Light and Bright: Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker full of joy and hope

Festival Ballet: Kobe Atwood Courtney as The Nutcracker.
(Photo: Liza Voll)

Festival Ballet Providence has reimagined its annual production of The Nutcracker, and the results will be the start of a delightful holiday tradition for families in southern New England. This production was given its world premiere at the show’s new home stage, the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

The last few years have seen numerous disruptions and changes to Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker.  Costumes were stolen in 2016. Festival’s “Nutcracker Dog” Archie retired after 19 years on stage. COVID in 2020 led to the entire production being abbreviated and streamed online. Treating all this uncertainty behind the curtain as an opportunity, Festival Ballet Providence Director Kathleen Breen Combes and Artistic Curator Yury Yanowsky decided to revamp the entire show with new costumes, new sets, and new choreography.

Festival opens their new version with Herr Drosselmeyer in his workshop building the titular nutcracker and sprinkling the toy with magic. The story then moves to Clara, a young girl, on the night of her family’s Christmas party. Herr Drosselmeyer, who is a family friend and magician, comes to the party and delights both young and old with his mechanical marvels and wonderful gifts. The nutcracker is gifted to Clara and, after the party is over, she sneaks down from her bedroom and falls asleep on a sofa by the tree.

Festival Ballet: Mamuka Kikalishvili and Eugenia Zinovieva as Snow King and Queen. (Photo: Liza Voll)

Suddenly, Clara shrinks down to the size of her nutcracker doll and the room is filled with giant mice and rats. A battle begins, with the nutcracker fighting the Rat King and his minions. Festival’s 2021 battle is filled with fun and humor as combatants launch food at each other and the wounded are removed by an efficient rodent medical corps. Just when it looks as if the nutcracker might be defeated, Clara saves the day and distracts the Rat King allowing the nutcracker a chance to overcome his foe. The overly-dramatic death of the Rat King made his passing more humorous than scary. The nutcracker transforms into a handsome young prince and takes Clara away from her home to an enchanted snow-swept forest where they are welcomed by the Snow King and Queen who provide Clara with gifts fit for a princess, ending the first act.    

The second act takes place in the Land of Sweets where various characters dance and perform for the nutcracker-turned-prince and his companion Clara. These dances include cultural homages to Russia, Spain, Arabia, and China; Festival put time and effort into making all the dances show off these cultures in a dignified manner. The Chinese “Tea” dance especially has been reimagined with support from the Chinese community. The Sugar Plum Fairy (one of the sweets) and her partner dance a grand pas de deux displaying great strength and control throughout.

New to Providence’s production is the inclusion of Mother Ginger, a giant gingerbread house bursting with young dancers; the athletic prowess of some of the little dancers stole the show. The production doesn’t just have children in it as a gimmick: they are integral to the cast,  well employed as guests at the party, snowflakes in the winter, and propelling Clara and her Prince through the Land of Sweets.

Festival Ballet: Nina Yoshida and Kobe Atwood Courtney as Snow Queen and King.
(Photo: Liza Voll)

Festival’s Clara was played by teenager Charlotte Seymour at the December 19 performance reviewed. Using a younger dancer means that the Act I pas de deux sometimes performed by Clara is given to adult dancers. The strength of Seymour’s dancing and her delight in the role shine through, making it easy for all the aspiring ballerinas in the audience to believe in Clara’s adventures, wondering with her about what was real and what was imagined.  

Kobe Atwood Courtney danced the role of the nutcracker with powerful jumps and strong acting skills. In Act II he entertainingly relives, in pantomime, the adventures of the battle against the rodents and joins in the Russian Trepak dance.

Herr Drosselmeyer is often portrayed as mysterious or frightening, but in this production he is more of a “fun uncle” creating an opportunity for adventure. Unlike in many productions,  Drosselmeyer is a presence throughout Act II as he occasionally guides the couple, watching dances as he stands protectively nearby. Drosselmeyer’s final action is in the show’s penultimate moments to set things all back in order.

Much traditional Christmas fare is, in truth, rather depressing, almost like watching a television marathon of Little House on the Prairie, making you plod through four acts of unhappiness for the payoff in the final few minutes. This production is happy and joyful from curtain to curtain, making it a perfect diversion in uncertain times. It’s refreshing to see a show that can be readily appreciated and enjoyed by adults and children of any age. Light and bright, Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker is filled with youth and hope, a timeless tale made more fitting for our time.

