Art Talk: Katia Carranza, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Katia Carranza graduated from the Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza de Monterrey in Mexico in 1996. She then joined Ballet de Monterrey as a soloist. In 1998, she joined Miami City Ballet as a corps de ballet dancer, was promoted to soloist in 2001, principal soloist in 2003 and in 2004 she was promoted to principal dancer. She left after the 2006-07 season to rejoin Ballet de Monterrey as a principal, but continued to dance with MCB as a guest artist for an additional six seasons. Carranza rejoined MCB full-time in 2017 as a principal dancer.

Katia Carranza

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Katia: I started this career at a very young age. I didn’t really know that ballet was something I love. Little by little, I became more involved and it brought me so much happiness. I think that being able to do what you love is such a blessing.

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Katia: (Laughs) I came here in August of 1998 for the first time, 23 years ago. I joined Miami City Ballet that year and it changed my life. I am from Monterrey, Mexico. I studied there and danced for one year at Ballet de Monterrey.

During my time there, I had an opportunity to compete in Jackson, Mississippi and that was when Edward Villella hired me, and I was here at MCB until 2007. From 2007 through 2017, I was dancing for both MCB and Monterrey, but I came to Miami 4 years ago to dance here full-time. I feel like I am from here, and that I grew as an artist here.

Katia Carranza and Kleber Rebello in NINE SINATRA SONGS© Choreography by Twyla Tharp. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Katia: Being on stage, for sure. I enjoy having an opportunity to share what we do with so many people, with the audience. I feel like we can change their lives. I always hope that they leave the theater with a positive experience. That is the best part: sharing what we do.

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Katia: The most important thing is keeping my body moving, until we can all dance onstage and together again. We normally rehearsed together for 8 hours a day, so it is super important to keep my body moving. It is something my body needs – it gives me energy and makes me happy, and so my body asks me to do it every day. I take different classes by Zoom, such as ballet and resistance training, and I use my pointe shoes a little bit every day. I must continue or else my feet and my ankles will become weak.

Katia leads leads a “Move with MCB” ballet básico class (en Español) on Instagram.

Plus, now that we have more free time, I get to teach, which I enjoy a lot. It’s important to continue to be motivated, for both myself and my students too. We all need to stay motivated so we can be on stage again when the time comes. But for now, I have this chance to teach and share with students in Mexico, Brazil, from all over the world. I love being able to share in this way.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Katia: I believe that the greatest contribution we offer is to the next generation of dancers with the various programs and training Miami City Ballet Company and School offer to children and young people. I believe dance can change lives, because it changed mine.

I think dance makes me a better person and gives me opportunities to learn about things that are important. I believe that dancers touch the lives and help others, and that can have a positive impact on young people. That is the greatest contribution we give.

Katia Carranza and Renan Cerdeiro Ballet dancers in Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Katia: Florida is a special place because there are so many cultures here, and we are fortunate because we can experience the different cuisine, histories, and many things that are learned through arts and culture. It helps us all to be better people, and it is something we can share together.


This has been part three of a three-part Art Talk feature with some of Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Thank you to Miami City Ballet and the artists for taking the time to share with Culture Builds Florida.

Art Talk: Jennifer Lauren, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Jennifer Lauren is a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. She began training in various regional schools and later with Royal Academy of Dance and the Alabama Ballet Pre-Apprentice Program. In 2007, Lauren joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the Corps de Ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 2011. In 2014, she was named one of Dance Magazine’s “Top 25 to Watch.” During her tenure with MCB, Lauren has been featured in principal and soloist roles. In 2017, she was promoted to Principal.

Jennifer Lauren

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Jennifer: I really didn’t choose it. I was introduced to dancing when I was young and fell in love with it. Ever since then, I have been hooked! It is all I ever wanted and dreamed about.

Jennifer Lauren in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Jennifer: I have been with Miami City Ballet for the last 13 years, and I joined the company in 2007.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Jennifer: The best part about my job is that I am doing exactly what I love to do. I am sharing my passion with so many people, including my company. Dancers are extremely close, and because we understand each other, there is this rare bond I have with my coworkers.

