DANCE THIS WAY: ETD Outreach Partners with The Felix Organization! by Andrew Tran

Earlier this year Laura Tufariello introduced me to The Felix Organization and its Director, Amanda Ricken; Laura is familiar with my passion for both dance and Outreach and was certain that a partnership between ETD Outreach and The Felix Organization’s Dance this Way fundraising event was a natural fit. Amanda’s enthusiasm for the project, combined with her dedication to the kids that benefit from the Event was inspiring.

I called upon two of my most Outreach instructors, Michelle Cole and Danielle Criss, and asked if they would be willing to donate time to work with six Felix alums to create an original "Felix Dance" for the annual Dance this Way fundraiser.  Rehearsal space in the Mott Haven School, as well as logistics of participants was coordinated by Travis Welcome.

Even after two rehearsals, the commitment of our “dance team” never wavered; if anything, their excitement increased as the date of the Performance approached.  Watching the team reminded me of my own youth and the fire that dance kindled in me, and which I am compelled to share.

The Event was dazzling, the dancing impressive and the energy palpable; the smiles of the faces of everyone (but especially the kids) were more than enough acknowledgment that this partnership was divinely inspired, and one meant to endure.

Special thanks to those who worked behind the scenes to make this an evening to be remembered; Myra Scheer, Tiffany Araya, and Elaine LaPersonerie – without any one of you, 2018 Dance this Way would not have been as magical!

 

For more information visit: https://www.thefelixorganization.org/ 

ETD Outreach Instructor Spotlight: Rebecca Brown by Andrew Tran

Rebecca Brown is a new addition to our ETD Outreach instructors. She brings a very unique skill set to our programming - she is a practicing social worker and a belly dancer! We are so excited to get Rebecca integrated into our workshops. Here is an interview we did with her to learn a little about her background as a dancer and mental health worker living in New York City!

1. When did you begin dancing? Has being a dancer always been your dream job?
I started out dancing jazz, tap and ballet at the age of 3 and stopped a few years later, mainly because my heart was not in it. I have always loved music and dance and it was always around me growing up, so I continued dancing, but with Latin (including Afro Latin), reggae, hip hop and later Belly Dance.

2. When did you join ETD Outreach? Where do you teach for us? How has your experience been so far? 
I joined May 3, 2018 as a sub teacher, so at the moment I am wherever I am needed :) My experience so far has been a great one. I am excited and look forward to teaching at the other sites.

3. What other dance, theater, or film companies have you worked for or taught with?
While attending college in Boston, I was part of the Johara Snake Dance Troupe Theatre. I have worked with Belly Motions while dancing in Miami and here in NYC I have been a part of Troupe Azmara and The Dream Team. In addition to Belly Dancing with these lovely troupes and companies, I have also trained and danced with master teachers of NYC,Boston,Miami, Egypt, Turkey, Cuba, Costa Rica and Algeria.

4. What is your ultimate goal as a professional dancer/instructor?
As a mental health provider and dancer, my ultimate goal is to blend these two practices to better help others heal and tap into a deeper level of self that they may not be aware of. Many cultures use music and dance to heal, comfort and soothe. If there's not a need to heal then it's at least still fun!

5. Describe your style of dancing and teaching. What artists have impacted you the most?
For me, dance is fun, spiritual, a work out and a way to express the self, in addition to many other things. I like to approach teaching dance in a non threatening and safe way where participants can feel a connection to the movements and the cultures behind the dances (when referring to folk or cultural dances). I like to also use dance as a way to promote social justice and by preserving cultural dances through transmission, one person at a time I can do so. While there may be a place for strictness in teaching a dance form, I try to keep it less on the restrictive side and more expressive, unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. I think it is important to maintain integrity to any art form, especially if it represents something larger than the movements itself. When teaching dances that have it's origins in a given culture,I believe there should be education around meaning and the value it has to the people that the dances come from. The artists that have impacted me most are my dance teachers and some dance friends. They have taught me how to bring out the best dancer in myself and how to use my body in a way that makes a statement. They have always encouraged my creative process and supported me when my self confidence as a dancer was not as high. They have also instilled the knowledge that I have on the dances I do as well as remind me of my responsibility to not only uphold high standards for myself as a dancer but as one who will preserve the art forms I share.