The Nutcracker performed by Festival Ballet Providence, https://festivalballetprovidence.org/2021-2022-season/the-nutcracker/, at Veterans Memorial Auditorium. 1 Avenue of the Arts, PVD. Tickets: https://www.thevetsri.com/events/detail/the-nutcracker-21 or telephone (401)421-ARTS (2787).  Through Dec 26, 2021. Run time 115 minutes. Handicap accessible. COVID protocols in effect: proof of vaccination required for age 12 and up, masks required for age 2 and up.

Festival Ballet: Mamuka Kikalishvili as The Nutcracker, Joshua Tuason as Mother Ginger, Charlotte Seymour as Clara, and Students of Festival Ballet Providence School as Polichinelles.

Triumphant Performance!: REVOLVE’s premiere filled the park with jubilance

It was a true pleasure to attend REVOLVE Dance Project’s premiere show. I am always excited to see new shows and art, but this one came with a particular relief. The fact that it was happening at all, that I could arrive at such a beautiful place and see crowds of people gathered together, laughing, embracing, buying frozen lemonade and buzzing in anticipation, felt like a privilege. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt like the isolating experience of 2020 made for a deeper appreciation for simple things like sharing public spaces and witnessing art. REVOLVE Dance Project’s Premiere show was a jubilant celebration of all the things we missed.

The show kicked off with a duet for drums and dance featuring an original composition by Cameron MacIntosh and choreography by Jorge Rullan. The rhythm drew me in quickly and hooked me. There is such a primal connection between drums and dance that it is hard not to move to. You could almost feel the rhythm in your chest. In fact, one of my only complaints about the show was having to sit still the entire time. The energy of the following pieces kept par with this first one, but each brought new instrumentals and new, more intricate choreography. It is always wonderful to see a show that contains a series of interesting individual pieces that also flow and work well together. In some places, it even felt like each piece was built off the previous one. The show was also well balanced between music and choreography, going back and forth between instrumental solos and choreographed numbers. I loved that this gave each of the musicians their own role in the show, as opposed to being overshadowed by the dancers. This made for a great pace to the performance as well. 

I was particularly enthralled by the violinist, Josh Knowles. Violin was never an instrument I gave much mind to, but his original piece, Ember, may have changed that. I was swept away by the haunting beauty in this melody and awestruck by all of the variations in sound that can be achieved by one instrument. I commend him on his creative inclusion of some technology in his performance. I noticed that he used some kind of soundboard or foot pedal to create looping and warping techniques. The effect was excitingly unpredictable. 

The dance number that followed this solo might have been my favorite number, though it was hard to choose. The piece, choreographed by Alex Lantz features dancers Brenna DiFrancesco and Kailee Felix who danced with a fluidity that perfectly matched the tone of the violin. I love watching a pair of dancers who are so in sync and know how to work off of each other. To acheive all of this in only two weeks is an additional incredible feat. The choreography was wonderfully balanced and told a beautiful story about love between women. It explores the nuances of a queer relationship wonderfully through the medium of dance. This story was felt and understood, more than directly interpreted. I experienced every ounce of love and pain and wonder as I watched the dancers perform. It was truly hard to take my eyes away from this one. 

The show ended with a sparkling finale that can best be described as “triumphant.” The piece was introduced by cellist and composer Daniel Hass who shared with us the story behind it. Choreographed by Kurt Douglas, the dance represents the process of challenging oneself to reach your peak in your art form and outlines the struggle of reaching and falling and getting back up stronger. This piece was one of the best examples of storytelling through music and dance that I have seen in a long time. The dancers made great use of the entire stage, performing in rotating pairs and groups, using every ounce of their strength, balance, and emotion. I loved the way the dancers used every level of their unique stage as well, incorporating the structure of the temple in the dance like it was built for this setting. It was the perfect way to end such a unique vibrant performance and leave the audience energized and wanting more. 