Jennifer Lauren and Ashley Knox in Symphonic Dances. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky ©. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What are you currently working on?

Jennifer: Lately, I have been working on my basic technique skills. With the extra time, it has motivated me to take a closer look at how I execute my work and how I can improve my craft and artistry.

I’ve also been teaching a lot of private lessons to ballet students, which keeps me aware of my own technique. I love sharing my thoughts and ideas with younger dancers. I am always open to accepting anyone who would like private lessons via zoom. 😊

Jennifer leads a “Move with MCB” ballet basics class on Instagram.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Jennifer: Our organization offers a place for people to forget their troubles and enjoy the art of ballet. We create an environment for around 2 hours, in which a person can completely relax and enjoy what they are watching. It stimulates imagination and creativity in people. The school is also an important start for children to begin to see the value of dancing, whether they grow up to be dancers or grow up to admire the art form.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”?

Jennifer: Exactly that. Without culture, humans are not inspired. That is why we have the arts.

We all need to be inspired. We need to be moved by multiple forms of art and entertainment. Florida is full of amazing artists and Miami City Ballet is one of its gems.

Miami City Ballet dancers in Symphonic Dances. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky©. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Jennifer: Without the arts and culture, we have no color in our lives. We need to be inspired and encouraged to open our minds and see what we can create. Going to see a ballet could inspire the next Barishnikov or Maya Angelou to break through. 


This has been part two of a three-part Art Talk feature with some of Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Tune in tomorrow at 8pm ET for our last candid conversation!

If you are interested to take a private lesson with Jennifer, please contact her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jenlaurenq

Art Talk: Rainer Krenstetter, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Rainer Krenstetter was born into a dance family in Vienna where he began his ballet training at the Ballet School of the Vienna State Opera. In 1999, he was accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London and continued his training there until 2000 when he became a corps de ballet member with the Vienna State Opera Ballet. In 2002, he joined the Staatsballett Berlin under the direction of Vladimir Malakhov and went through the ranks up to Principal dancer in 2013. He joined Miami City Ballet as a Principal dancer in November 2014.

Rainer Krenstetter

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Rainer: My parents were dancers at the Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria, so I grew up in the theater and opera world. As a very young child, I loved going with my parents to spend time backstage — in the dressing room, in the make-up room, the costume department, being around everyone… I just fell in love with the atmosphere of the theater, of the opera.

That was my true passion — the atmosphere of the opera house… the smells, the dust, the different people. I thought, since my parents were dancers, that if I danced I could also be a part of the opera world. So, I danced.

Rainer Krenstetter performs Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna at Staatsballet Berlin. © Bettina Stob

DCA: Have long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Rainer: I started in November 2014. I remember arriving to Florida the day before I started, on November 1. When I landed at the airport, I was wondering… “What is going on here?”…Halloween is not so celebrated where I am from. Upon arriving at the airport I saw all the flight crew, baggage claim attendants, everyone on Lincoln Road and Miami Beach in these costumes. I thought, what is happening here?? Why is there a carnival? So that was my introduction to Florida.

DCA: What was it that attracted you to the United States, and to join Miami City Ballet?

Rainer: I was dancing in Europe from 2000-2014 with Vienna State Opera Ballet and Staatsballett Berlin. During that time, I was performing all over the world but mostly danced classical ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Giselle. As an artist, I believe it is important to experience and learn as much as possible. Part of the reason I moved to Florida was to gain new experiences.

Miami City Ballet dancers Tricia Albertson and Rainer Krenstetter performing “Emeralds” from George Balanchine’s Jewels. © Alexander Iziliaev

I have always been interested in the choreography of George Balanchine, but I did not get to dance as much Balanchine in Europe as I wanted to. In Berlin, when our artistic director would ask what works we wanted to perform at our gala, I would always ask to perform works by Balanchine such as Tarantalla, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Stars and Stripes.

