Transform the New Year: Metamorphosis Dance Company’s NYE Extravaganza

It’s possible you’re missing the New Year’s Eve party you would have had if this had been anything resembling a normal year, but it only stands to reason that some of most innovative partiers in the state are more than prepared to bring the December 31 festivities online.

I spoke with some of the artists at TEN31 Productions and the Metamorphosis Dance Company all about how they’ve managed to soldier on in 2020 and what we should expect from their first virtual end-of-the-year spectacular.

Kevin Broccoli (Motif): When putting together an event for NYE this year, how much did the events of the year inform the way you wanted to construct it? I feel like NYE is going to be so bittersweet because everybody is excited to leave this year behind, but celebrating is going to be both difficult and seem difficult with the amount of loss we’ve had. I’d love to know what the conversations were about how to approach putting together the evening.

Alicia Wilder (Choreographer): When we discussed the idea of applying for the Rhode Island Commerce HArT Grant to put on a performance for the end of the year, we were trying to find a way to spread joy and cater an event specifically to the virtual world. 2020 was overall meant to be a year full of  celebration at TEN31, as it was our 20th anniversary year. In May we had plans to host a retrospective concert, highlighting pieces that had been produced by MDC over the last six years, as part of our contribution to the celebration. We decided not to focus the performance on something holiday specific, but instead as a celebration of all that we have accomplished that brought us to this point, and all the hard work the dance company members have put in to keep the space and programming alive through the pandemic. The pieces were chosen based on overall visual impact, smaller cast sizes, and to showcase a wide range of what MDC has to offer. 

The process of putting the pieces themselves together has presented us with a new challenge. We had to take all the contact and partnering out of the work, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. In particular, the piece “Natural Enemies” was 90% partnering and contact. The way these parameters have evolved the piece is truly remarkable. The distance between the dancers is greater, but it in turn increases their mental connection, which makes the space between them vibrate and really brings new life to the piece. I will be working closely with Montage Media Productions, the videography team for this project, to add the camera into the work, almost as an additional dancer. We want the show to have a concert dance feel, but the beauty of video production allows us to take the audience deeper into the work, and really immerse them. My overall challenge, or goal, has been to navigate how the restrictions can send us in new directions and create an immersive experience through film and movement. 

KB: It’s so exciting that dance is the focal point of the event. Will this be brand new material or work you’ve been putting together previous to this event being planned?

AW: I agree! The pieces in this show span from works created in 2014 through fall 2019. All of the pieces have been reworked slightly over the course of this process, but nothing has been created brand new for this show. However, most of the pieces were presented at private events, so this is the first time they will be performed for a public audience. 

KB: This will actually be the first dance event I’ve watched digitally since the pandemic began. Can you talk about how you factored in the digital element?

AW: The show will start with a brief introduction and welcome from me, as the dance company director. Then the pieces will be presented one after the other, still having the same feel that an in-person dance concert would have. We have shortened the overall program to fit into a 45min time block, because it is my experience that shorter broadcasts work better on a virtual streaming platform. It’s easy to be distracted when you’re in your own home. To add to that, we’ve really thought out how the camera, and in turn the audience, can become another mover in the show. This gives an audience the chance to see details and nuances they may not have seen from their seats in a theater, and also makes them feel like the piece is happening around them. The camera angles to me are so important. Being mindful of how you are visually telling the story, and keeping the audience engaged as well. We could have set the camera up with one wide view and let the audience view it just as if they were in theater, but I wanted to find ways to take it to the next level. My mindset during this whole pandemic is to find the positive. To look for ways to grow and build in the boxes we have been put in, both literally on the dance floor in divided spaces, and mentally. Setting restrictions is often used as a choreographic tool. It’s how you utilize those restrictions that creates the magic. 

KB: It looked like the event at Roger Williams Park this Halloween was a big success. Did that teach you anything about how to move forward with events like that until we can return to some kind of normal?

Eric Auger (Co-Founder/Artist): Creating a haunted house type of event that adhered to COVID-19 social distancing parameters felt daunting at first, but after having success with a few outdoor, community-based events earlier in the fall, we felt prepared. Adapting our costumes to include full face coverings was the easy part, as it was just an extension of the existing costume in material and design. Our biggest challenge was to figure out how to keep the energy transference of our performance intact with our audience while socially distancing. The Museum of Natural History (where the event took place) had already cleverly designed a one-way path through all of their galleries, so we took what they had already established and embellished it with some living tableaus presented here and there, all socially distanced, of course. What we learned is that ‘the show can go on,’ it just takes a bit more time to add in these new extra precautionary steps to our normal show guidelines, guaranteeing the safety of our staff and the audience. More importantly, we realized that our performances can still resonate with our audience, even with all of these restrictions; more than ever, people want to make pretend with us, because they have been restricted in their homes for so long. We had a lot of ‘thank you for doing this’ comments as people were exiting. 