When I spoke with some of the performers after the show, the overall mood in the room was “gratitude.” Each of them spoke of the different aspects of this opportunity they felt lucky to be a part of, including the chance to continue to dance in what is normally the off season, as well as the collaborative conversations about art that working together allowed for. For Project Director Kirsten Evans, the experience was a dream come true that accomplished everything it was meant to. 

REVOLVE seeks to attain nonprofit status and be able to continue with their educational outreach for young dancers. More information about what this includes can be found on their website. The REVOLVE Dance Project is only at the beginning of its journey and has many more exciting things in store. I can’t wait to see where they go next! 

For more info, go to revolvedanceproject.com

Who I AM.: Revolutionizing life in the former home of Esek Hopkins

Anthony “AM.” Andrade’s (they/them) work entails activism and awareness through communal art and creativity.  Andrade is co-director of The Haus of Glitter Dance Company & Performance Lab. They also manage The Haus of Glitter Liberation Garden and Record Label as part of a two-year artist “parkist” residency at the Esek Hopkins Homestead and Park where Andrade and their family are “living, healing and reimagining.”  

Andrade’s work centers on community through a BIPOC / queer lens. They constantly work to break down walls and re-think how our society, plagued by white supremacy, is shaped. “We center self care and rest around what we do due to the gravity of our work,” Andrade said. “Care is at the center of everything we do. We make sure people are fed, rested and hydrated, and we offer massages and meditations to get everyone in the right frame of mind.”

Andrade’s creative and artistic journey began at age 5 when they started piano lessons. This progressed into hip-hop dance in high school, which ushered in a love for music production.    

“I was born an artist. I didn’t really have a choice,” Andrade said. “My great grandfather passed down the tradition of music. He was semi-well-known in the Cape Verde islands. Playing piano definitely brought me to the space of knowing what flow is and of course learning more about music. Hip-hop has been a space for me that I see a lot of things through. Even with pop culture or music from other countries, so many inspirations and ideas are rooted in hip-hop. Styles of expression within it such as Crumping, Tutting, Graffiti, and music production were my only ways to express myself in a space that was comfortable for me, which is pretty backwards for a lot of people.

“Nowadays I’m into the ballroom scene, which is really pretty much the queer hip-hop scene.  I’m a sample-based music producer, so Vogue music speaks to me.” 

Ballroom, or Ball Culture involves events or “Balls” where primarily BIPOC and Latinx performers living in houses (or groups of people living together in community) compete in categories such as dancing or modeling.  Events are fun and energetic, and folks typically go home with performance trophies. 

Ballroom encompass many different forms of expression, so I asked Andrade if they prefer one form of expression over another. “I absolutely do not prefer one medium over another. Although I am considered the musician in The Haus of Glitter and am currently writing the album for our next production.”  

The production, named The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins, is an activist dance opera that will premiere with PRONK and PVDFest 2021 on September 9. It’s a performance ritual that centers on one Black woman on the slave ship Sally, which Esek Hopkins commanded. As we’re representing the story as BIPOC artists in this space, which he (a rich white slave owner) built and occupied, the elements take you on a journey as to what it was like for us to physically arrive here. We’re living and healing in and with this space, and shifting the energy of this physical house to queer liberation. It also allows a space for people of color to be seen. It’s empowering for all people, but really centers people of color.”

The Haus of Glitter is in the midst of a two-year residency at the nationally preserved Esek Hopkins house in Providence. They have made the space into a production, fashion and art house and they are re-imagining the homestead and park, transforming the space into a creative work environment that centers queer and feminist BIPOC. When asked what it feels like on a day-to-day basis to live in the same space occupied by someone such as Hopkins as well as the enslaved people he kept, Andrade took a deep breath before explaining: 

“The energy here is very heavy. There’s an initiative to remove Esek Hopkins’ name from the local school, which is filled with Black and brown youth, and to remove the Esek Hopkins’ statue, sitting on a 7-foot pedestal paid for by the City. Then there’s the house we live in. It begs the question why, for all the horrible things he did to slaves (and even British soldiers), so bad in fact, that he was fired by George Washington, he is glorified today. He was put in power as commander in chief for a short amount of time and it lives as an example of how a white man in power can pour money into preserving his legacy and put up statues of himself and no one questions it. We are trying to get people to think as a city why this place has been preserved the way it has been. Can we shift it toward community healing? This is what the center of this project is. It feels like the walls are speaking to us and ancestors are speaking through us in this work. I feel the motivation of the lineage of people behind me pushing me.”

