Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dancing Sugarplums...

Merry belated Christmas, if you celebrate. And if you don't there are many other things to celebrate.

The Nutcracker.

At this time of year, I smile and remember my own, many Nutcrackers and enjoy reading the stories, blogs, and articles about other dancers' experiences.

Joffrey dancers reflect on Nutcracker
Philly dancer, Jennifer Yackel, reflects on Nutcracker

My own thoughts turn to December 1996, when I danced the role of Clara. The performance was particularly special, not only because I, like many girls, dreamed of dancing the role, but because I dedicated my performance to a dear friend who had passed away during our elementary school years. I remember reviewing songs we learned in chorus together on the bus. She was a gifted piano player and could relate to my love of dance.

In 1996, several weeks before the performance, Joseph N. Farrell wrote the following article for the Reading Eagle. (That was before the Internet was in every corner of the world and I've been unable to find a link to the original article to post.)

"Ballerina, 14, will be dedicating her role to 'angel'

Angel of God
His child, my friend,
To heaven above, 
My performance I send...

Jessica Warchal, 14, has studied ballet for 11 years. Next weekend in the Rajah Theatre, her hard work gets its reward.

She is one of two members of the Berks Ballet Theatre corps to be showcased in the lead role of Clara in 'The Nutcracker.' Rebecca Stamm will open the run as Clara on Friday night at 7:30. Jessica will take the lead twice Saturday, at 2 and 7:30 pm.

It is, Jessica says, a dream fulfilled. It also will be, she says, bittersweet. She is dedicating her performance to Angela Tamayo, friend and confidant, who died of leukemia March 14, 1995 at the age of 11.

Enjoy, my friend,
As you watch me tonight;
Smile down upon me
With your childlike delight...

Jessica and Angela grew up in the same neighborhood... (removal my own) and went to the same school... (removal my own), since kindergarten. They were members of the first class of female altar servers at the church and sang together in the school's Siena Choir. Angela, Jessica says, was the only one who understood her dedication to dance.

'We understood the beauty of the arts and she was such a talented musician,' Jessica says.
Angela did not make fun of her dream to dance one day as Clara, but encouraged her, Jessica says.
Angela got sick in fourth grade and missed most of the school year, was in remission and in school for fifth grade, got worse in sixth.
The last Jessica saw her was at the start of that sixth grade Christmas vacation, three months before Angela died.

'She didn't want her friends to see her so sick,' Jessica says. 'She wanted us to remember her the way she was.'
So Jessica wrote her goodbyes to Angela, telling her she'd never forget her, and meaning it, and making her a promise, and meaning to keep it.
If she ever got the role of Clara, she vowed, she would dedicate her performance to Angela.
Then she served on the altar at Angela's funeral Mass.

'I understand,' Jessica says, 'that she died of a terrible disease.
'But a lot of people can overcome it, and I don't understand why she couldn't be one of those people.
'I still talk to her a lot,' Jessica says, 'and I really do believe she helped me get this part. She was always there for me.'
Jessica's is not the only heavy burden laid upon this year's 'Nutcracker.'

Two weeks ago, director Carol Ennis lost her son James, 34, in a tragic automobile accident.
The kids in the corps are helping Carl get by, she says.
For Angela's parents, Ronito and Yonie Tamayo, the birth of Myra three weeks after Angela's death has helped them get by.
For Jessica, knowing that Yonie, along with Angela's brother, Steve, 7, will be there for her when she makes her debut at Saturday's matinee is really helping her.

And Angela?
'I know,' Jessica says, smiling through her tears, 'that she'll be there.'
In the program there's Jessica's dedication poem, three stanzas, which ends thus:

As I give you my gift,
As I dance you my part,
My promise fulfilled,
May joy fill your heart!

Merry Christmas, Angela!"

This is a scanned version of the printed article. 

The timing to share this story feels poignant for two reasons.

Joseph Farrell, the author of this and many other articles, recently passed away. Joe, thanks for your work as a journalist and for diving into stories that embraced our vulnerability as humans and for sharing our struggles and successes.

Over the weekend, Berks Ballet Theatre, again, as they have for many, many years, presented The Nutcracker. This year, another little girl fought for her life. BBT dedicated their performances to Laney Brown. Read the story here: BBT dedicates Nutcracker to Laney

And, if by chance, you haven't heard of Laney's story, here's the story from Philadelphia's ABC 6.  (The video from their website wouldn't embed).

Laney lost her battle on Christmas Day. Thoughts, light, and dancing Sugar Plums go out to Angela, Carol's son, Laney, and the many more friends and family we remember and miss during this time of coming together, happiness, and cheer. We celebrate your lives through our dancing!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Winter Solstice!

Preview for KYL/D's Be/Longing I

Save the date for Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers' performance at the Mandell Theater on March 21st & 22nd. Check out this preview of the performance:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Moving mindfully in moody moments...

