Performing Arts

Dance Now! Miami: New voices and poignant visions

The full Dance Now! Miami company performs ‘Random Patterns of Falling Leaves.’
The full Dance Now! Miami company performs ‘Random Patterns of Falling Leaves.’

Slap. A hand hits the floor. Slap, another hand hits, then another, as each dancer takes turns hitting, then falling to the floor. The dancers then move on to the next movement, their breathing barely audible as they move to another formation, each dancer connecting with another as if seeking some kind of balance between them.

Modern dance has always had a ubiquitous relationship to the ground, to the pull of gravity towards the earth, as much as ballet desires to escape gravity.

Dance Now -  Anthony Velazquez, Benicka J. Grant in Melody In Four Parts - photographer Chris Freeman.jpg
Anthony Velazquez and Benicka J. Grant of Dance Now! Miami in ‘Melody In Four Parts: Just Traveling.’ Chris Freeman

Choreographer and dancer Christopher Rudd is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts. He is back in Miami to choreograph F(l)ight, a commissioned work for Dance Now! The piece is making its world premiere on Saturday at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach as part of the New Voices initiative. This is the inaugural program for New Voices, which Dance Now! developed to give opportunities to the next generation of choreographers. “What makes dance survive? Look to the future and at the past,” said Diego Salterini, Dance Now Miami’s co-artistic director.

Daniel Lewis, founding dean of dance at New World School of the Arts, watches from the side. He has been Rudd’s mentor for many years, passing on his considerable knowledge of the arts to the younger man. Lewis loves to share his experience as he benefited from mentor relationships with renowned artists Anna Sokolow, Jose Limon and Martha Hill. “I took the best of each and passed it on,” Lewis said.

Christopher Rudd Headshot Kristina Zaidner photo.jpg
Christopher Rudd Kristina Zaidner

Since leaving Miami, Rudd has expanded his horizons. His New York-based troupe, RudduR Dance, spent time in France and also in West Africa. He was a founding member of the Carolina Ballet, performed and choreographed for Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, the Elizabeth Streb company and Cirque du Soleil. “I speak with my art,” Rudd said.

Working in the studios of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Rudd is preparing his piece. The dancers are working with concentration and intensity, they are lifted, placed back on the floor and they push the rules of physics with their bodies.

“My goal is to communicate with what I’m working with. Physicality is innate,” Rudd said. “I try to create movement so that the audience can feel that they are in the work.”

Dance Now - Melody in Four Parts, dancer Shellie Cash, photographer Jenny Abreu..jpg
Dance Now! Miami dancer Shellie Cash in ‘Melody in Four Parts: Just Traveling.’ Jenny Abreu

Dance Now! Miami is entering its 19th season. “Miami has developed enough that we are in our third generation of choreographers,” said Hannah Baumgarten, the company’s co-artistic director. Each generation is helping the other, evident by the numerous choreographers now working in Miami.

This year, Salterini and Baumgarten are bringing back two pieces from previous seasons and a world premiere: “Melody in Four Parts: Just Traveling” and “Random Patterns of Falling Leaves” are revivals; “Grace” is a world premiere by Baumgarten.

“Melody in Four Parts: Just Traveling” is choreographed by Salterini and takes us through the cycle of birth, life, death and the beyond. The original poem is powerful as is the dance. The dancers intertwine, go over and under each other. As the cycle continues, they lift and hold each other up. When death arrives in the form of a trio, it is not a surprise but a part of the cycle. The movements are earthy at times, light at others, but the connections between the dancers are always charged with humanity.

“Grace,” choreographed by Baumgarten, tells the story of the biblical figure of Hannah. Baumgarten delivers a work which depicts the sorrow and the sacrifice of Hannah’s story. Allyn Ginnsayers, the dancer who portrays Hannah, says she “thinks about longing for something, the joy of having what you long for; thinking that a relationship has to change, has to evolve and grow to turn into something different, letting go of what you love.”

Dance Now - Random Pattern of Falling Leaves - duet Jenny Hegarty Quilvio Rodriguez, photographer Jenny Abreu.jpg
Dance Now! Miami dancers Jenny Hegarty and Quilvio Rodriguez in ‘Random Patterns of Falling Leaves.’ Jenny Abreu

Ginnsayers brings a realistic performance to the dance, which starts as a poignant solo then evolves into a memorable duet. Hannah moves us with her unshaken faith and devotion.

The final piece on the program is “Random Patterns of Falling Leaves,” choreographed by Salterini and Baumgarten. It is an ode to fall, to nature moving onto the cold of winter, pulling us along its deadly path. The dancers begin together like trees in a forest. The movements are at times calm and at others chaotic. The dancers’ movements make it clear that fall is upon us and winter is not long behind. Dancer Renee Roberts delivers a solo full of tenderness and hopefulness. “I try to manufacture the feeling of fall. I think of lightness and inner peace.”

Back in the studio, the dancers are at ease, on a break. Daniel Lewis prepares to leave, his job completed. What, I ask, does he look for at this stage of the rehearsal process, technique or artistry? “Artistry,” he says without hesitation. The studio is immersed in artistry.

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If you go

  • What: Dance Now! Miami “New Voices”

  • When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, The Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at Alper JCC, 11155 SW 112th Ave.

  • Tickets: $35 general admission, $15 students and seniors

  • Information: 800-211-1414; www.colonymb.org/dance-now-miami; 305-975-8489

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