Making Connections: The Choreographers’ Notes

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June 6, 2014 by Nicole

The Center for Contemporary Dance will present its summer concert, Making Connections, at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 8 at Trinity Preparatory School.

I had a chance to talk to the choreographers about their work for the concert. Below you’ll their notes, which will give you a sneak peek at the dance works being presented, and each choreographer’s perspective on making connections.

Choreographed by Nikki Peña
Music: Balmorhea, excerpts from the album Guest Room
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece was inspired by one of my best friend’s grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer’s. It came about after numerous conversations regarding the journey of both his grandmother and the immediate family. In regards to the theme, the dance explores the idea of a moment in time and the fluidity of this moment. We spent time discussing our ability to manipulate our memory of moment, particularly as we move further from it. This can impact our connections with one another as well as that memory, ultimately making it illusive. As the “memory keeper” struggles with the loss of this moment, those around her partake on a personal journey as they have to decide what remnants, if any, of the moment they hold on to. The beautiful thing about this structure is that it also reflects the innate connections humans have with one another and our interactions. We may forget the details of these interactions (much like improv dance) but we will never forget the feelings generated by that moment. I hope that the audience recognizes the beauty of absolute vulnerability that the dancers are sharing with them. The story lies in the dancers’ hands and each performance creates a different set of emotions and movements. All they have been provided with is a series of general guidelines and no choreography at all. For most of the dancers, this will be the first time to experience performing an entire improv piece on stage. It has been a gift to experience working with such vibrant and enthusiastic dancers. I appreciate their hard work and dedication to the process and the story.

It’s Party Time
Choreographed by Jere James
Music: Playground, Happy Acoustic Instrumental
Samsung, Over the Horizon
Choreographer’s Notes: This is 2 pieces that we’re putting together for this cast of 2-7 year olds. I was inspired and challenged to create something that made sense and would be fun for them. So, they’re going to a birthday party! The dancers are really having a lot of fun with it and it feels very life-like. For me, as far as Making Connections, this piece is about the interactions between the kids. We’re watching them relate and enjoy each other’s company. There is a main character in the piece – the birthday girl – and she links the two together, as she greets and interacts with the guests at her party. I want my audience for this to just feel happy and feel that “aww” factor – I want them to feel part of the party.

Letting Go
Choreographed by: Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music:  Max Richter, Embers
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece is about two young girls, each experiencing difficult journeys. They watch over each other as they battle through tough times. They learn that “Letting Go” – necessary in order to come to peace – is challenging but made easier through communication and fellowship. The piece shows how making connections enables them to move forward.

Heart Like a Hummingbird
Choreographed by Jennia Shanley
Music: Zoe Keating, Optimist
Choreographer’s Notes: For the Summer Concert, I wanted to explore an abstract concept and use instrumental music. I have a large cast – 21 dancers, all representing a diverse cast of different ages, levels, experience and backgrounds. Since many of my dancers for this show were also in my Winter Concert piece, I wanted to challenge my dancers to think differently, to have a new experience from the last work. When I first found the music, I was captivated immediately by the introduction of this strong beat – it sounds like a heartbeat. Then the strings came in with a very quick and repetitive motif which reminded me of hummingbird wings. I began to research and found out that a hummingbird normally beats its wings 90 times per second. But when it sees its mate, that rate goes up to 200 beats per second. Not only that, but when the mates see each other, they begin to fly in a perfect arc – they’re dancing! They’re dancing together. That image made me want to create this dance. When I think about “Making Connections”, I wanted to explore something that was universal, not just human, but also what connects us to the earth. I found it really striking that there’s something similar between humans and hummingbirds– in how we express our feelings. When we see a loved one, friend, or even a crush, our heart flutters! We can’t help but smile, and we face each other heart to heart, there is a desire to connect. It’s a oneness that we share with nature. Even though it’s a more abstract piece, I want the audience to understand both the literal and figurative imagery of the dance- I don’t want to leave them guessing. The audience will see the dancers’ chests rising & falling to emulate the heartbeat, and they’ll see the arms as the beating of wings. I want the audience to enjoy the movement and the feeling that the piece evokes, and further to understand and appreciate how these feelings connect us to one another and how that carries over into nature as well.