KB: How has the company been adapting overall? Ten31 relies so heavily on events and obviously winter is going to be tough for anything indoors. Are you making plans for more digital events?

AW: Overall TEN31 has been doing alright. We have an amazing group of artists who work with us, and are willing to try new things! We’ve had a few events here and there, but the biggest thing for us has been the ability to shift gears and grow the dance space, and what I hope to soon be an arts and performance hub.  

MDC has a Youth Program (MDYP) that is now in its second season. We did lose a few students, due to having to shift virtual, but the program is still going strong and I have a feeling we’ll be back to where we were at the end of last year soon.  

Our open adult classes had just been one class on Tuesday nights. With the shift of things in the pandemic we now have 10 open adult wellness & dance classes running regularly, which in January we are planning to increase to 14. We offer hybrid classes, so people can come in person and follow all safety regulations, or they can take class from home. Our classes include: yoga, barré, strength and conditioning, jazz, contemporary, ballet, hip-hop and Latin dance. We’ve been able to bring in outside local artists to the teaching roster, and we can’t wait to keep building that.  

As for digital events, we don’t have any specific shows in mind, but are setting ourselves up with the ability to stream not only classes, but performances as well. We hope to have space for not just MDC and TEN31 to put on shows, but for local artists as well.  

TEN31 has also added some new skills to our performance roster, like virtual hosts for your meetings, conferences and parties. To pre-recorded or live performances to fill virtual events with entertainment. We have worked very closely with the clients for the few events we have done to make sure that our performers and the guests are kept safe. The winter does make things tough for indoor events, but we’ve been working to find ways for our outdoor characters to be a part of festivities as well. 

NYE with Metamorphosis Dance Company will be streaming live on December 31 @ 8pm. Admission is **Free.** For more information, go to ten31productions.com




Voting Nation

When Tammy Brown of The Womxn Project approached Alicia Wilder of Metamorphosis Dance Company suggesting they organize a flash mob to promote voting, Wilder was instantly on board. The song they chose to dance to is Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.”

“If you really take the time to listen to the lyrics, it is so relevant to the world we live in right now, and emphasizes the importance of coming together and using our voices to create change,” Wilder said of the song choice.

With support from Metamorphosis company members Lea Marie D’Arminio, Allie Smith and Simon Oloaye, the duo created an instructional video. They’re asking participants to learn the dance, then upload a video of them performing it with a little freestyle at the end.

Why did Wilder feel called to encourage others to vote? “There is a lot about 2020 that has left me feeling helpless, or as though I have a lack of control,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of my free time reflecting on how I can be more active in my community, and as a white ally. I feel it is my responsibility to do all that I can to encourage those around me to participate in this coming election, and to come together to fight for the rights of people who have been oppressed for far too long.

“After talking in depth with Tammy about where the project could go, how we could do it safely and follow COVID guidelines, and how to get the younger voting generation involved, we decided that a social media campaign was the right choice.  The idea of making this a fun, easy to learn dance, brings a sense of joy to the idea of voting and voting awareness.  It allows us to get the message across, while inviting people to have some fun!  Dancing or jamming to a great song like this, is always a good way, in my opinion, to let go of something, and feel a sense of freedom, and happiness.” 

Wilder said about the role of art in politics, “I think art, in general, allows people to work out what they are feeling and how they respond to things, without having to use words. … Though we don’t all have the same experiences, we all can experience the same feelings.  This is an important tool for communication in all aspects of life, but can act as a facilitator for conversation in relation to politics.”

Learn the dance at vimeo.com/471366893, then upload it with #ourvoteisourvoice and #votingnation, and tag @thewomxnprojecthq and @metamorphosisdanceco. For more information, go to fb.com/metamorphosisdanceco




Bringing the Arts Home: FirstWorks’ virtual summer camps keep kids creative

Syncopated Ladies

When Rhode Island schools closed in March, cutting students off from in-person arts education, FirstWorks, a nonprofit that works to ensure equitable access to the arts, stepped in to bring their educational opportunities virtual.

