Inside the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, where Dance Now! Miami is in residence, there is a hub of activity as the company prepares for its performance on Saturday night of Contemporanea 2018. Yet, for all the activities occurring in the studio, there is a sense of tranquility and communality, which comes from cofounders Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini.
“Dance Now! Miami is intrinsically linked to Miami,” explains Baumgarten. “We create individually and collaboratively, to bring together our voices.”
One such collaboration is “The Book of Psalms,” which will have its world premiere on Saturday at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. It’s not an easy task to take on one of the best-known books of the Old Testament. This is not a Cecil B. DeMille production, but an intimate look at several psalms. Some are very well known and even renowned (Psalm 150), which Leonard Cohen popularized in his song "Hallelujah."
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To select these particular psalms, Baumgarten turned to her parents, Murray and Sheila Baumgarten, who are Judaic scholars, for help. Murray had recently interpreted the psalms for Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony.
Baumgarten says they also tried to find psalms that reflected the influence of community. They eventually settled on 12, divided into three chapters of four psalms each: Chapter 1 — Politics Overwhelms Life, Recitation, Despair becomes Renewal; Chapter 2 — Through the Valley, The Audacity of Hope; Chapter 3 — Sing a New Song.
Baumgarten says that “as human beings, as directors of a company, it’s important that we build community in the activity that we do and in the art work.
“The underlying meaning took over the force and the trajectory of the work,” says Baumgarten. “It’s not a story about one individual but of humanity.” Adds Salterini, “Behind everything that is transient is a unifying energy, the motor that keeps it running.”
Back in the rehearsal studio, the dancers are moving the sets into place. They were designed by Elizabeth Camargo and are a centerpiece of the work. They can be moved into many formations and are artfully employed by the dancers. The music is an original score by DeLane Doyle of the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music, with lighting by Bruce F. Brown and costumes from Renato Armijo.
Contemporanea 2018 also includes “XY The Engine of Life,” “Here on Earth” and “Touch Me.”
“Touch Me” originated with the Joffrey Ballet, which is often called “America’s company of firsts.” They were the first company to perform at the White House, at Jacqueline Kennedy’s invitation, the first ballet company to appear on television, and the first to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
Baumgarten and Salterini have an extensive history with the company as master teachers. “Touch Me” had its world premiere in 1977 and is a powerful solo for a male dancer. Watching Dance Now! dancer Jose Brooks rehearse the piece is a reminder of how important it is to keep these works alive.
The fact that Dance Now! Miami dancers are able to perform both historical and contemporary pieces is a testament to the training and artistry employed by the company. Baumgarten and Salterini prepare the dancers to be versatile, and are able to manage many different styles of dance.
Salterini says contemporary dance is the bringing together the formalism and bravado of ballet, the earthiness of modern dance and the rhythms and syncopation of jazz dance. His piece “XY The Engine of Life” is a duet inspired by how similar two dancers looked from the back. This led to thoughts of chromosomes and DNA. It’s a look at the relationship between a man and woman who are composed of these two elements. Salterini explains that he imagines the piece as if you are looking through a microscope, “getting closer and closer as you watch.”
Baumgarten’s piece, “Here On Earth,” hits closer to home and is in memory of the victims and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, which occurred on Feb. 14 in Parkland. The piece deals with the first steps of adulthood, of going off to college, or stepping out of the subway for the first time, explains Baumgarten.
It examines the fact that many young people are forced to become adults at a much too young age. Many are dealing with issues well beyond their years. Adolescence is over too soon and sometimes, under circumstances beyond their control, young adults must step up to the plate.
Contemporanea 2018 is a show rich with story telling, of the journey of mankind and our struggles and hopes along the way.