“Itty Bitty Nitty Gritty”

In the dog days of summer, there has to be a reason to want to be in the heat! Last Thursday night, August 4th, in New London, CT, was ACD’s reason to kick up their heels in the blazing sun and join the masses in their sweat and enthusiasm for dance! CT Ballet was celebrating their 30th year and we were invited to open the bill for them. With a cascading fountain and the downtown waterfront as a backdrop, the dancers turned up the heat with my new piece, “Itty Bitty Nitty Gritty,” a comedic trio inspired by three children’s chairs. The loud horns from the ships occasionally wafted by… a nice reminder of where we were!

James, Milan, and new to ACD, Catherine Borrone, used every trick in the book to get a chuckle and put a new twist on a“another chair piece.” Has modern dance seen the last of them? I think not!

I was so excited the night before at the Baryshnikov Arts Center when we finally finished the piece. My assistant and understudy, Sarah, came through for me, handling all the nitty grityy details, that I was too busy to take care of myself. Everyone needs a Sarah!!

As is typical with us, we made another Jiffy Mix-dance, “just add water,” and off we went. It was really great using a piece of music from my childhood from an obscure band, The Audience. It was dream come true, finally using this music that I longed to use for so many years! In a suite of three pieces of music, this was the one that was like a steam roller — get out of the way!! The dancers danced it with ease and commitment, which was no easy task!

The itty bitty things we often overlook are the smiles on the faces of children when they’re at play. This dance made my inner five-year-old smile with three children’s chairs in use in high style. I still hear the playground sounds and the bell ringing — it’s time for milk and cookies — thanks for the fantasy, dancers!

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Shelter: A Cosmic Experience

Maslow would be proud of me if he knew that I was highlighting the lowest level of his pyramid in a dance! If we didn’t have the handicap of always focusing on how to afford food and shelter, just think how much more we could do for the world. In this dance I used an umbrella and a large, red cloth to depict money, power and greed. Annie had a silver, sequined pair of honkin’ high heels that I had to use (oh no, I think I have a shoe fetish)! A pair of gold lamé gloves found their way into my dance bag, so she wore those, too. Hmm… silver and gold!

This event at the Secret Theater in Queens happened on July 10th from 6:30-9:30 pm. I had 3 hours to make a 9 minute 28 second piece. It happened in 2 hours and 9 minutes when it was all said and done, however. My inspiration was this picture that hangs on my office wall of people running for shelter under an umbrella.

Nicole Renaud, an amazing French composer/accordian player was so gracious to allow me to use her music, and in fact, was delighted to have me choreograph to her work.

I must have been in labor because I only had a few phrases to show the dancers, and the rest  just came with a few pushes. We ran the piece twice at the end with videographer, Marie Le Claire  raring to go. Also, young film maker Amelia Golden, was present the whole time with the task of making a new film of the experience. With all lenses in focus, the the dancers sweat like there was no tomorrow and a new piece was born!

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do this, which also served as a farewell, but not goodbye to Ryan Schmidt and Julie Fiorenza–both who will be moving out of NYC at the end of the summer.  So sad to see them leave, but life is calling them to new pastures.

After a fun corner-diner experience with the group, I had time to think about the upper levels of the pyramid on my commute back home:  morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts–seems I attained that level in a quick 2 hours and 9 minutes–enough time to make me forget that rent was due!

Pie, Picket Fences & Purgatory

Though I wasn’t called in life to drive oxen, I have occasionally been driven to madness. There’s a narrow chasm between iconic Americana and our deeper desires toward temptation and deviance.  I think I’ll live, but someone should really examine me after this.

“As seen on TV, ” the ideal 50s and 60s sometimes painted a picture-perfect image of the American life, but simmering beneath the surface, were always subversive leanings toward immorality and injustice juxtaposing it.

Pie, Picket Fences & Purgatory, ” through the mediums of film and performance art, attempts to reveal how the euphemistic “American Dream” falls between the cracks of the perfect picket fence/apple pie-idealism.

My inspiration came from Ben Moss’s film I saw at Monkey Town in Brooklyn, (now closed), almost two years ago. I remember falling in love with the pulp-retro-feel, and the iconic 50s images. It was meant to be that he and join our forces yet again, to produce this  absurd blend of performance art.

This Friday is almost here and I had no time with my one guest artist, and niece, Dori, so I rehearsed over the phone. That’s a first! I actually choreographed her part without moving at all. How this is all going to come together, will be very interesting, no doubt.  I had four separate rehearsals with all four cast members, but somehow I’ll have to trust that they will blend all their parts  into this cauldron of insanity I’ve written–the dress rehearsal will be in fine form!

I can’t wait for you all to see The Factory Underground in Norwalk, CT. This “diamond in the ruff,” is really like a funky SoHo gallery. I have six artists featured in the gallery, all depicting either Amercana themes, or themes of purgatory. This event is dedicated to the folks from Joplin, MO, and Springfield, Ma, who suffered through the devastating tornadoes this past Spring. We’ll have an apple pie raffle with all proceeds going to the relief efforts.

Hope to see you there, but keep in mind, may not all be there!

P.S. Show went great! Here’s a slideshow of the event with photos by Fay Li.


The First Dance

It’s not every day that your niece asks you to choreograph her first dance for her wedding! Without hesitation, I answered with a resounding, “yes!” Barrie White’s, “My Everything, ” was the chosen song, and the basement of Diamond Hill Church in Cos Cob was my rehearsal studio. You’d be surprised how much can get done in a short time, in a  small space, just outside the bathrooms of a church. Dori and Dave, the dancers of this romantic, theatrical duet, were eager and on their game each time we met.