Lady Day
Choreographed by Dario J. Moore
Music: Billie Holliday, All of Me
Choreographer’s Notes: The legendary jazz singer and songwriter Billie Holiday is the inspiration for this piece, performed by 12-year-old Pre-Professional Student Mikaela Chatman, who we know is an exceptional tap dancer. We wanted to challenge and creatively stretch her. So I set a highly stylized contemporary work on her that forced her to develop a believable character…without relying on the tap shoes. The work is playful but grounded by the idea that in order to fully reap the rewards of life, you must give it your all, no matter the challenges or circumstances. Billie Holiday was a pioneer in her industry and for female artists across the globe. We all have the power within us to revolutionize the world around us–what allows this power to be unleashed is as simple as knowing (really knowing) it’s there and ready to be accessed. Once this connection is made, there’s no option but to go to the mountaintop.

Dance in the Rain
Choreographed by Dario J. Moore
Music: Mark Andrew Taylor, Dance in Rain
Choreographer’s Notes: Inspired by the movement of a flock of birds, this piece symbolizes how we must work together with deeper attention to the synchronicity of the spirit, if we are to reach our human potential. Surprising as it may be, a flock of birds is never led by a single bird. When any one bird changes direction or speed, each of the other birds in the flock responds to the change, and they do so nearly simultaneously regardless of the size of the flock. In essence, information moves across the flock very quickly and with nearly no degradation.  Like a flock of birds, we too must learn to trust our instinct and acknowledge our impact on one another and our planet.  The song ‘Dance in the Rain’ is composed and performed by Mark Andrew Taylor, a friend and fellow artist, who wrote the piece for his nephews when they were very young.  I use it here as an appropriate backdrop to underscore the intention of the dance—life is bountiful mystery that can only be fully revealed when we understand that we are not separate.  Each of us holds a piece of a puzzle that will only reach its intended shape when we choose to embrace our connection to one another.

Let’s Talk Tap Talk
Choreographed by Margo Blake
Music: Surrey Dance Music, Studies in Tap
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece was created for my beginner tap class. I really just had a desire to showcase tap in the concert and I wanted this class to have the opportunity to perform. The dance came together one piece at a time – I found the music, which I really liked, then I saw the costumes and the concept came to me from there. I had the idea of kids hanging out together after school and they decide to start talking tap. So they come together and tap. It’s a fun piece. There’s no deep emotion, it’s just the dancers telling this story through the dance and the costumes. I hope the audience sees and enjoys the accomplishments of the class – they’ve mastered level one tap, the steps but also learning how to ground themselves and working on musicality. I want them to see this class perform the piece and having fun together because they’re all friends and can relate to each other through dance. There’s a cohesiveness that relates back to the overall theme of “Making Connections”. Dance is a universal language. And everyone can tap – it bridges beyond generation gaps.

Choreographed by Mary Love Ward
Music: Gurdjieff, Morceaux Apres des Hymnes Byzantins for Cello & Piano #2
Choreographer’s Notes: This is not a new work for the company. It’s gone through many different stages and actually started as a solo, and has evolved into a duet. It portrays a romantic relationship, although others could view that [relationship] differently, and it’s really about the various layers of self-identity. How sometimes, even when you’re in a relationship with someone, you don’t really know the other person, you’re not really seeing the other person for who they are. In many ways your partner is a reflection of yourself and there is comfort in that. But eventually, you come to a place where you can finally see each other in a more authentic way. This dance portrays that. There are gestures repeated in the work that symbolize the disconnect – maybe it’s a mask or holding yourself back – but eventually the dancers let that go and look at each other honestly for the first time. This piece has some personal connections for me, but my work is really about sharing dance, not exploring my personal life on stage. I try to transcend any personal story and work with the universal concept [underneath], the things that everyone can relate to.  I hope this piece makes the audience examine their own relationships with others and maybe cause them to think about whether they’re holding back in some places.

Hart Beat
Choreographed by Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music: Chicago Soundtrack, Roxie
Choreographer’s Notes:  The story of this piece is about a once passive girl who changes her outlook on life after being ridiculed by her peers. I want to challenge my audience with this piece to determine the effect of making (or maybe missing) connections in life and the impact those have. The piece serves as a sneak-peek at the 2015 Summer Concert, Broadway Our Way! In the 2015 Summer Concert, the great songs of Broadway are retold through new dance works, with fresh interpretations of memorable stories from the New York stage. All students are invited to perform!

