bodies

Posted September 20th, 2017

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about sonic resonance lately, due in no small part to some recent visits to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s installation Dream House. Various incarnations of this sound and light environment have been mounted by Young—a revered minimalist composer, some say the first—and Zazeela—a light and visual artist and musician— around the world since 1969. The MELA (Music Eternal Light Art) Foundation Dream House at 275 Church Street in New York City has remained in that space for the last 25 years, the couple’s longest installation to date. It is a room of infinitely repeating cycles of sound and light frequencies, one that transcends its overwhelming, lower Manhattan surroundings.

During my first visit, initially the sounds contained therein were not as pleasant as I expected, grating even. It took a few minutes to acclimate, but once my eyes adjusted to the dreamy, pink and purple hued lights and my body to the drone reverberating through it, the experience was unlike much else. Speakers are directed such that where you position yourself in the room determines what you hear. You can even opt to just sit down on the lush carpeted floors and loll your head to witness the difference, exhibiting just how spatially specific the installation is.

I couldn’t help but recall this experience when observing a rehearsal of Close Music for Bodies on a rainy afternoon some weeks back. The piece from sound artist Michael Kiley premieres September 20th and runs until the 24th, part of the 21st annual Fringe Festival, and much like Dream House it calls attention to the infinite amount of unique experiences that structured sound can offer in a live setting. That’s about where the similarities end. Whereas the experience of Dream House is a solitary one, Close Music for Bodies is a communal, deeply humane work that wrings beauty out of the limitations of perspective.

Central to Close Music is Kiley’s voice practice, Personal Resonance. “My primary goal with teaching is to have the student understand that the real beauty and benefit of voice has nothing to do with how you sound, and everything to do with how your voice can make you feel physically—and therefore mentally,” he recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Once someone understands how to control that physical sensation, their voice becomes as accessible as breathing.” This democratization of singing is integral to the performance and bolstered by the democratization of the space itself.

Once the piece kicks into motion, the shuffling about of cast and audience rarely ceases. At various intervals throughout the duration the performers guide audience members into various formations and in turn have to constantly navigate around them. These are all very conscious, choreographed movements, shaped with the help of choreographer Sean Donovan, director Rebecca Wright, and the performers themselves. Explaining the team’s close attention to movement, Kiley told us in that same interview, “I’ve been thinking of the movement as sound design—like speaker placement, only my speakers happen to be performers.”

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John Szwed: Notes on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Posted September 19th, 2017

This is a guest post written by anthropologist, writer, and jazz scholar John Szwed. He has taught Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale University as well as Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University where he served as Director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He has published many books on jazz and American music, including studies of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Alan Lomax and Billie Holiday. On Sept 23, he will interview Salva Sanchis, co-choreographer of A Love Supreme, at the FringeArts Bookstore.


On December 9, 1964, the members of the John Coltrane Quartet crossed the river from New York to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was night, because producer Bob Thiele preferred to work after the ABC-Paramount executives had left for the day; he could then avoid having to explain what he was doing. The quartet arrived at 7 o’clock and left before midnight, completing the entire recording of A Love Supreme with few retakes or edits, something quite extraordinary for a piece that long and complex, and without rehearsal.

Manuscript of A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane, 1964. Photo by The National Museum of American History.

More remarkably, there was no written music prepared for the session, only a chart that Coltrane had made to remind him of the structure. The musicians followed his directions, most of which were not spoken, but came from what they heard him playing. They were collectively composing by improvising together, creating a 33-minute art work, risking everything as the tape continued to roll. Musicians have improvised collectively since the beginning of jazz, but never for such a sustained period with no given harmonic structure and no agreed-upon melodies or rhythm. Bob Thiele was there, but unlike other producers he sat back and listened. His trust in Coltrane was such that he gave John control over what he recorded and when, an arrangement that no one in the music business short of a Frank Sinatra might have had. Thiele did not always understand John’s music, because it changed so rapidly and radically. Still, his belief was so strong that he defended anything Coltrane recorded to the company, both financially and musically. But A Love Supreme would not need defending.

While he was still living in Philadelphia and becoming a member of the Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane was controversial. To some his playing was meandering, boring, and harsh, even described as anti-jazz. Once, when French CBS received the master tapes for a Miles Davis Quintet recording, they complained to Columbia Records in the US that there was electronic distortion during Coltrane’s solos. But to others, he was a revolutionary—an intense, yet disciplined master, whose music carried the message of struggle and resistance, and was theme music to the Civil Rights Movement. But Coltrane saw a spiritual dimension to what he was doing, a means to peace. When Impulse Records placed ads in Rolling Stone calling it “fire music,” grouping him with the protests of some other black free jazz musicians, he distanced himself from such claims.