Suited in simulated wedding attire, with an added prop of a hat, donned by Dave, the two lovers whirled and dipped their way into the dance, as if auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance!”  I had to put in some quirky, Barrie White moments, “hey baby…love ya baby…you’re my one and only…” but directed in such a way that characterized a dignified, sophisticated conquest of a couple in love—NOT!! We pulled out all the stops, and on May 14th, the fever broke, and the crowd went nuts over the gorgeous girl in white and the dude with the hat! I give these two an A+ for technique, character, and a job well done! Kudos to photographer, Dustin Herlich for getting these terrific shots!


Mother’s Day

My mother lived to a ripe young age of 62. I found solace in choreographing this solo, now 13 years ago. It had taken me four years after her death to get around to my real feelings, I guess, as she died in 1994. I recall the night well when I performed this solo at the Cunningham Dance Studio, in NYC.

My mother recalled a dream to me before her death that had to do with seeing me in a chair. I told her that I had had a dream that she died. She said to me, “Sometimes dreams about death are not always about the person dying.” In the text I wrote for the piece, I replied to that by saying, “… but sometimes they are.” As dreams are the window to our soul, I’ll dedicate this Mother’s Day to the souls of all mothers who have passed.

A Taxing Time

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C Nicholas Johnson in “1040” Nick Johnson, cooling off in “1040” Nick Johnson arriving to the office in “1040”
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“Hat Trick” in “1040” Nick Johnson tells the taxes to ‘take that!’ in “1040” C Nicholas Johnson, ending it all, in “1040”

Circa 1988, a piece was performed for my Master’s Dance Concert in Tucson, Arizona, entitled, “1040,” about a man going crazy doing his taxes. Oddly, this piece resurfaced as I was cleaning out my tapes the other day. Though a bit dark, and certainly not in stereo, this solo danced by C. Nicholas Johnson, aka, Nick, depicts the ordinary man who sets out to do his taxes, then becomes overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, slowly crumbling under the pressure. I remember all the props and the schlepping of the desk in and out of the studio every time Nick and I rehearsed.  I can’t imagine pulling that off in NYC!

A trained mime and dancer, I capitalized on Nick’s talents, and had a blast creating this piece with him. I remember in 1985 I started an improv with this same premise, and when my dancer was performing it at the not-so-new Community Education Center in Philadelphia, the plaster from the ceiling started to crumble and fall all over the stage, the props, and the dancer–no coincidence there, as it perfectly fit into the theme of the dance.  Alas, “1040,” was choreographed in the heat of the desert  for my dear friend, Nick, to whom I am eternally grateful!

Upon my return to the East after my graduation, I met with the producer of a new Broadway play, “1040,” (I often have Broadway show titles for pieces, long before they make it to the Great White Way), who had met my father at a staged reading. Of course my father talked up my dance to him, as if he could use me as a choreographer for his Broadway show of the same title!! Well, he met with me at the Edison Hotel Cafe (how appropriate), and we had a nice chat. He didn’t need a choreographer, but I think he was intrigued by the work, nonetheless. His play never made it past the previews, so I guess I can confidently keep my title. Have a good time doing your taxes, click here to see “1040,” and do your best not to go crazy!

Dance in New London-No Foolin’

On Friday, April 1st, the New London Dance Initiative presents  its 1st Annual “New London Dance LIVE” Benefit.  As invited guests, Adams Company Dance will be performing “Heart Song,”  danced by Ryan Schmidt & James A Pierce III. Proceeds support dance scholarships for New London youth… a worthy cause, indeed!

Muscle memory kicked in, as James and Ryan got the piece back in their bodies in one short rehearsal. There’s no fooling that this will be a fantastic evening of dance! It’s really happening… no joke!

What Lies Beneath A Winter Coat

Being in top form in the bleak, mid-winter was not a problem for these dancers on the night of our Ailey video shoot. After peeling off their bulky, winter coats, the ‘hot bods’ went to work.   Fay Li arrived with her cameras; Marie Le Claire set up her tripods, and the behind-the-lens work was underway. In the meantime, the theater heated up, a small audience arrived, and the magic began! It went  better than I expected, thanks to Gierre, Julie, James, and Ryan. Thank you dancers for a job well done!

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James A Pierce III Julie Fiorenza Gierre Godley & Ryan Schmidt

A December to Remember

I support local farmers and film festivals!!! There is a best kept secret called the Mystic Independent Theater in the bucolic little town of Mystic on the Stonington side of the river. They are really cool folks who have a passion for the arts, artists, and film culture. Their film festival will screen Ben Moss’s and my documentary, “Except At Night: The Making Of A Dance,” next Sunday, December 12th.  Read the below paragraph for more details!

This short documentary reveals my process; whereby, I assigned myself the challenging task of choreographing a 10-minute dance in 3 hours time. Using eight dancers, this film highlights the craft of choreography and the process behind its creation.  It’s a first of its kind film, and it is my hope, that  I will be able to allocate its use for educational purposes. The documentary was shot at the Massey Theater at Greenwich Academy in Greenwich, CT by Benjamin Moss, Master’s candidate in the Film Program at Hunter College, NYC. “Except At Night: The Making Of A Dance” was first screened at Ailey Citigroup Theater, NYC, in 2009.

Locally grown and ready to be sown, this documentary is for all to enjoy! Hope to see you there!