Moving into the house has opened up many possibilities and meaningful ventures for The Haus of Glitter Dance Company and their work. Examples of this include the Liberation Garden, which was created at the beginning of COVID. Through the Creative Health Worker Fellowship from the City of Providence Andrade brought together doctors, environmentalists and other experts to figure out how to implement safe outdoor programming for youth in an attempt to see how Earth work and art can find an intersection.

“We study how we got to where we are in Providence, why this particular street has the worst air quality in the city, and learn about ancient planting techniques and herbs used by Indigenous people. This is the same land that was used to feed the Hopkins family, and we can only imagine the enslaved Black people working here. So to do this work because I want to and set up this space for young Black and brown people to harness and shift the energy in the same earth feels really good.”

Andrade also works at AS220 Youth as a program manager, overseeing classes and working with young artists on projects such as Future Worlds. This year, in collaboration with PRONK, they’re creating an installation-immersive runway in the Liberation Garden with large scale lights, murals and paintings. He also began The Haus of Glitter Record Label, which aims to center and uplift queer and BIPOC musicians who are just starting out in their music careers.

“We’re being more paid attention to since we have a white frame around us, living in a nationally preserved historic home. This is also a layer of my Black experience in this white space. It feels like people care more about us now due to our proximity of whiteness. Sometimes it feels good to leave the space and not be surrounded by so many reminders of how someone who looked like me sitting in this seat 200 years would have been experiencing. It’s not only a healing and liberating space, but also equally painful for my Black body to sleep here. It brings a whole new level of meaning to this activist work.”  

When asked about the uniqueness of Providence and how they feel about this work happening in this city Andrade explained that their thoughts on this have changed over the past year. 

“There are cities like Chicago that put a lot of money into their arts culture.  This is also the case in Providence, but what makes it so special here is that we’re so small and tight-knit. I feel more collaboration than competition here.”

Andrade also believes the individuals who make up the city and are in position to make change are pivotal in making a uniquely positive experience for many marginalized groups.  

“I’m able to work alongside officials and figures who I’ve always looked up to towars common goals.  Providence released a 10-year cultural plan that focuses on artists of different ages, colors, backgrounds, etc… so that people who work in related fields have opportunities to thrive.

“We think a lot about legacy work and how to carry on our traditions. I didn’t have a sense of community with dance until I met the people in my house as well as my mentors and stumbled into a sense of community and carrying of these traditions. ‘Positive brain washing,’ as we call it, involves helping people decolonize individualist thinking.”

The idea of legacy itself, community and collaborative work is most important to Andrade. They don’t aim to leave anything behind personally, but more look to leave a legacy of community.

“I want people to think of ‘We’ when they think of me.  Moving away from individualism and stepping into collective thinking is important. I get feedback all the time on my breath practice bringing a sense of tradition, which is something we lack in American culture. The way I step into everything I do, especially with youth and with my house, is bringing a sense of tradition and ritual by doing something over and over again. These rituals help us feel separated from the constant grief of colonization, which each and every one of us suffer from in some way.”

The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins is set to premiere with PRONK and PVDFest 2021on September 9th.  Its own legacy will continue as a physical album, graphic novel, coloring book and as a performance ritual in schools and historically preserved places across the country. Anthony also has meditative sound offerings on Spotify through the link in their Instagram bio @am.period. For more info, go to hausofglitter.org or follow them @theglittergoddesses.  

A Full 180: REVOLVE Dance Project turns away from standard approaches to dance

The REVOLVE Dance Project is drawing us out from a year-long winter into the warmth and brightness of a stunning music and dance performance, set against the backdrop of a Rhode Island summer. Project director Kirstin Evans is thrilled to bring her “brainchild” to life at the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park on July 24.