Kathleen Pletcher, artistic director of FirstWorks said, “We are always concerned about students’ access to the arts because the arts do a variety of things. We’re trying to train kids as artists and create new ways into learning. Learning to work collaboratively, empowering kids to express themselves and be civically engaged. The arts can really address some of the issues in the education system. They are a strong asset that can be not measured as precisely as math scores or literacy, but level the playing field in terms of income, and they give students a boost in succeeding.”

After the success of their virtual learning series, Pletcher and her team began thinking about how to conduct live workshops with students over the summer. “What do kids want to do this summer?” Pletcher asked herself. “Students like to be able to move and do things and build things.” So FirstWorks answered that student need by developing two virtual summer camps — one devoted to dance and the other devoted to theater.

Jillian Davis of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

These free summer camps run for one week in July, for 90 minutes a day. Pletcher says that the time commitment allows for a lot of variety of activity, spontaneity and social interaction in the programming, while also leaving kids plenty of free time in their day to play.

Pletcher says the camp instructors FirstWorks invited exemplify the organization’s commitment to diversity. “We invited artists we have relationships with — some of the leading artists in the world — but we did it with a consciousness of the diversity of students in RI schools.” They chose instructors with experiences and values that would mirror those of their students in order to provide kids with role models. But students’ needs aren’t FirstWorks’ only focus. “We, too, recognize that this is a really hard time for artists, and we are conscious of our role in sustaining and strengthening their work,” Pletcher says.

The Summer Moves Virtual Dance Camp is designed for students in grades 3 through 8 and will feature Shake It Up classes with Syncopated Ladies, an all women dance squad from LA. Pletcher says of the group, “They’re very cool and committed to history and empowerment.” Also? They worked with Beyonce. Students also will learn hip-hop and storytelling with Sokeo Ros, modern dance with performer and educator yonTande, and movement workouts with the principal dancer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, America’s first fully multi-cultural ballet.

The Virtual Theater Arts Camp is for students in grades 5 through 7. Pletcher says, “Students will imagine creative worlds and characters, write those worlds and characters, and then manifest them from home.” They’ll do this under the guidance of theater educator Sophie Siegel-Warren, puppeteer Heather Henson, costume designer Machine Dazzle and spoken word artist Chachi Carvalho, who believes in empowering young people through self expression. Pletcher says of this team of artists, “These are artists, from both the world stage and the Rhode Island stage, who really care about paying it forward.”

Chachi Carvalho

What can students who join these camps expect? “I think students can expect to have a really fun time!” Pletcher says. “Anybody who’s curious and excited to learn will be learning from some of the best.”

To help the artistic young person you love learn from the best this summer, sign up by going to first-works.org/education/firstworks-virtual-summer-camps. Summer camps run from July 20 – 24. The dance camp takes place each day from 10 – 11:30am and the theater camp takes place each day from 1 – 2:30pm.




Artistic Expression: This pandemic is hitting artists where it hurts

Performance cancellations, while necessary, are having a very real impact on the income of local artists. On this page, we’ll compile a list of resources and fun stuff to help artists connect, support each other and express themselves. To add to this list, email news@motifri.com

Find a list of free resources, opportunities and financial relief opportunities for artists here: covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2FhLt924rScJt2Hl4vMylXNFEDWyamcDhBmPjsWsYIJZ7mbHreC87j370

Rad Cat Crimson Al-Khemia insists that “the quarantine can’t stop the scene” and encourages artists to keep expressing themselves by posting videos of their performances with #TheRadRemedy.

Head Trick Theatre will help you take part in #TheRadRemedy. Email your idea of a theater performance or scene you’d like to perform and record to headtricktheatre@gmail.com.

Spoken word artist Christopher Johnson also suggests artists post videos of their performances with #SocialDistance.




Just Dance!: Inaugural Motion State Dance Festival to take place at the WaterFire Arts Center

Mar Parrilla performs

Dancers both local and national will converge in the Creative Capital to showcase the latest in contemporary dance at the inaugural Motion State Dance Festival, held Thursday, March 5, through Saturday, March 7, 2020. Hosted by the WaterFire Arts Center, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night will feature award-winning, genre-busting artists in solo performances. Interspersed between pieces will be short films of dances specifically made for video, followed by post-show conversations and parties. Motif spoke to festival co-producer Lila Hurwitz about this founding venture: 

Heather Bryant (Motif): How do you describe contemporary dance to someone who isn’t well-versed in the field? 

