Grantee Spotlight: Grace Arts Center’s R&J the Tempest Too

R&J was first performed in 2015, and focused only on an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It was written by Grace Arts Center and produced in part with the Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater supported by grants from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Broward County Cultural Division. This first chapter featured a youth led cast including professional dancers and actors. In February of this year, R&J The Tempest Too debuted with a full professional cast including members of Miami City Ballet and Cuban National Ballet.

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Photo by Robert Church

R&J The Tempest Too combined elements of R&J with a reworking of The Tempest set in modern time with an infusion of real Florida history shared in spoken word by the Narrator (a character created for each iteration). Each previous production was under one hour; the new iteration combined both plays into a full two hour production with a talented cast of visual artists, actors and dance elements ranging from tango, hip hop, to Cuban folkloric and contemporary American ballet.  The next iteration will include collaboration with playwrights with credits including Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London and Washington DC’s Folger Shakespeare Library and the return of live graffiti and visual art production as part of the performance.

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Photo by Robert Church

The project was designed to attract a wide range of viewers. In all its phases,the performance targeted artsenthusiasts, supporters of historic preservation and literature through performance locations and marketing to cultural tourists as well as residents of South Florida. The project also prepared the cast for summer workshops with arts students on track for professional development in various fields. In addition the cast worked with at-risk youth groups to advance their writing and problem solving skills.

For more information, visit https://www.graceartscenter.org/.

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Photo by Robert Church

Spotlight On: A Flamenco Tribute to Viva Florida 500

by Tim Storhoff

As part of the Viva Florida 500 celebrations, native Floridian Clarita Filgueiras has produced a short film entitled “Honoring the Past: a Flamenca’s Journey.”

This 17 minute film presents two Flamenco dances choreographed and performed by award-winning choreographer/dancer, Clarita Filgueiras accompanied by singer Vicente Griego and guitarist Rodrigo Valdez. Clarita descends from a long line of Flamenco artists. Born in Florida, Clarita began her studies in Spanish dance at the age of eight with Jose Molina and Luisita Sevilla. In the late 1980s, Clarita lived in Madrid with her family and studied traditional Spanish dance styles including flamenco with some of Spain’s best artists. Clarita has been a member of the Division of Cultural Affairs State Touring Roster and was a recipient of a 2012 Folk Heritage Award from the Florida Folklife Program

The short film goes through the process that created the choreography and performance commemorating Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida through the eyes of Clarita Filgueiras. In many ways, flamenco is a great representation of Viva Florida 500. This year through events all across the state, Viva Florida has highlighted the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since Juan Ponce de León named this land La Florida. While Spain’s claim in 1513 marked the beginning of a new era, Florida’s Native American heritage dates back more than 12,000 years, and Florida’s cultural affluence results from the diversity and interaction of cultures in our state.

Like Florida’s rich culture, flamenco is also the result of cultural interactions in a country’s southernmost region. While the music and dance tradition has transformed dramatically throughout history, flamenco originated as a vocal tradition that arrived in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain where Europe is closest to North Africa, in the fifteenth century. It was brought by the gitano people who were believed to have originated somewhere on the Indian subcontinent before traveling for centuries through parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. When they arrived in Andalusia in the early 1400s, they found a truly cosmopolitan place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds and religions coexisted fairly peacefully. The music the gitanos brought with them already reflected the diverse regions they traveled through. Over time, the music gained more acceptance and popularity in Spain when gitanos performed in cafes where intellectuals gathered. In the nineteenth century, Spanish guitar became a primary feature of the music and dancers became the focal point of staged performances. Flamenco continues to be one of Spain’s defining traditions, and it came to Florida through interaction with Spain. Today, performers like Clarita Filgueiras and her dance company Flamenco Puro continue to further the flamenco tradition in our great state.

For more information about flamenco, the video, or to hire Flamenco Puro, contact Clarita Filgueiras or visit claritafilgueiras.com. To learn more about Viva Florida 500 events, visit vivaflorida.org.

Art Talk: Division Intern Katherine Laursen

by Tim Storhoff

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Katherine Laursen joined the team at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs at the end of August as an intern for the 2013-2014 school year. Born and raised in Dunedin, Florida, Katherine graduated with honors from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2005 and a Masters of Music Education in 2011. She taught in the Pinellas County Schools for six years: first as the Assistant Director of Band and Chorus at Largo High School for three years and then as the Director of Chorus and Strings at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Katherine has been a member of the Festival Singers of Florida since its formation in 2008 and has previously been a member of groups including the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the Zielinski Singers, Opera Tampa, and Tapped In, a professional tap company. In addition to all of that, she is also actively involved in the Scottish dance community, is a staff singer and Chorister Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has another internship at the Tallahassee Ballet. Currently, she is working on her MA in Arts Administration at the Florida State University. I recently asked Katherine about her artistic background and her thoughts on the importance of the arts in Florida.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?