This show was born from Evans’ desire to give the dancers in her company a way to stay involved with their craft during what is normally a dance company’s off-season, but there is also a deeper and more personal reason for it. Evans is working toward acquiring nonprofit status for the Revolve Dance Project in order to expand the educational aspect of her work. She wants to remind young dancers what their art and passion are really for: themselves. Dance is an all-consuming art form that requires extraordinary amounts of both mental and physical dedication, and these requirements can make for a stressful and sometimes toxic environment that emphasizes perfection. Instead, Evans believes that dance should be about learning and growth in the classroom. It should be about progress, collaboration and pure love for the art form more than it should be about putting on perfect recitals and competitions. Evans says of her company, “I aim to create an environment for dancers where everyone feels comfortable and to give them a chance to be challenged to grow while enjoying the experience of progress along the way.” Evans eventually hopes to host artist talks, provide open rehearsals and workshops and give free tickets to kids to come and learn more about dance in a friendly and supportive environment.

Evans confessed that, above all else, she wants her dancers to focus on the creative process. And in combining dance with live music, she says the real experience she wants to provide is for the artists “to be able to use each other’s art forms to learn more about their own.” She hopes to get everyone involved in the performance to approach each of their art forms with a greater understanding of how dependent they are on each other.

Six professional dancers from around the world will perform at Temple to Music: Azamat Asangul, Brenna DiFrancesco, Kirsten Evans, Kailee Felix, Mamuka Kikalishvili and Alex Lantz. The five choreographers are Kurt Douglas, Dara Nicole, Jorge Rullán, Viktor Plotnikov and Alex Lantz, and the four musicians who will playing live are Daniel Hass, Josh Knowles, Cameron MacIntosh and Chrissy Stewart.

The Revolve Dance Project provides a unique opportunity to get people out of their houses and be fully immersed in art again, and Evans hopes to remind everyone how necessary and irreplaceable art is to a community. 

The outdoor performance will premiere on July 24 at The Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park, with a showing at 4pm and at 7pm. The performance will consist of five original pieces, four of which are world premieres. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to revolvedanceproject.com.

Island Moving Company Brings Great Friends to Newport

Photo by Bill Peresta

Island Moving Company is continuing its return to live performances with the Newport Dance Festival, which takes place July 20-25 on the lawn of Great Friend Meeting House in Newport. This unique festival will continue the tradition of hosting a resident company for two weeks: Malashock Dance Company from San Deigo. As part of the residency, John Malashock, artistic director of Malashock Dance Company, will choreograph a dance that both companies will perform together at the festival.   

Other dance companies taking part in the six-day dance festival include Boston Dance Theater (Boston), East Coast Contemporary Ballet (Norwalk, Conn.) and Revolve Dance Project (Providence). Inviting other dance companies to share the stage is in the spirt of “great friends,” the festival’s former name. The festival will be a display of diverse talent and choreographic points of view.  

Danielle Genest, associate artistic director of Island Moving Company, shared that an audience favorite of the Newport Dance Festival is the Etudes repertory. For each day of the performances, a novel dance is created in a 2-hour rehearsal, the day of the show. Any dancer can sign up to dance and choreograph for Etudes

Miki Ohlsen, artistic director of Island Moving Company states, “The joy of the Newport Dance Festival is bringing incredible choreographers and dancers from around the country and across the globe here to Newport to share their incredible art with our community.” 

Newport Dance Festival takes place Jul 20 – 25 at 7pm. Lawn of Great Friends Meeting House, 21 Farewell St, Newport. For more info, islandmovingco.org @islandmovingcompany 

Island Moving Company Returns to Live Performance

On May 6, 7 and 8, Island Moving Company (IMC) will hold a hybrid in-person and livestreamed performance called Return to Live at the WaterFire Arts Center.

The performance will feature world premieres from guest choreographer Colin Connor, former artistic director of the José Limón Dance Company, and Danielle Genest, IMC’s associate artistic director. The performance will also include Mark Harootian’s recent work, Steady Grip, plus Ruth…Less, and A Life Well Lived by Miki Ohlsen, IMC’s artistic director. All performances will be accompanied by live music arranged by music director and cellist Adrienne Taylor, with pianist Andrei Bauman and violinist Emma Lee Holmes-Hicks.

Ohlsen, who curated the performance with Genest, said of the upcoming collection of pieces, “It furthers IMC’s commitment to artistic collaboration and providing audiences with the rare opportunity to engage with two live art forms in a singular production.”