Lila Hurwitz: Contemporary dance refers to dance that pushes the boundaries of the traditional form. The Motion State Dance Festival centers on artists who create performances that suggest an evolution from what has come before, as well as what dance can be in the future. While the Festival artists have traditional dance backgrounds, they are all pushing their discipline, asking questions about what art is, and encouraging audiences to do the same. 

HB: Why did you decide to intersperse the dance performances with dance films?

LH: We love how dance films offer another way of looking at the art form. Interspersing films with the live performances allows us to showcase artists from all around the world, and sets us apart from other festivals in the region. The Motion State Dance Film Series (formerly known as Kicking & Screening) is now the only year-long, traveling short film festival in New England devoted to showcasing the diversity of contemporary creative voices and exploring the medium of choreography made for the camera.

HB: How did the partnership with WaterFire Arts Center come about?

LH: Barnaby Evans [executive artistic director of WaterFire] has been talking about bringing dance to WaterFire for years. The main hall of WaterFire Arts Center is a 37,000-square-foot cathedral-like space, built in 1929 for the US Rubber Company as a manufacturing facility. It’s truly spectacular, and embodies the modern look and feel that we want for this festival.  

HB: What kind of workshops and artist conversations will be offered? 

LH: Master classes will be held throughout the week: Sokeo Ros at Roger Williams University; Beth Gill and Miguel Gutierrez at Brown University; and Bebe Miller at WaterFire (all are free and open to the public, except at RWU). These classes are a great opportunity to hear more about the artists’ creative process.  In addition, conversations with all the artists will follow each night’s performance. 

HB: What do you see as your audience for this festival? And what do you hope the attendees come away with?

LH: Whether someone regularly attends dance performances or has never been to a dance performance, we want every person in the audience to walk away feeling invigorated, intrigued, challenged, moved — and especially inspired to come back the next night for more!

The Motion State Dance Festival takes place Mar 5 – 7. 2020 Festival Artists: Rhode Island: Heidi Henderson, Orlando Hernandez, Sokeo Ros; Boston: McKersin Previlus, Jenna Pollack, Mar Parrilla; New York City: Beth Gill, Miguel Gutierrez; Beyond: Bebe Miller (Columbus, OH); Cunningham Solos: Erin Dowd (NJ), Eleanor Hullihan (NYC), Vanessa Knouse (NYC). WaterFire Arts Center Main Hall, 475 Valley St, PVD. For ages 12 and up.  Wheelchair accessible. For more information on nightly performance line-up, ticket purchases and master classes, go to motionstatearts.org. 




These Hips Don’t Lie: But what are they saying?

Beginning belly dancers at The Rhody Center

I’ve wanted to take a belly dancing class for years, but always found a reason not to — lack of time, lack of confidence, lack of the ability to move my hips in precise, snake-like movements. But finally one day, when life was feeling a bit stifling, I, in a fit of rebellion, signed up for the winter belly dancing session at The Rhody Center in Coventry.

Lola Matta performing; Photo credit: Sage Photo

I walked into the studio for the first class and immediately claimed as my own the back right corner of the room — my favorite spot to inhabit at college discussion groups, karaoke bars and anything that requires audience participation. But the class teacher, Lola Matta, didn’t let me stay in my hiding spot for long. She rotated the nine of us around the studio so everyone had a turn front and center, and her warm and welcoming manner made my insecurities melt away. The class environment is supportive and fun — not a mean girl to be found — and by the second class I stood proudly with my classmates, shirt hiked up to here and pants pulled down to there, practicing my belly rolls in front of the mirror.

Lola, the daughter of a belly dancer and Lebanese musician who met on the stage, began belly dancing when she was 19, and although she never intended to make a career of it, first danced professionally during a year she spent in Montepelier, France, after an Algerian dancer named Anissa spotted Lola dancing in a Lebanese restaurant and asked her to join her dance company. Lola eventually returned home to Boston and continued taking belly dancing lessons and dancing professionally. “I’ve been dancing ever since,” she says.

Lola began teaching at The Rhody Center seven years ago, and her classes focus more on musicality than choreography. Lola is trained in Western and Arabic violin and draws on her musical training when she teaches. “I like to talk about music interpretation more than the steps,” she says. “I think it’s much more important for my students to feel and understand the music than learn choreography.” After a session with Lola, I’ve learned about Arabic percussion and how to interpret and anticipate the beats and decide which ones call for a hip circle and which ones beg for a shimmy. This kind of understanding allows my classmates and me to take the dancing out of the studio, even if only into our living rooms.