Katherine: My earliest memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old. I remember dancing around in my bathing suit and Sunday school tights to Kiss Me, Kate, my favorite musical at the time. I grew up in a house filled with music. My great-uncle worked for MGM, so we would watch every movie musical he worked on. My parents realized they couldn’t wait any longer, so they enrolled me in ballet at Patricia Ann Dance Studio in Dunedin, FL. They couldn’t have known then what a great home it would become for me.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Katherine: Growing up whenever I was dancing, singing, playing, writing or making something, I knew who I was. I would spend hours at the dance studio only to come home to practice my flute. I wrote poem after poem in my journals. In the summers, my parents sent me to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for classes, Writer’s Camp or the Florida Dance Festival multi-week intensives. When I got older, I added theater and voice to my experience. It was only in my senior year of high school that I chose voice as my main area of study. I continued to study dance and flute and my teaching experiences led me to add guitar, color-guard and viola to my arsenal. With the arts, you are never done learning and growing. I can’t imagine my life without the arts, so it makes perfect sense that my goal is to provide access to the arts to everyone who wants it.

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Katherine dancing with other members of Tapped In, Inc. during an event in Tampa in 2011. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

DCA: While your arts background is largely in music, you’ll be working with arts more broadly here at the Division of Cultural Affairs.  What are some of your artistic interests outside of musical performance?

Katherine: My connections to the arts originally came from dance. I always make my way back to ballet because I feel the most connected to who I am there. Ballet has been in my life since my first memories, so I believe it’s connected to every part of who I am now. When I go back to dance class, even as an adult, the world disappears and everything is focused on the beauty of the art. Because of this connection, I am able to carry that passion and focus into all other aspects of art in my life. I discovered my love for music in dance class. I discovered my love of design and color through costumes and lighting. Dance is beautiful, but it is enhanced and complimented by all of the arts and that relationship goes both ways.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.”  What do you think when you hear that phrase?  Why do you believe arts and culture matter to our state?

Katherine: I know that I cannot separate the arts from their impact on my life. In that same way, I don’t think that you can separate the culture of Florida from its impact on building our state economically and otherwise. There is so much to be said for loving where you live. As a Florida native, I have grown up watching my state find its identity. When people feel a part of the place they live, they are more likely to contribute to making it better. Incorporating the diverse culture of our state is a challenge, but how lucky are we as Floridians to have such a plethora of arts and culture to embrace?

A Day in the Life: Karen Peterson and “Body without Text”

by Karen Peterson

Katrina Weaver, a dancer in Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers company, and I participated in a five-day dance workshop for individuals with and without disabilities in Belgrade, Serbia. I was the instructor of the inclusive movement classes and director of the final performance along with my Serbian colleagues, Boris Caksiran, the artistic director and Marko Pejovic, the managing director of Grupa “Hajde de” (group Let’s). This organization has a solid twelve-year history of inclusive arts and community social programs and serves a wide range of marginalized groups in the Balkans through hands on workshops and performance. They first brought inclusive dance to Belgrade in 2008 when London’s Canduco Company introduced equal rights in the dance studio.

Twenty six individuals, eight with documented disabilities, came from Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia came to participate in the workshop. Therapists, teachers, disability activists, students and dancers were among the participants. Many travelled six to seven hours by train or van to learn about mixed-ability dance in order to take information back to their home countries to start new groups or develop existing programs. Despite the past histories of these countries, the dance group moved seamlessly with cooperation and collaboration.

Many participants had years of dance education; others had little. However, everyone came with the curiosity of movement and the need to share and process. Self discovery was on everyone’s mind and all were encouraged to do their best and be engaged and committed to the creative process. We worked 10am – 5pm every day and dealt with movement improvisation tasks that were solved in solo, in duet or group form. Trust, honesty, challenge, understanding, patience, courage and dialogue were a few of the words that came up for discussion.  We created a safe space for communication and overcame barriers by showing what we could do by working intimately with each other.

A final structure was developed for the end performance by Boris, Marko and I. “Body without Text” looks at the labels, definitions and prejudices one places on a person before knowing the individual.  The final 35 minute performance with projections, new music and dance dealt with those many ideas.

There were eight participants with documented disabilities in the workshop (two blind, two deaf, two wheelchair users, two developmental disabilities). We were able to make a final structure for the performance where everyone participated equally. One hundred and twenty-five audience members came out to watch the performance at the Cultural Institution “Vuk Karadzic” theatre and audience members eagerly directed questions to the dancers after the showing.  New audiences experienced the joy of a diverse group moving harmoniously on stage while others cheered their favorite dance artist with audible applauds or the signing for clapping hands.