Return to Live takes place May 6 – 8 at the WaterFire Arts Center. 475 Valley St, PVD. For more information, go to islandmovingco.org

Transform the New Year: Metamorphosis Dance Company’s NYE Extravaganza

It’s possible you’re missing the New Year’s Eve party you would have had if this had been anything resembling a normal year, but it only stands to reason that some of most innovative partiers in the state are more than prepared to bring the December 31 festivities online.

I spoke with some of the artists at TEN31 Productions and the Metamorphosis Dance Company all about how they’ve managed to soldier on in 2020 and what we should expect from their first virtual end-of-the-year spectacular.

Kevin Broccoli (Motif): When putting together an event for NYE this year, how much did the events of the year inform the way you wanted to construct it? I feel like NYE is going to be so bittersweet because everybody is excited to leave this year behind, but celebrating is going to be both difficult and seem difficult with the amount of loss we’ve had. I’d love to know what the conversations were about how to approach putting together the evening.

Alicia Wilder (Choreographer): When we discussed the idea of applying for the Rhode Island Commerce HArT Grant to put on a performance for the end of the year, we were trying to find a way to spread joy and cater an event specifically to the virtual world. 2020 was overall meant to be a year full of  celebration at TEN31, as it was our 20th anniversary year. In May we had plans to host a retrospective concert, highlighting pieces that had been produced by MDC over the last six years, as part of our contribution to the celebration. We decided not to focus the performance on something holiday specific, but instead as a celebration of all that we have accomplished that brought us to this point, and all the hard work the dance company members have put in to keep the space and programming alive through the pandemic. The pieces were chosen based on overall visual impact, smaller cast sizes, and to showcase a wide range of what MDC has to offer. 

The process of putting the pieces themselves together has presented us with a new challenge. We had to take all the contact and partnering out of the work, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. In particular, the piece “Natural Enemies” was 90% partnering and contact. The way these parameters have evolved the piece is truly remarkable. The distance between the dancers is greater, but it in turn increases their mental connection, which makes the space between them vibrate and really brings new life to the piece. I will be working closely with Montage Media Productions, the videography team for this project, to add the camera into the work, almost as an additional dancer. We want the show to have a concert dance feel, but the beauty of video production allows us to take the audience deeper into the work, and really immerse them. My overall challenge, or goal, has been to navigate how the restrictions can send us in new directions and create an immersive experience through film and movement. 

KB: It’s so exciting that dance is the focal point of the event. Will this be brand new material or work you’ve been putting together previous to this event being planned?

AW: I agree! The pieces in this show span from works created in 2014 through fall 2019. All of the pieces have been reworked slightly over the course of this process, but nothing has been created brand new for this show. However, most of the pieces were presented at private events, so this is the first time they will be performed for a public audience. 

KB: This will actually be the first dance event I’ve watched digitally since the pandemic began. Can you talk about how you factored in the digital element?

AW: The show will start with a brief introduction and welcome from me, as the dance company director. Then the pieces will be presented one after the other, still having the same feel that an in-person dance concert would have. We have shortened the overall program to fit into a 45min time block, because it is my experience that shorter broadcasts work better on a virtual streaming platform. It’s easy to be distracted when you’re in your own home. To add to that, we’ve really thought out how the camera, and in turn the audience, can become another mover in the show. This gives an audience the chance to see details and nuances they may not have seen from their seats in a theater, and also makes them feel like the piece is happening around them. The camera angles to me are so important. Being mindful of how you are visually telling the story, and keeping the audience engaged as well. We could have set the camera up with one wide view and let the audience view it just as if they were in theater, but I wanted to find ways to take it to the next level. My mindset during this whole pandemic is to find the positive. To look for ways to grow and build in the boxes we have been put in, both literally on the dance floor in divided spaces, and mentally. Setting restrictions is often used as a choreographic tool. It’s how you utilize those restrictions that creates the magic. 

KB: It looked like the event at Roger Williams Park this Halloween was a big success. Did that teach you anything about how to move forward with events like that until we can return to some kind of normal?