Across the Sea
Choreographed by Marilyn Gaston
Music: James Galway, Across the Sea
Choreographer’s Notes: Across the Sea uses Irish music, folk tunes adapted for flute and piano played by the incomparable flutist James Galway, and it would be impossible not to feel like moving (or at least tapping your foot)  to this music! It speaks to us all with its driving rhythm and upbeat melodies. Ballet is my “first love” choreographically, but even classical dance owes much of its origins to steps derived from folk dances, so this was a happy union–a chance to use the classical dance vocabulary with a folk dance flair. My young dancer, Elanna Nickerson, and I are just getting to know each other as student/teacher, and I wanted to give her a piece that would inspire her to work on speed and learn some basic partnering skills in the process. Classical ballet is beautiful, ethereal, other-worldly, but it is also alive, contemporary, and vibrant–and this is something I strived to show in the choreography. The theme of this performance, “Making Connections,” also evoked the idea of bringing something to the stage that connects our wonderful country to its immigrant origins “across the sea,” to show how we have integrated our many “melting pot” ancestors into a whole. I hope the audience enjoys this Irish interlude as much as I enjoyed creating it. (Go ahead, tap your feet…)

One Voice
Choreographed by: Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music: One Voice, Brandy
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece was inspired by the way children from around the world worship in different ways, but we are all worshipping one Lord. Due to a lack of dialogue between the different cultures and religions, God decides to send down two dancers, “Love” and “Peace” to help others understand the way. When I thought about “making connections” this piece shows how that if we can bridge the gap with other cultures, we will find we are not that different.

Fix Me Jesus
Choreographed by: Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music: Alvin Ailey Revelations soundtrack
Choreographer’s Notes: The story and the inspiration behind this choreography is that of sinners who try to escape from their demons, and God steps in and sends His Holy Spirit for help. This piece is about another kind of connection. When you’re in need of spiritual help, connect with God because he will help.

Mirror Mirror
Choreographed by Olivia Gale
Music: Barlow Girl, Mirror
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece is actually derived and reworked from a piece I’d done previously for a group of young people. It’s been transformed into a solo and it’s about the things that influence our behavior and getting beyond that. It’s about making a connection with yourself and who you really are, not a façade or what’s expected of you. This piece has been a really good fit for Christiana Posada, not only because of her dancing ability – her technique – but her ability to convey emotion. This piece requires that acting, in the sense of being able to convey emotion and make it real, so that it’s coming from the inside out, not the outside in. That’s what will enable the connection with her audience and the ability to bring them with you on your journey. I hope the audience feels a connection with her on stage and feels the freedom that comes when you triumph over all the outside influences that try to dictate who you are. There’s also a sense of defiance in this piece, of being told who you are and how you should feel…and triumphing over that, like breaking the chains.

Choreographed by Jere James
Music: Black Violin, A Flat
Choreographer’s Notes: For this piece, I was inspired or at least moved to create a reaction to how technology has taken over our lives. We are so caught up in our phones and social media now. Technology can both deepen and disrupt relationships. You’re on your phone at dinner, you’re on your phone at work. We just don’t pay society and the world around us any attention anymore. To connect this with the theme, Making Connections, it’s really a question of are we? With this piece, I want to create an awareness in the audience of how we’ve lost sight and lost continuity with each other as we’re becoming a tech-based society. And I want them to have this hmm moment. They’re here at a dance concert. Are you watching the piece and looking at your Instagram? Or live-tweeting it? Are you in the moment?

Whisper in the Dark
Choreographed by Dario J. Moore
Music: Sharyn Scott, Whisper in the Dark
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece is a solo work by 9-year-old beginner level student Emma Ashton, and was inspired by the story of a young princess making her way through the mystical forest that surrounds her castle. She has been warned not to enter the woods, but curiosity gets the best of her and, one day, she begins to journey deep into the forest where she discovers a magical lake; there, in the water she sees her future and knows she is destined for incomparable greatness. But there is a price to pay, and only the Princess knows the cost, revealed to her by the forest lake. The story was designed as a creative tool for the dancer to connect meaning to movement, an important skill for all aspiring artists. Emma has great potential as a dancer and storyteller. If she keeps working hard and remains committed to her dance studies, there will be no stopping her.