Lola and I, along with most of the women in our class, are about the same age as Shakira, and our conversation veered into her recent Super Bowl performance and the cultural flashpoint she helped spark. “I got into a lot of arguments on social media the next day,” Lola laughs.

“Is belly dancing meant to titillate?” I ask. “The movements are so sensual.”

“It isn’t,” she says. “If you go to a wedding in Lebanon or Egypt, it’s the dance of the culture. It’s the only dance there is.”

As we continued our conversation, my fellow classmates began to trickle in and join the discussion. Cloreese, a military member, talks about what wearing a uniform — and taking it off — does to her sense of self. “It’s nice to come here once a week, shed that military identity and just be a woman,” she says.

“I think the movements are sexy,” adds Gladys. “I feel like I’m 20 again.”

Eleanor says her self confidence has soared as a result of the class. “I’m a shy person,” she explains, “and this class makes me feel more comfortable being here in my body.”

Karen says she took the class “purely to find joy in it.”

“Being with this age group of women and becoming comfortable with our bodies and our beauty is exciting.”

Another member of the class, also named Karen, echoes this statement. “Something that struck me is the beauty of the people in the class. Learning to find the beauty in your body and other bodies and how they move — it’s very empowering.”

And that’s one of Lola’s main goals with her classes. “I hope my students leave my class more confident, with greater self esteem,” she says. “I want them to feel like they’ve accomplished something and become part of a community.”

As class ended that night and we traded our hip scarves for heavy winter coats, high on adrenaline and feminine energy, I truly did feel part of a community. We walked together into the night, calling goodbyes and making plans for dinner, the coins of our hip scarves jingling as we folded them into our bags.

Lola Matta occasionally performs publicly at Byblos restaurant in Norwood and Efendi in Cranston. Her spring session at Rhody Center is already sold out (thanks to the Shakira bump!). Registration for her May session opens in April. Sign up at therhodycenter.org. Lola also is teaching a workshop at the Jennifer Prete School of Dance on February 28 at 6pm. To register, go to jpsdri.com. For more information, go to loladance.com




Time to Dance, Sugar Plum!: ‘Tis the season for holiday dance to hit the stage

Photo Credit: Meri Keller

Whether it’s a vicarious urge to keep ourselves warm, or because something about graceful movement conjures associations with the holiday season, or just because “Happy Holidays” makes you feel like dancing — or at least like watching others dance — this is the dance season. Here’s some of what’s coming up:

Island Moving Company has their exciting mansion-based retelling of the classic Nutcracker story. “Characters move the audience from one room to another in the magnificent spaces within Briarcliff Mansion,” says marketing director Shauna Maguire.“This show sells out. The mansion is beyond belief.” Find Clara and friends at 548 Bellvue, Newport. It runs at various times and dates between Nov 27 and Dec 6, islandmovingco.org

The State Ballet of Rhode Island weighs in with Coppelia. This marks SBRI’s 60th year, and they’ve been bringing interpretations of Coppelia to RI since 1969, through four generations of Marsdens (82-year-old artistic director and founder Herci Marsden is still ruling the roost, with the help of her daughter, granddaughters and great-granddaughters). “We’re especially excited about the leading dancers who we have this season: They’re amazing,” says Ana Marsden Fox of performers Sarah Hamel and Devin Larser. “People tell us it’s become their tradition. We have some audience members coming for a second or even third generation,” Marsden Fox explains. This will be the fourth time the tale in which dolls come to life (a common problem in the holiday dance universe) takes the stage at Cranston’s Park Theatre, 848 Park Ave. It’s on Dec 6 and 7. stateballet.com

Providence’s Festival Ballet brings their annual traditional Nutcracker performance to PPAC. Between the location and the storied, esteemed history of the company, expect an opulent experience. On Sunday, December 15, kids can also enjoy brunch tea with Clara at Bravo Brasserie on Empire St before the show. Runs Dec 13 thru 15 this year, with Clara’s Tea on Dec 15. festivalballetprovidence.org

Providence Ballet Theater has their annual holiday entrant, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, taking place in the Nazarian Center at RIC, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave, on Sat, Dec 20, at 4:30 and 7pm. providenceballet.com

In New Bedford, New Bedford Ballet will be presenting The Nutcracker with a whaling city twist — dancers will include sailors and Native Americans, and one of the guests at Clara’s house will be author Herman Melville. We can’t wait to see the harpoon dance! Dec 7 thru 15 at the NBB Community Theatre, 2343 Purchase St, New Bedford, Mass. newbedfordballet.org

On the collegian circuit, Brown, RIC and PC will be twinkling their toes this season. 