Eric Auger (Co-Founder/Artist): Creating a haunted house type of event that adhered to COVID-19 social distancing parameters felt daunting at first, but after having success with a few outdoor, community-based events earlier in the fall, we felt prepared. Adapting our costumes to include full face coverings was the easy part, as it was just an extension of the existing costume in material and design. Our biggest challenge was to figure out how to keep the energy transference of our performance intact with our audience while socially distancing. The Museum of Natural History (where the event took place) had already cleverly designed a one-way path through all of their galleries, so we took what they had already established and embellished it with some living tableaus presented here and there, all socially distanced, of course. What we learned is that ‘the show can go on,’ it just takes a bit more time to add in these new extra precautionary steps to our normal show guidelines, guaranteeing the safety of our staff and the audience. More importantly, we realized that our performances can still resonate with our audience, even with all of these restrictions; more than ever, people want to make pretend with us, because they have been restricted in their homes for so long. We had a lot of ‘thank you for doing this’ comments as people were exiting. 

KB: How has the company been adapting overall? Ten31 relies so heavily on events and obviously winter is going to be tough for anything indoors. Are you making plans for more digital events?

AW: Overall TEN31 has been doing alright. We have an amazing group of artists who work with us, and are willing to try new things! We’ve had a few events here and there, but the biggest thing for us has been the ability to shift gears and grow the dance space, and what I hope to soon be an arts and performance hub.  

MDC has a Youth Program (MDYP) that is now in its second season. We did lose a few students, due to having to shift virtual, but the program is still going strong and I have a feeling we’ll be back to where we were at the end of last year soon.  

Our open adult classes had just been one class on Tuesday nights. With the shift of things in the pandemic we now have 10 open adult wellness & dance classes running regularly, which in January we are planning to increase to 14. We offer hybrid classes, so people can come in person and follow all safety regulations, or they can take class from home. Our classes include: yoga, barré, strength and conditioning, jazz, contemporary, ballet, hip-hop and Latin dance. We’ve been able to bring in outside local artists to the teaching roster, and we can’t wait to keep building that.  

As for digital events, we don’t have any specific shows in mind, but are setting ourselves up with the ability to stream not only classes, but performances as well. We hope to have space for not just MDC and TEN31 to put on shows, but for local artists as well.  

TEN31 has also added some new skills to our performance roster, like virtual hosts for your meetings, conferences and parties. To pre-recorded or live performances to fill virtual events with entertainment. We have worked very closely with the clients for the few events we have done to make sure that our performers and the guests are kept safe. The winter does make things tough for indoor events, but we’ve been working to find ways for our outdoor characters to be a part of festivities as well. 

NYE with Metamorphosis Dance Company will be streaming live on December 31 @ 8pm. Admission is **Free.** For more information, go to ten31productions.com

Voting Nation

When Tammy Brown of The Womxn Project approached Alicia Wilder of Metamorphosis Dance Company suggesting they organize a flash mob to promote voting, Wilder was instantly on board. The song they chose to dance to is Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.”

“If you really take the time to listen to the lyrics, it is so relevant to the world we live in right now, and emphasizes the importance of coming together and using our voices to create change,” Wilder said of the song choice.

With support from Metamorphosis company members Lea Marie D’Arminio, Allie Smith and Simon Oloaye, the duo created an instructional video. They’re asking participants to learn the dance, then upload a video of them performing it with a little freestyle at the end.

Why did Wilder feel called to encourage others to vote? “There is a lot about 2020 that has left me feeling helpless, or as though I have a lack of control,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of my free time reflecting on how I can be more active in my community, and as a white ally. I feel it is my responsibility to do all that I can to encourage those around me to participate in this coming election, and to come together to fight for the rights of people who have been oppressed for far too long.

“After talking in depth with Tammy about where the project could go, how we could do it safely and follow COVID guidelines, and how to get the younger voting generation involved, we decided that a social media campaign was the right choice.  The idea of making this a fun, easy to learn dance, brings a sense of joy to the idea of voting and voting awareness.  It allows us to get the message across, while inviting people to have some fun!  Dancing or jamming to a great song like this, is always a good way, in my opinion, to let go of something, and feel a sense of freedom, and happiness.” 

Wilder said about the role of art in politics, “I think art, in general, allows people to work out what they are feeling and how they respond to things, without having to use words. … Though we don’t all have the same experiences, we all can experience the same feelings.  This is an important tool for communication in all aspects of life, but can act as a facilitator for conversation in relation to politics.”