When I found out that Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, was looking for a male principal dancer, I knew it was time to pack my bags and head to Florida, as I really wanted to learn more about the Balanchine style and have an opportunity to perform more of his works.

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Rainer: While we wait until it is safe to perform on stage again in front of audiences, I am keeping busy with my classes, and I am doing a lot of teaching. I am also available for private lessons [contact Rainer via Instagram], and because we have time and the technology available, I can teach all over the world – even to Japan!

Rainer leads an intermediate “Move with MCB” class on Instagram (recording saved to Youtube)

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to you community?

Rainer: In every art form… ballet, visual art, theater, music… what we do is give inspiration to the community. At the venues we perform in throughout Miami, Broward, Palm Beach and Collier counties, I see our community’s reflection. We are open to the entire community in South Florida, not just for the people who can afford a $200 ticket, as we have accommodating ticket prices and opportunities for all audiences to enjoy our shows.

We are here for everyone, and that is what I love about Miami City Ballet. We are dancing for our community, and we see that reflection at our shows. It is very different from what I have experienced anywhere else.

Rainer Krenstetter performs Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna at Staatsballet Berlin. © Bettina Stob

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Rainer: Well, Florida is famous for beaches, parties, Disney World, Harry Potter World… so there is this image of what Florida is. Right now, it is so important to show the other sides to Florida culture. I’m very happy that with the theaters we have in South Florida, these amazing arts centers that we get to perform in and where people and families can experience dance, theater, and opera with amazing artists. This is so important, to bring the arts to the community so they can enjoy, learn and experience many different cultures.

This has been part one of a three-part Art Talk feature with Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Tune in tomorrow at 8pm ET for another candid conversation!

If you are interested to take a class with Rainer, please contact him on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/rainerkrenstetter/

Grantee Spotlight: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Stage of Discovery Summer Camp

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Dancer Derric Gobourne shows off his moves while other campers look on

Photos by Greg Kaspar

Actors, dancers and singers ages 13-18 took the stage with Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe this summer after a successful pilot of the “Stage of Discovery” program last year. From June 12-July 16, WBTT presented the second installment of “Stage of Discovery,” an intensive summer musical theater program. The 23 participating teens were under the direction of WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs and Stage of Discovery coordinator Joey James. In addition, WBTT staff and guest instructors such as choreographers, actors and vocal coaches led sessions with students taking lessons in dance, acting, singing and improvisation as well as gaining behind-the-scenes experience with set and costume design. The program culminated with two public performances of Folktale Follies, an original musical showcasing the students’ talents, on July 14 and 16.

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Campers Tianna Harris and Daysha Brown receive dance instruction at Stage of Discovery summer camp

The camp, which was completely free, took place at the Westcoast Black Theatre in Sarasota. “Hands-on Discovery,” an optional post-camp theatre arts program offered further exploration in the visual arts, prop making, and costuming.

This program was underwritten by The Robert E. Dods Family Foundation and Designing Women Boutique, with additional funds raised at the recent WBTT April Fools’ Fete fundraiser.

“Many of these young people, while naturally talented, have never had any formal theater experience. We work them fairly hard – while having lots of fun – to bring their individual talents out and give them a basic understanding of the art of theatre,” said Jacobs. “While WBTT is dedicated to producing the finest dramatic and musical theatre, my dream – my true calling and purpose for founding this organization – has always been to help young aspiring artists who may otherwise be overlooked to develop their talents and have the opportunity to achieve success.”

When asked what she liked best about Stage of Discovery, 16-year-old Moenasia Beall said it was the people she got to know while they learned and performed together. “If it wasn’t for the camp, you wouldn’t get to meet so many people and you also get to discover yourself and talents that you didn’t know you had,” Beall said. “You discover that you can do it.”

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The teens of the 2017 Stage of Discovery summer musical theatre camp

The mission of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc., is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.

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.