Brown has 15 different pieces spanning a wide variety of genres. About half are new student work, and they will include step, hip-hop, classical ballet and a smattering of other genres. “We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of dance [as a formal program] at Brown,” says Brianne Shaw, marketing coordinator at Brown University. “Specifically this year, we’re not only featuring new work by current students, but we’re also featuring alumni work and classical work to celebrate that anniversary. Julie Strandberg, who founded the dance program, is still with us and is producing this show.” Find them at the Ashamu Dance Studio in the basement of 83 Waterman St, PVD. Thu – Fri, Nov 21 -22.

PC has its seasonal Blackfriars dance performance. Wendy Oliver of PC says, “We’ll have guest choreographers from around the area. We have Jean Appolon, who’s doing a modern dance piece with a strong Haitian influence. We also have three contemporary choreographers, Danielle Davidson, who teaches [at PC], Gisela Creus, from Spain, and then Orlando Hernandez choreographed a modern tap piece and is also doing a tap solo. And Cayley Christoforou, who lives in Salem.” Oliver is also choreographing a piece of modern dance with a political theme, called “Debate.” That’s at Angell Blackfriars Theatre, Smith Center for the Arts, Eaton St, PVD, at 7pm Fri, Nov 15 and 2:30 Sat, Nov 16.

RIC will present End It!, an exploration of human trafficking in modern society through dance. Think of it as counter-programming if you’ve had too many damn sugar plums in your dance diet. That takes place at RIC’s Forman Theater, in the Nazarian Center, 600 Mt Pleasant Ave, PVD at 7:30pm on Fri Dec 6 and Sat, Dec 7.




On the Powwow Trail: The Quanah LaRose story

Photo courtesy of Quanah LaRose

Quanah LaRose has lived a life that, if he wasn’t a real person, would be straight out of a movie. A celebrated powwow dancer and singer from the Ute tribe of the Great Basin, LaRose has followed the beat of the drum from Atlantic to Pacific and all the way back again, eventually settling in Rhode Island when he fell in love with a woman of the Narragansett community. Today, LaRose focuses his attention on the marketing endeavors of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, but his prior story is the stuff of legend.  

Amadeus Finlay (Motif): We may be speaking in Rhode Island, but the homeland of the Ute people is far from the Ocean State. Bring us right back to the start of your journey. Where were you born, and what was your childhood like?

Quanah LaRose: I was born in Roosevelt, Utah, not far from the Ute Agency at Fort Duchesne. It was cool growing up out there, but it is rural as heck, so we played a lot of basketball, lots of outdoor activities. Education is different; you learned a lot of stuff by watching people, by picking it up from your parents and grandparents. We rode bikes everywhere … oh, and we killed a lot of birds! That’s how we learned how to hunt.

AF: How did that lead you to the powwow trail?

QLR: I got into powwow because my mom and dad traveled around a bit. My dad sang with White River Singers, and he has a lot of cool stories; hanging out with Porcupine Singers and the Meskwaki Bears, oh man, so many stories. My earliest memory was 4th July powwow; my older sister was a shawl dancer, and I just loved it. As soon as I could, I got involved, dancing southern, southern straight and traditional before I became a grass dancer at 17. 

AF: What was your first performance on the powwow trail?

QLR: \I traveled around quite a bit as a powwow singer before becoming a dancer. I sang with Red Spirit and other groups, seeing a lot of Utah, southern Wyoming, Colorado, bits of Nevada… Once we traveled to California, I can’t remember where, but it was the longest trip I ever went on at the time. At 17 I became a dancer. At first, I wanted to be a traditional dancer. It looked really cool, all the face paint, feathers; real warrior-like. But my brother and sister talked me into grass dancing because the regalia was easier to make!

I want to say my first competitive powwow was Chief Looking Glass Days in Kamiah, Idaho, with the same guys I had gone to California with. We just piled in a van and went up there to visit adopted relatives, check out the area and compete. I got 2nd place, so I was pretty stoked. 

AF: Did you get the bug?

QLR: Pretty much! I just went anywhere I could. I graduated high school, and then took off. I joined Southern Cree from Rocky Boy, Montana, and lived up there for a spell. We traveled to Canada, all over; lots of good times, good memories. Things were innocent. We didn’t think about cash as much. Things like filling up your tank, it was cheaper to do than today. And we didn’t care anyway. At times we had no money, no food, but we roughed it, just living a van. We lived, man. We lived it all. And all these stories were just the first 10 years. Since then, I’ve been in every state, bar Hawaii, every Canadian Province … France, you name it. Powwow singing and dancing has taken me everywhere. Fortunate times. I mean, I put 50,000 miles on my car one summer. 