Choreographed by Mary Love Ward
Music: Digitonal, Come and Play
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece is a completely new work I’m setting on the dancers. It’s a quartet and it’s about a tightly-knit group that have deep connections together. This piece is a contemporary ballet piece and I needed dancers with strong ballet technique.  I like broad, universal concepts and this piece was inspired by the idea of God’s breath of life in all of us – whatever that means to you. I believe we’re all divinely inspired; we’re all connected in different ways, even down to a molecular level. Therefore, there’s a lot of movement in the piece that’s symbiotic in nature. This piece is all about “making connections” – physical ones in the choreography, the idea that we all share this molecular connection together. And we as artists are connecting together and collaborating – there’s trust and a lot of lifts and counterbalances built into the movement. The dancers relationships and their connections should also be part of the audience’s experience. I want the audience to connect in some way [to the piece]. Part of this is about the breathing and that universal connection. The music is cyclical – they’ll see the rise and fall [like the breath] in the dance and maybe breathe with the dancers. I hope that viewers experience the inspired moments of human collaboration; working together makes us stronger.

Kindred Spirits
Coby Project Company Work
Music: Lykke Li, I Follow Rivers
Notes: I was inspired by a long lasting friendship between 3 dancers. Even though we may not always move together, much less see each other, we are forever connected. Improvisation thrives on connections between those involved. All art does. The connection between these particular dancers has been ongoing for almost a decade and their ability to work cohesively without preparation is a true representation of connection. [Note: as an improv piece, it is not rehearsed other than moving in class together using a variety of concepts.] I hope the audience is able to simply appreciate the movement generated by these dancers as well as celebrate their collective journey.

Vanilla Cherry Swirl
Choreographed by: Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music: The Chordettes, Lollipop
Choreographer’s Notes: This is one of our competitive ensembles. As far as making connections, it’s about 3 friends connecting with sass. Connecting to our silly, childlike side nurtures the soul. I’m excited for these dancers to showcase how far they have come in dance.

We’re All We Need
Choreographed by Jere James
Music: John Legend, Ordinary People
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece came out of a conversation and a vision of wanting to create a shantytown for my dancers to inhabit and express this concept of they’re all that they have – just each other. The dancers are mostly our pre-professionals and they’re really taking to the choreography and working hard for me to tell the story that as long as they have each other, this community is able to conquer any adversity. I want my audience to see that story, that it’s not about the materials of life. If you take away the glam, the glitter, it’s what you have left – your community. And that’s how this piece relates to “Making Connections” as well. It’s the connections with each other that allow them/us to rise above our circumstances to not only survive, but thrive.

Serengeti Sky
Preview of the 2014 Winter Concert ‘Makulu’
Choreographed by: Dario J. Moore
Music: Ayub Ogada, Kothbiro
Choreographer’s Notes: Through the story of a mother wildebeest’s daring journey to reunite with her herd, Makulu (mah-koo-loo) celebrates the magic of family, love and miracles in this full-length African ballet.  This piece is in essence a blessing, a prayer for the mother wildebeest, named Makulu, who has been separated from her herd and is left to face the obstacles of the Serengeti.  In addition to the character of Makulu, other dancers in this piece portray giraffe and African animal spirits who are guiding the mother wildebeest back to safety.  They represent her ancestors and all those who have made the same challenging journey during the greatest migration on earth, which takes place each year across the Serengeti and involves thousands of wildebeest.  Makulu is an incredible story based on true ecological events—here we see a glimpse into the story that will be told in December 2014 by a full cast of students and professionals.  Everyone is welcome and invited to participate in this inspiring production that will serve as the School’s 2014 Winter Concert.

On Second Thought
Choreographed by: Dawn Stewart-Branch
Music: Beyoncé, Listen
Choreographer’s Notes: This piece is about two engaged couples who refuse to marry due to lack of communication. True love is about following your heart, not an ideal. It just goes to show you, communication is key. Never assume you are on the same page. You have to make those connections to really understand what it going on in your relationships.

Making Connections is not only an arts experience, but an opportunity to support the dance community here in Central Florida. Proceeds benefit the organization’s cornerstone campaign to Give Kids the Arts!, which annually provides more than 3,000 under-served children access to free dance education experiences.

Details & Tickets
Sunday, June 8, 2014
7:00 pm
Trinity Preparatory School
5700 Trinity Prep Lane
Winter Park, FL 32792
$12 (advance); $15 (at the door); $25 (VIP premium reserved seating)*
*VIP tickets are limited and include reserved seating in the front 5 rows of the orchestra section.
Call (407) 695-8366 or purchase online at

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