In 1957 Coltrane experienced a spiritual awakening of such force that he ended his addictions, reset his life, and with this recording he sought to signal his conversion musically, to testify to his encounters with God. When A Love Supreme appeared in February of 1965 his harshest critics were silenced, and for the first time he received virtually universal praise (though a few were put off by the confessional spirituality of his poem included in the album’s notes; it was too much for high modernists and hipsters). The album cover was black and white, a stark departure from all other Impulse records that were trimmed in orange and black.

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Making Art in 2017: Talia Mason on Onion Dances

Posted September 14th, 2017

Talia Mason. Photo by Irina Varina.

Name: Talia Mason

Show in 2017 Festival: Onion Dances

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Talia MasonOnion Dances is an autobiographical solo examining the role that memories play in shaping one’s past, present, and future. It is is equally interested in how we remember and how we forget our inherited stories. There is dancing, storytelling, singing, reminiscing, and lots of questioning. Onion Dances is a work of dance theater that digs into what it means to be Jewish, and what it means to be a Jewish American during a Trump presidency. The world of the piece is gauzy, dusty, wrinkly, weathered, stinky (loaded down with the smells of time), and honest.

The concept for the piece came out of my time at the Headlong Performance Institute. One assignment was to create a constellation—an array of unrelated things that connections could eventually be drawn between. I had a sliced onion and a photo of my grandfather in my constellation. The rawness of the onion and the peculiarity of my grandfather’s expression made me want to learn more about my roots and my family’s journey to the United States in the 1870s. The piece developed from there.

Photo by Talia Mason.

Throughout the process, I have asked myself lots of questions: What does it mean to be a Jewish American? Does being a Jewish American mean the same thing for different generations? Why do we remember certain details and forget others? Why did Jews migrate across the United States when the large Jewish hubs were Manhattan, Baltimore, and Philadelphia? What did my ancestors like to eat? What traditions did they have that they then passed down? How do I know if what I remember is right or wrong? What happens to the people and events that we forget? How can a personal story become universal to audiences? How can this piece be accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike? I find myself trying to tackle some of these questions by using my family’s direct experiences as evidence as well as imagining what things may have been like for my ancestors in the 1870s.

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Making Art in 2017: Annielille Gavino & Evalina Carbonell on Mujeres

Posted September 12th, 2017

Name: Annielille “Ani” Gavino & Evalina “Wally” Carbonell

2017 Festival ShowMujeres

Past Festival shows: Fore-ign/Fore-out

Roles: Choreographers, Performers

(Top to bottom) Evalina Carbonell & Annielille Gavino. Photo by Edgar Anido.

FringeArtsTell us a bit about your show. 

Ani Gavino: The show is a split bill between Evalina Carbonell and myself. Both choreographers will present their woman centered dance works, hence the title, Mujeres. I will be presenting HERstory which is supported by the Small But Mighty Art Grant. HERstory is a story of ancestral memories and lost histories. This 40 minute work is an interdisciplinary performance, celebrating goddesses, priestesses, female chieftains, and matriarchal archetypes present in indigenous society. HERstory questions the authenticity of history, and challenges our formalized, biased education. HERstory celebrates ancient spirituality, its presence in ancient mythologies, and its absence after the rise of European colonialism.

As a Filipino artist, I investigate pre-colonial Philippines and the role of colonialism in the fall of my indigenous matriarchal culture. HERstory, began as a thought after the birth of my daughter in 2008. Over eight years, this simmered in my subconscious, waiting to boil. Until motherhood, I never thought deeply about my relevance as a woman. Questions arose as I analyzed western archetypes such as the damsel in distress, the virgin, the evil mother, the seductress and the hag. The thought of my daughter’s acceptance of these portrayals as part of cross-cultural convention triggered this resistance.

Evalina Carbonell: My new work, Milk, deals with give and take, as it relates to the female body and motherhood. Using rhythm, breath, effort, and flow, the cast of dancers pour themselves into dance, relating this movement to motherhood. This work was awarded the Ellen Forman Dance Award, which will allow me to further my exploration of the project with Drexel University’s dance ensemble.

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