AF: How did that happen?

QLR: We drove from Seattle to Schemitzun Powwow in Connecticut, back to Washington, then across again to hit up the Shinnecock powwow in New York State, and back to the West Coast … among many other big journeys! Powwow people; we drive everywhere. Once, after I had met my wife, Silvermoon, and moved to Rhode Island, I hopped in the car and drove to San Diego … not long after that, I discovered I liked flying a lot more!

AF: Was that frantic summer your first trip to southern New England? The summer where you met your wife?

QLR: No. I had come to Schemitzun years before with Southern Cree, back around 1997 when it was really big. At one time, it was the biggest, most amazing powwow anywhere. Everybody was there. It was just amazing to witness it; it was THE one to be at, the granddaddy. But no, I met Silv in 2000 when I was out here with The Boyz from Minnesota.

AF: Have things changed?

QLR: Yeah, it’s different now. There’s money to be made in powwow, and people do make a living off it. But there will always be that spiritual element to it, that’s the heart of powwow and it always will be. 

AF: Do you like living in Rhode Island?

QLR: Of course! The food makes it easy to like it out here! 

AF: Can you sum up what is it about powwow culture that held your attention over these years and led to all these incredible experiences?

QLR: From being a little kid, growing up watching guys like the Blackstone Singers, and always thinking “Man, these guys are awesome,” to becoming friends with them, becoming relatives with your idols, it’s pretty special you know? Like, Jim Clairmont from Blackstone is my adopted father, and his son, my adopted brother. And it’s fun, people are always teasing and laughing, playing practical jokes. If you get mad, then everyone jumps in and teases you until you smile!

As for the day, you just get into it. No limitations. You get the spirits; you feel the dance spirit. And after the song is over, you wonder about what you just did, what did you do. It overcomes you and everything else fades away. You see dancers who have got it, that spirit, and it gives you goosebumps. Makes you feel connected; makes you feel proud to see the power and spirit of your people, your culture, living and breathing right before your eyes. 




Move! Dance performances pirouette into Fringe

This summer has been a dancer-lover’s dream, and the fifth
annual Providence Fringe Festival (FRINGEPVD) promises this city is not slowing
down. Dance companies from around New England and beyond are gathering to perform
in the Creative Capital.

Tumbling into town, Big Teeth Performance Collective visits FRINGEPVD as part of their multi-state tour of the company’s signature work, Ordinary Creatures. The deliciously dark Vermont-based group combines contemporary dance with acrobatic partnering, theater and aerial rope movement to create a completely unique movement. Ordinary Creatures features five women embodying the most monstrous corners of the mind, from werewolves to zombies, blending noir surrealism with Cirque du Soleil style physicality. With its “indie-art ethos” core, Big Teeth Performance Collective combines gravity-defying circus technique with meaningful artistic exploration. Catch them Tue, Jul 23 at 8:30pm and Wed, Jul 24 at 7pm at the WaterFire Arts Center.

If diversity of movement excites you, check out Parallels, a vibrant array of different dance pieces, presented by Caitlin Trainor and Ali Kenner Brodsky. Named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 To Watch” in 2016, Caitlyn Trainor is an accomplished dancer and choreographer known for her physically vigorous yet emotionally human performance style. Created in conjunction with choreographer Ali Kenner Brodsky, Parallels features three distinct pieces, ranging in style from comedic to poetic. Alphabet Soup playfully imagines each letter of the alphabet as a movement phrase, while The House Still Standing reflects on nostalgic memories, and “In The Forest” depicts a ritualistic conjuring of energies at dusk. See Parallels Fri, Aug 3 at 8:30pm and Sat, Aug 4 at 12 at the Wilbury Theatre Group.

Presenting a mixed program, Freedom Dances is an expression of the uniting power of dance. The performance reflects a spectrum of themes, creating a kaleidoscope of conversation within a single show. Hailing from Coventry, Freedom Dances artistic director, Nicole C. Laliberté, brings this important collection of works to the Main Hall Proscenium Stage at the WaterFire Arts Center Thu, Aug 2 at 7pm, Fri, Aug 3 at 10pm, and Sat, Aug 4 at 8:30pm.