I would like to thank the sign language interpreters and the English to Serbian translators who were present for every class and rehearsal.

I would like to thank Miami Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Exchange Grant from APAP for their support in making Miami / Belgrade Dance Exchange possible. In many ways, lives were changed and new possibilities discovered.

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Karen Peterson is the Artistic Director of Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers, which was established in 1990. The group presents choreography created by dance artists with and without disabilities. The dancers collaborate, research, and integrate their personal movement styles and through improvisation discover an innovative dance language. The troupe acts as a positive role model for the disability community, offers new visual inspiration for traditional dance audiences, and provides the benefits of movement to children with disabilities. Learn more at karenpetersondancers.org.

Cultural Conversation: The Intersection of Dance and Deviation

by Dr. Gaylen Phillips

David Neumann researches movement for RESTLESS EYE. Image courtesy of mancc.org.

When Dr. Karin L. Brewster, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Demography and Population Health at Florida State University, got a call from Ansje Burdick at FSU’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), she was a little puzzled. Choreographer David Neumann and his collaborator Sybil Kempson wanted a meeting with Karin to discuss statistics. David is a 2007 MANCC Choreographic Fellow who is currently on the FSU campus as a Visiting Artist where his work RESTLESS EYE is currently in development.

This piece is scheduled to premier at the New York Live Arts Partnership (supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts) on March 24, 2012. David and Sybil, accompanied by Ansje Burdick, MANCC’s Manager of Artist Services and Community Engagement, met with Karin on an October afternoon.

Dr. Karin Brewster

Karin didn’t know what to expect. What she did know is what David’s fact sheet said about his work: “Neumann’s company, advanced beginner group, will explore the realm between thought and behavior, between describing life and experiencing it . . . [they] will source various data sets and statistics based on everyday phenomena and translate this information into a deeply physical and human expression.” Sybil is developing the text.

“I liked David immediately; he has tremendous energy and charisma. What I really enjoyed was his curiosity. This drives his work,” Karin said.  David readily admits that his curiosity about everything has always been the biggest factor in his life and it is the most important tool in the development of his art. During this initial conversation, it became clear that David is interested in learning things that challenge his natural inclinations; he wants to follow where inquiry and process might lead with no preconceived ideas of the outcome.

Sybil, as the writer, was interested in the subjectivity of language/art versus the “hard rules” of science, and Karin responded that “science doesn’t exist without imagination.” But how do curiosity, data sets, and statistics translate into choreography? “That was the part I couldn’t grasp,” said Karin. “So the conversation with David and Sybil was fascinating.”

One thing the three talked about was the importance of repetition and variation to dance and to statistics; Karin even taught David and Sybil how to calculate a standard deviation, still not knowing how it would inform their work.  But, “when I attended his informal showing of the piece on October 27, I came to a new level of appreciation.” She laughed, “I’m not saying I fully understand how and what he does, but the process – the intellectual inquisitiveness – was a huge eye-opener for me. I had not thought about dance in such a way before. I now better appreciate the inspiration and originality that goes into choreographing a dance project, as well as the rigor. It was fascinating to see a performance piece in the making and, in particular, to realize the similarities in the process of creating a dance and ‘creating’ research. “

Karin was intrigued enough to ask to meet with David a second time; his visit on the FSU campus is limited and she said, “I don’t know whether this is silly, but it struck me during the October 27 showing as I listened to David explaining his process – particularly about the importance of data collection to his piece – that he might want to learn about how scientists evaluate the probability that their results represent what’s ‘true’ in the ‘real world.’ This evaluation process is where the standard deviation is truly important, and it reveals the leap of faith we make when we present our findings as reliable representations of reality.”

The second interview, then, took David a bit deeper into the underlying machinery of statistics, beyond the numbers to the realm of interpretation. “We can take ten random samples from the same population and get ten sets of statistics.  So, how do we know which set of statistics is right?  We can’t, but we can know that some sets are more likely to be right than others,” Karin recalls telling David.  “Statistics like dance is an approximation to something, a representation of some piece of the world.” This was an “aha!” moment for both of them as they realized the art of dance and the art of statistics are more connected than may at first seem obvious.

“This was one of the most fascinating and engaging encounters I have ever had,” Karin summed up. “David’s unique perspective has really given me some things to think about in my own research.”

Thanks to Karin Brewster, Ansje Burdick, Jennifer Caliennes, Ellie Couvault, Sybil Kempson and David Neumann.