It's that time of the year when I'm reading and hearing many stories about how to deal with the stress of holiday parties, end of semester finals, family get-togethers, darker days, colder temps... A lot of challenges. 

I'm reminded of the importance of grounding into our bodies and moving within intention - physically through our environment and mentally through our crowded lists of to-do's and what'd-I-forget's?. In moving inward physically and mentally, we're better prepared to negotiate the excitement of our external worlds. 

There are so many movement practices. Which ones work best for you? Dancing. Yoga. Pilates. Running. T'ai Chi. Labyrinth Walking. Biking. 

Here are some links if you're interested in learning more about moving with intention and where you can get started, if you're not already! 

Dance UP - Check here for all types of concert dance classes, opportunities, and performances in Philly
5 Rhythms - A contemplative movement experience, a dynamic workout and meditation
Conscious Dancer Magazine - A HUGE resource for dance and contemplative practice

The Yoga Alliance - a great place to find resources and information on yoga practice

The Pilates Method Alliance - learn more about Pilates and where you can practice

TRX - more mindfully into suspension training? Check out TRX - developed first by a military man for an intense, portable workout for troops in county, it's great for traveling dancers, or anyone else!

Veriditas - The Labyrinth Society website. Find a labyrinth in your area, find a guide, learn more about the history and the practice. 

Spirit Wind Internal Arts - Founded by Sifu Chik Mason, Spirit Wind is a great resource for T'ai Chi, Qigong, and Kung Fu.

There are so many more ways to drop into your body, but these are just a few. Stay warm, stay safe, stay sane, and stay present! (What other suggestions do you have? What works for you?)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A picture's worth a thousand words...

Excerpts from Embedded Layers will be performed this Saturday as part of Grains of Sand in the Mandala. Click here for tickets. 

I'm including some photos from the original work taken by Bill Hebert. Thank you, Bill, for capturing the vulnerability and strength of each of the dancers and of the work. Friends, please feel free to comment and include your own impressions of the work!

Performance by Rhonda Moore, KC Chun-Manning, Brandi Ou, Evalina Carbonell, Cassandra Cotta, & Rachael Hart. 
Lighting by Nanette Hudson Joyce.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Master Class with The Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange and DeSales University today

Before the ice storm hits the northeast, join me and find warmth in the studio! The class is open to the public and will be a lot of fun!

When: Today, 1-3pm
Location: DeSales University, Brisson Dance Studio
Class rate: $15

Everyone is invited!

The class is grounded in Skinner Releasing Technique and Kun-Yang Lin's CHI Awareness Technique. We'll focus on developing efficient movement pathways and an understanding of the body's anatomy through breath, the use of gravity, and articulation through the joints, and skeletal alignment. During this class each dancer will:
Learn my choreographic repertory
Engage in contemporary and classical forms
Journey into your own artistic voice
Strengthen core and distal muscle groups
Shake off tension
Release and expand into your kinesphere
Develop a relationship with your body, with the space, and with the community taking class
Find excitement and joy in your moving body!

See you in the studio!

Brisson Dance Studio, DeSales University
2755 Station Avenue • Center Valley, PA 18034

Photo credit, Matthew Wright

Monday, December 2, 2013


A vocalist, a guitarist, and a dancer enter an empty studio. It's a chilly Friday morning. The guitarist's fingers and hands are cold. The vocalist's throat, voice, and lungs are cold. The dancer's core, legs, feet, arms, spine are cold. Each has a sense of the work they're bringing, but not of the collision that will occur. The anticipation of how we'll spend the next few hours and the small universe that will evolve and erupt is as exhilarating as the chill.

So... how do you want to work?"
Should we sit?
How is the space delegated? 
What do you need for movement?

Our concern for each other is as delicate as our concern for the work.

Jess and Carl and I almost simultaneously begin warming up, turning to the patterns and practices that we know best. Jess vocalizes and walks around the space, swinging her arms, rocking her weight between her feet. Carl sits, then stands, then also begins walking, somewhat meditatively, as if the walking is part of the practice but the focus is centered on his relationship with the guitar. I curl and flex my spine and my core, articulate and paw through my feet and hands, fold and unwind my limbs. Listening to Jess and Carl and their interaction, I begin responding with and through movement that I had prepared for our rehearsal. Slowly, we begin shifting the space together, moving around the studio, improvising with our own techniques, but listening to each other and responding.

What if you...?
I thought about that but thought....
Let's try it.


What did you think? Feel? 
What worked?
Could you sense...?

Video - is this thing on? 

Again, as Carl begins, I have a sense of anticipation. We're crafting in the moment. Playing with the process and changing the experiments with the tools we each bring to the table. Jess enters the space. I follow, listening to her movements, allowing my body to be open to her space and how she's defining it.

We have something... !! Until our next rehearsal, we'll continue to process and refine on our own. Stay tuned...

Come and check it out on Saturday, December 14th! Click here for tickets: Grains of Sand in the Mandala tickets