Learn the dance at vimeo.com/471366893, then upload it with #ourvoteisourvoice and #votingnation, and tag @thewomxnprojecthq and @metamorphosisdanceco. For more information, go to fb.com/metamorphosisdanceco

Bringing the Arts Home: FirstWorks’ virtual summer camps keep kids creative

Syncopated Ladies

When Rhode Island schools closed in March, cutting students off from in-person arts education, FirstWorks, a nonprofit that works to ensure equitable access to the arts, stepped in to bring their educational opportunities virtual.

Kathleen Pletcher, artistic director of FirstWorks said, “We are always concerned about students’ access to the arts because the arts do a variety of things. We’re trying to train kids as artists and create new ways into learning. Learning to work collaboratively, empowering kids to express themselves and be civically engaged. The arts can really address some of the issues in the education system. They are a strong asset that can be not measured as precisely as math scores or literacy, but level the playing field in terms of income, and they give students a boost in succeeding.”

After the success of their virtual learning series, Pletcher and her team began thinking about how to conduct live workshops with students over the summer. “What do kids want to do this summer?” Pletcher asked herself. “Students like to be able to move and do things and build things.” So FirstWorks answered that student need by developing two virtual summer camps — one devoted to dance and the other devoted to theater.

Jillian Davis of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

These free summer camps run for one week in July, for 90 minutes a day. Pletcher says that the time commitment allows for a lot of variety of activity, spontaneity and social interaction in the programming, while also leaving kids plenty of free time in their day to play.

Pletcher says the camp instructors FirstWorks invited exemplify the organization’s commitment to diversity. “We invited artists we have relationships with — some of the leading artists in the world — but we did it with a consciousness of the diversity of students in RI schools.” They chose instructors with experiences and values that would mirror those of their students in order to provide kids with role models. But students’ needs aren’t FirstWorks’ only focus. “We, too, recognize that this is a really hard time for artists, and we are conscious of our role in sustaining and strengthening their work,” Pletcher says.

The Summer Moves Virtual Dance Camp is designed for students in grades 3 through 8 and will feature Shake It Up classes with Syncopated Ladies, an all women dance squad from LA. Pletcher says of the group, “They’re very cool and committed to history and empowerment.” Also? They worked with Beyonce. Students also will learn hip-hop and storytelling with Sokeo Ros, modern dance with performer and educator yonTande, and movement workouts with the principal dancer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, America’s first fully multi-cultural ballet.

The Virtual Theater Arts Camp is for students in grades 5 through 7. Pletcher says, “Students will imagine creative worlds and characters, write those worlds and characters, and then manifest them from home.” They’ll do this under the guidance of theater educator Sophie Siegel-Warren, puppeteer Heather Henson, costume designer Machine Dazzle and spoken word artist Chachi Carvalho, who believes in empowering young people through self expression. Pletcher says of this team of artists, “These are artists, from both the world stage and the Rhode Island stage, who really care about paying it forward.”

Chachi Carvalho

What can students who join these camps expect? “I think students can expect to have a really fun time!” Pletcher says. “Anybody who’s curious and excited to learn will be learning from some of the best.”

To help the artistic young person you love learn from the best this summer, sign up by going to first-works.org/education/firstworks-virtual-summer-camps. Summer camps run from July 20 – 24. The dance camp takes place each day from 10 – 11:30am and the theater camp takes place each day from 1 – 2:30pm.

Artistic Expression: This pandemic is hitting artists where it hurts

Performance cancellations, while necessary, are having a very real impact on the income of local artists. On this page, we’ll compile a list of resources and fun stuff to help artists connect, support each other and express themselves. To add to this list, email news@motifri.com

Find a list of free resources, opportunities and financial relief opportunities for artists here: covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2FhLt924rScJt2Hl4vMylXNFEDWyamcDhBmPjsWsYIJZ7mbHreC87j370

Rad Cat Crimson Al-Khemia insists that “the quarantine can’t stop the scene” and encourages artists to keep expressing themselves by posting videos of their performances with #TheRadRemedy.

Head Trick Theatre will help you take part in #TheRadRemedy. Email your idea of a theater performance or scene you’d like to perform and record to headtricktheatre@gmail.com.

Spoken word artist Christopher Johnson also suggests artists post videos of their performances with #SocialDistance.