6. What public figure has had the biggest influence on you and why?
At the moment I don't have a public figure that has had a big influence on me, but I can say that there have been "movements" that have been inspiring such as the Beauty and Healthy at Every Size (Body Positivity) as well as the concept of self love. Though these ideas are not entirely new, they have been pushed more to the forefront over the past few years. This has resulted into a larger diversity pool where we are beginning to see more positive messages about different body shapes, sizes colors and abilities. As a woman who has struggled with body image, in size shape, color, even down to my hair, I can see the changes of acceptance or at least conversations regarding this. While we still have a long way to go, I am pleased to start seeing individuals question the discrimination and biases that we as a culture have held onto for so long. It's a great feeling when I am not the only person who looks like me doing what I do or when I am not barred from an opportunity due to my locs, height or body type. Overall, I am happy to see that there is more of a consciousness on what it means to be truly unique and loving yourself just the way you are, whether your are darker, shorter, bigger, rounder, smaller, taller,lighter, non cis gendered and so forth.

7. Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
"Do what makes you happy. The rest will follow".

8. What's been the largest obstacle/struggle in your life to becoming an artist in NYC? How did you overcome it?
Whoa! What a loaded answer! To briefly describe, I'll start with the one I think we all come to know, which is that like many of the other art disciplines, it can be very difficult unfortunately, to make a decent living with the salary (if any) that you can earn from the dance world. I am a Native New Yorker and have always dreamed of being an entertainer. Growing up, my focus was always on dance and the arts. Once I discovered belly dance, which was at the age of 15, I became obsessed and there has been no turning back, Though my family was very supportive of my dreams, they would also continuously tell me that I needed a "back up" or a safety job that would pay for my bills and all other expenses. I continued my pursuit of Belly Dance through out my college and graduate school training, though I would say that it was easiest in high school for me to balance, but I nonetheless kept up with my academic studies and dance. Ironically, I am in much student loan debt due to my "safety career" and often find that I have to resort to dancing in addition to my psychotherapeutic practice to help pay of these student loan bills! The good thing is that I love what I do. I am a dancer, period. I am also a licensed social worker who enjoys working with others and sharing the healing practices of dance. To be brutally honest, it is financially hard, but I feel great about the work that I do!

Touched by an Angel by Andrew Tran

I recently saw the revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America on Broadway and was deeply touched by it, both personally and professionally and it is no wonder it won Best Revival of a Play at this year's Tony awards. Andrew Garfield's performance as the prophet Prior Walter earned him the Tony for Best Actor and edged out veteran stage actor Mark Rylance who received his fourth Tony nomination for Farenelli and the King, which I saw in London last year.  Garfield's co-star Nathan Lane picked up his third Tony win for his role as infamous real-life lawyer Roy Cohn. 

Professionally, as a choreographer, I was utterly astounded by Steven Hoggart’s visionary creativity in using the six performers (Rowan Ian Seamus Magee, Matty Oaks, Jane Pfitch, Ron Todorowski, Sylvia Vrskova and Lucy York) credited as “Angel Shadows,” all moving silently and impeccably as a unit, to bring the mammoth wings to life.

I’m not generally a fan of puppetry in the traditional sense, but this was no basic hand-operated muppet! Rather, Hoggart’s complex choreography (more akin to Lion King or War Horse) uses multiple human bodies moving fluidly in perfect unity to create a striking visual and breathe life into the wings of an angel that is integral to the epic scale and grandness of this “gay Fantasia,” as the author calls it.

I recently attended the Chita Rivera Awards, where Steven Hoggart was given a special honor, Douglas and Ethel Watt Critic’s Choice Award for his remarkable use of storytelling through non-traditional dance and movement for Angels in America as well as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, both of which were also nominated at this year's Tony awards.  It’s interesting to note that the only double-nominated Best Choreographer this year represented work for two plays, not musicals. It made me think about how I'd like to see dance and movement better represented in all forms of theater, and more often.