If multimedia performances are more your speed, check out Os&En in A touch a well. This bold work combines movement with visual art, utilizing a simple piece of fabric to question the source of vulnerability and sensuality. Catch New York-native artists Elise Osborn and Yidan Zeng in this innovative performance Thu, Aug 2 at 7pm, Fri, Aug 3 at 7pm, and Sat, Aug 4 at 6pm at the Roof Deck of the WaterFire Arts Center.

Bringing international training to PVD, the Balliamo Dance Company will perform Only in a Dream; and Other Dances, a collection of contemporary dances, including imaginative solos (one piece interprets a rap beat through dance), romantic duets and dynamic ensembles. Italian-born Balliamo Dance Company choreographer and artistic director Annamaura Silverblatt has created a cohesive showcase that spans genres, from ballroom to hip- hop and even Tai Chi. Don’t miss this eclectic performance, coming to The Steel Yard on Sat, Aug 4 at 8:30pm.

North Attleboro-native Heather Brown presents her Continuing Fluctuations, a personal dance performance that offers an intimate perspective of Brown’s lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. The piece aims to provide its audience with a moving experience, while raising awareness about the disease. Heather Brown Dance will perform Continuing Fluctuations Thu, Aug 2 at 10pm and Sat, Aug 4 at 6pm at the L Studio at the WaterFire Arts Center.

Hop on into JUMP! Dance Company’s, Dreamers, a touching ode to those struggling due to the changing political landscape. This poignant work asks young dancers to challenge their environment, encouraging them to make their voices heard through movement. Join JUMP! Fri, Aug 3 at 8:30pm and Sat, Aug 4 at 7pm at the Main Hall Stairs/Balcony at the WaterFire Arts Center.




Everett’s Good Grief Explores the Trauma Beneath Our Masks

Grace Bevilacqua, Joseph Henderson; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels
Grace Bevilacqua, Joseph Henderson; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels

The moment the lights go to black, the audience is captivated by a film of water that slowly becomes backlit to reveal dancers moving, floating and drowning behind the screen. It is both disturbing and beautiful at once. The image fades and viewers are thrust into a scene with a therapist and a woman, which begins the journey into Everett’s exploration of personal traumas and how we carry them with us in our lives. Good Grief depicts each performer’s personal life and the baggage they carry with them — performers literally carry, drag and kick bags throughout this production.

Good Grief was created in collaboration with the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS),  a type of psychotherapy that views consciousness as composed of a central self with three types of subpersonalities, each with its own perspective, interests, memories and viewpoint, and each with a positive intent for the person even if its actions cause dysfunction.

Laisha Crum; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels
Laisha Crum; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels

This performance piece shows the relationship each of the five dancers has with one or more of their subpersonalities through a complex use of movement, spoken word, film and dialogue.  We meet Mr. Over Thinker, Miss Self Conscious, Mr. Anger — the spectrum of personalities is as diverse as the movement and the music used to create each vignette. Many of the dialogue scenes were transcribed directly from therapy sessions the dancers had with IFS therapist David Medieros. This intimate sharing shows bravery on the part of the performers, but it can be unnerving. At times it was difficult to watch and experience true personal trauma.

Many of the movement segments use masks to indicate how people wear masks to hide what they don’t want the outside world to see. This examination of what the process of healing from trauma looks like and feels like is fascinating to experience. The work is deeply personal and requires each performer to be courageous and vulnerable with their own personal history.

Joseph Henderson, Laisha Crum, Tiana Whittington, Grace Bevilacqua, Justine Jungels; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels
Joseph Henderson, Laisha Crum, Tiana Whittington, Grace Bevilacqua, Justine Jungels; Photo credit: Aaron Jungels

The video sequences by Aaron Jungels, Everett co-artistic director Laura Colella and Todd Winkler bring an added depth to the entire production. The use of a “Fellini-esque sound design” states Jungels, “was a conscious effort to juxtapose the often difficult material being presented.”

The creation of Good Grief has led Everett to develop a Social and Emotional Education Program that will share the insights of IFS through the performing arts. Richard Schwartz, the developer of IFS, has signed on as a partner and consultant in this endeavor. The Social and Emotional Learning Program will help youth gain self-awareness and self-control through a deeper understanding of their emotional responses and develop relationship skills.

Good Grief will tour nationally over the next two years. The company offer workshops for youth suffering from trauma, as well as trainings for artists, clinicians and educators. The production runs Feb 8 – 10 and 15-17.  Tickets can be purchased online at everett.org or 401-831-9479.