2007 Miami Beach Dance Festival

Think for a moment: Where can an arts patron, in search of the new and unusual in dance, find a program where Yoko Ono contemplates an apocalypse and Patsy Cline sings for dances expressing Jewish culture? If that strikes you as an impossibility, it’s time to reconsider. For 10 days in April, the 2007 Miami Beach Dance Festival offered unique performances, lectures, and workshops showcasing the rich diversity that is South Florida’s dance community. The Festival, now in its fourth year, is in the vanguard of introducing new groups and dance forms to South Florida audiences. In 2003, Momentum Dance Company, which is helmed by founder and artistic director Delma Iles, co-founded the Festival in order to expand the appeal of dance in South Florida and to give dancers a place to present their works. In a time of dwindling financing, Iles chose to bring her dance community associates in on the project. “The festival was the idea of Delma Iles of Momentum Dance Company”, Says Hannah Baumgarten of Dance Now! Ensemble. “When state funding was cut like 80 percent, she asked us to co-found with her a small local festival so we could pool our resources and produce a second season. For the festival, we would invite one or two international talents, and they would perform alongside local groups.” Iles, who is also the director of the Festival, has continued to take on the challenge. She says, “This was the fourth year of the festival, but it started out just as a weekend-long event, a three-day event with only local companies. And it was just three performances. Since then, it’s grown into a 10-day event with national companies like Core Performance Company from Atlanta and Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company from New York. For international companies, we had Ballet Contemporaneo de la Ciudad de Oaxaca from Mexico and of course, in the Flamenco area we had Manolete, who is an acclaimed international figure for Flamenco. But we’ve also added film, lectures, and master classes, so there is a really wide variety of events that the Festival has grown into.” In previous festivals, performances were offered by soloists from such nationally renowned troupes as the Martha Graham Dance Company, of New York City, and the Lula Washington Dance Company, of Los Angeles. Also featured were such Florida-based companies as Dance Now! Ensemble, Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, Florida Dance Theatre, and the Isadora Duncan Dance Company. That same wide variety was on showcase this year from the very beginning. On Opening Night, April 12th, Momentum, one of the oldest contemporary dance troupes in the Southeastern United States, with a history that goes back 25 years, performed at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden in an Environmental Dance Performance which had the dancers interacting with the scenery of the Garden. That was just the start of an impressive program that offered numerous forays into different areas of dance and performance. The dance critic for the Boston Herald, writer Theodore Bale, acted as an observer and lecturer. He offered two lectures, both of which immediately preceded the performances he would be discussing. One was on Yoko Ono’s performance-art history in conjunction with a rendition of her piece Aria for an Endangered Species, on Friday, April 13th, and the second was on the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company’s works from Love Suite Love, detailing Jewish life and culture, which was performed the following evening. Core Performance Company re-created Ono’s avant-garde piece, which was inspired by her earlier work Endangered Species 2319-2322. The idea came to her after she visited the ruins of Pompeii. In pulling Endangered Species together, Ono used sculpture, collage, and printed works situated around four bronze pieces. The pieces were of a petrified family – symbolizing the deterioration of the modern family and a fear for the future. As Iles says, “If you like Avant-Garde art in general, you’ll like Avant-Garde dance, because they’re all related.” Momentum joined Dance Now! Ensemble on April 15th for an informal lecture and dance performance called Looking at Dance. Iles herself taught newcomers the basics of dance technique and dance criticism. Audience members were encouraged to interpret and discuss different pieces and learn how to look at dance and movement performances with an educated and critical eye. Those who like to combine film and dance enjoyed a viewing of Carlos Saura’s arresting film, Flamenco!, and an after-film demonstration of Spanish dance on April 17th. But that was simply a prelude to one of the Festival’s biggest draws: Ballet Flamenco La Rosa and Manolete, who performed April 20th and 22nd at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Iles believes these performances had a tremendous appeal. “Together, Manolete and Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, a locally based company, have created a Flamenco dance-drama (Las Brujas de Salem) inspired by Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. So we’re talking about a really fascinating cross-cultural pollination there, with very high quality artists in an art form, Flamenco, that lends itself well to that kind of drama, with live music. I think it was a terribly exciting event!” But there was some competition for that title. On April 18th, a salsa demonstration and instruction class at the Botanical Garden was taught to audience members by Salsa Mia, a local group. As Iles says, “This is an event where everybody dances. Not just you sitting in the audience and somebody performing something for you. You’re the dancer for the night!” In addition to performances, lectures, and film, the Festival announced the 2007 Miami Beach Dance Festival Awards. Soloists and troupes known for their exemplary talent and contributions to the field of dance in South Florida were honored. The awards were presented prior to the Ballet Flamenco-Manolete performance on April 21st. Master classes encompassing intermediate-level ballet, Jazz, modern dance and Afro-Brazilian dance, were held on Saturday, April 22nd under the auspices of Josee Garant, formerly of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet; Diego Salterini, co-artistic director of Dance Now! Ensemble; Laura Vera, the artistic director of Ballet Contemporaneo de la Ciudad de Oaxaca; and Odman Felix, a soloist with Momentum Dance Company. Finishing up the Festival on April 22nd, there was a performance by Ballet Contemporaneo de la Ciudad de Oaxaca, with Laura Vera at the helm. Ballet Contemporaneo has made a name for itself both nationally and internationally by experimenting with the ideas of cultural and social concerns and science fiction. Ballet Contemporaneo combines dance, music, sculpture, drama, and art in its unique and memorable performances. The festival was based at four Miami Beach venues: The Byron Carlyle Theater on 71st Street, The Jackie Gleason Theater on Washington Avenue, The Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Convention Center Drive, and Miami Beach Cinematheque on Espanola Way. Ticket prices ranged from free admission for Opening Night to $50 for high-end seating at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Says Iles, “We want to promote contemporary dance and to reach the general public with a lot of highly varied dance experiences and not just performances. We also have participatory events. We want people to know how wonderful dance is as an art form and that there’s really something in it for everybody.”

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