Angels in America, and the professionals and performances honored at the Chita Awards and at the Tonys, proves that dance and choreography extends far beyond typical expectations in terms of boundaries and execution, and is therefore significantly rewarding for audiences. It’s exciting to see expressions of dance on Broadway, and beyond, break free from any and all constraints.

The show also affected me in a very personal way, by reminding me of my first great love.

Growing up gay in Los Angeles was not easy, and I was fiercely bullied, which has been the unfortunate experience of so many who are “different” from the perceived norms. Theater saved my life. It gave me a place and purpose, and has sheltered and provided for me ever since I discovered the stage.

Having attended The University of The Arts in Pennsylvania I needed a break from the unforgiving cold, so during my winter break I traveled down to Key West to visit with family and unwind after a long and physically exhausting semester. It was on this break that I met and fell madly in love with a man named Jeff. He opened my mind, soul, body and heart in ways I didn’t think possible. He was older and we lived in different parts of the world, but nothing could get in the way of our affection.

Then, in a hotel room one night in 1991 he came to me shaking with fear and regret, and then confessed: he had the dreaded HIV infection, the killer virus which had been relentlessly massacring so many since its arrival, a large population of them gay men. At this time there was no cocktail like there is today, so those acronyms usually spelled death. I had two choices: run away from this horror and all that comes with it, or stay with the man I loved and see it though, no matter what. I chose the latter.

It didn’t get easier, but for a long time, our love beat all of the many odds being constantly stacked against us. His illness was only one part of it. He survived dropping down to 80 pounds and an unimaginably low T-Cell count, which meant full blown AIDS. Jeff was my angel and my miracle. But at the time, there was no gay marriage and no real gay rights. Our love was an international, transcontinental relationship, and as anyone who’s had a long distance relationship understands — they require enormous effort from both parties. That was no issue. We’d move mountains and cross oceans for each other. In the end it was others who put obstacles in our way.

Watching Angels in America on HBO in 2003, and now again, on stage (even more affectingly portrayed), reminded me of my own indestructible angel, Jeff. It also reminded me how far we’ve come in the world and as a nation in gay rights, and in hope for those with HIV/AIDS. It has showed me the sheer perseverance and creativity of the human spirit. There is still progress to be made, but I do feel grateful to observe what has already unfolded, like glorious, protective angel wings, in my own lifetime.

One on One with Aaron "Ether" Petykowski by Nicole Baker


Aaron "Ether" Petykowski is the costume designer for first commissioned piece, Cycles (2017). His creative design sparked inspiration in all us at ETD and amazed everyone that attended our 2017 NYC Season.We are so excited to be performing an excerpt of this piece again at Bryant Park (Friday, June 22nd) and again at Dancers for Good (Saturday, July 20th). Here is a little background on him and his life at New York University...

1. When did you begin designing clothes and costumes? Do you do it professionally?

I began designing costumes a bit over a year ago, unless you count decorating t-shirts. I first made a costume for pride and since then I try to make time to make interesting pieces here and there. I do not do it professionally, it’s just a fun hobby!

2. When did you first collaborate with Eryc Taylor Dance? What was the project? How was your experience?  

This is my first collaboration with Eryc Taylor Dance! The project was tough and really pushed my knowledge and attention to detail. It was a really great learning experience and taught me a lot about what I value in costume design.

3. What would be the ultimate project to design on?

I love the idea of working with someone like Shingo Sato, who was a big inspiration for my collaboration with Eryc Taylor Dance. His clothing construction is unlike anything I have seen before and I would love the opportunity to learn from him.


4. Describe your style of costume design and the artists that have impacted the most.

My costume design style is abstract. I have no formal education in designing or sewing so everything I make originates from that basis. I look to the New York club kid scene for inspiration as well as artists like Kim Chi who create more conceptual designs.

5. What public figure has had the biggest influence on you and why?

RuPaul has had the biggest influence on me because she was my introduction to the drag world and really gave me a deeper appreciation for LGBTQ art and culture. If it was not for her I would not have found the club kid scene or the countless drag artists who are consistently innovating and creating.

6. Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?

I read a book on tidying one’s house and the author said that if something you own doesn’t inspire joy in your life, you should get rid of it, and I think that is universal statement.

7. What's been the largest obstacle/struggle in your life to becoming an artist in NYC? How did you overcome it?

The largest struggle for me becoming an artist in NYC is juggling being a full time student at New York University and wanting to begin more freelancing as an artist. I have found a balance but it took me a couple years of seeing how much I could do of either and still feel fulfilled by both.

8. What projects or designs are you currently working on?       

Currently I am taking a break from creating any sort of designs but I still find myself sketching costumes all the time, so it’s probably a matter of time before I start working again!

 

 

Collapsed Movement and Broken Forms: A Dance Photography Collaboration with Nikola Bradonjic by Nicole Baker

ETD + NIKOLA

Collapsed Movement and Broken Forms

Dance and photography are extremely visual art forms. Given the right combination of timing and talent, the eye can witness seemingly impossible moments of beauty that defy the rules of nature and provoke profound emotions. Combine the two and those extraordinary moments are frozen in time.

That’s the rush and delight felt when the right collaborators combine minds to make the visions crafted in their imaginations transform into striking images which seem spontaneous, though in actuality, they took careful planning, the concerted efforts of all involved and a touch of magic to achieve.

This was the process with photographer Nikola Bradonjic. We created a vision board to layout the visual concepts that excited both of us: off-balance movement with nude body details, heightened by a dancer’s muscular, sculptural form.

We knew it might be challenging, but definitely worth trying. So Nikola and I (with the help of my exquisite ETD Company dancers) set out to explore what being off-balance might look like in dancing movement and how that might further be enhanced by alternating nude exposure with leotards or draping fabrics.

We ended up capturing the dancers in mid-air movement leaping off of apple boxes. But instead of traditional action shots (which can be seen around NYC in posters for Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham Company, ABT and in many dance companies’ advertising) where a dancer is caught in the moment of flawless execution of an athletically complex move, we decided to forgo the aim of perfection (something so pervasive in dance) and instead sought to showcase collapsed bodies and broken forms.

The result of our experiment (with many thanks due to the phenomenal ETD Company dancers, who are unafraid to be bold, daring and find beauty in imperfection) has yielded a dynamic yet haunting quality, both poetic and vulnerable, a rare thing often only found in those special moments in art or life when we fully abandon all control and completely let ourselves go.

To learn more about Nikola, I asked him a few of our Artist Spotlight questions. Check out his responses below!


Nikola Bradonjic is documentary and fine art photographer from Serbia, now bahsed in New Work. For past 10 years he was working and producing both documentary and commercial work for various internationally known magazines, institutions and brands. He is specialized in portrait and documentary photography but theater and stage has been his biggest passion since the beginning and of his career. For more information visit: http://nikolabradonjic.com/

When did you begin photography? Has being a photographer always been your dream job?
Yes, photography always been my dream job. This year is my 10th anniversary from the moment I bought my first camera and start learning and living photography. And it just getting more and more interesting and challenging. I love it!

When did you first collaborate with Eryc Taylor Dance? What was the project? How was your experience?
This year was the first time I collaborated with Eryc Taylor Dance. Working with Eryc and team was super cool. We had a concept but most important a freedom to play and improvise. The result are strong and dynamic images that reflects nature of the dancers body and flow of the movement.

Have you ever worked with other dance, theater, or film companies?
Yes, I worked for the Serbian National Theater for several seasons. They have ballet, drama and opera companies with big production and busy season. I also covered few mayor theater festivals in Serbia and abroad.

Describe your style of photography and the artists that have impacted the most.
I like black and white photos, raw look, dirty aesthetic, and strong shadows.
There is so many good photographers that I’m discovering everyday, but I’m mostly under the influence of old school masters such is Irving Penn or Max Vadukul.

What public figure has had the biggest influence on you and why?
There is few Serbian musicians that shaped my view on life and things, with their raw music and sharp lyrics. I’m always returning to their music again and again.

Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
Just be honest to yourself and kind to the others.