Unleash Your Self Expression With Ailey Extension’s New Summer Program

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with summer just around the corner, I’ve become inspired to search for more meaningful experiences rather than my usual, yet beloved, fitness-goals-saboteurs: BBQs and happy-hours. What’s a New York City libations and foodie adventurer to do?  Explore Ailey Extension’s upcoming dance schedule to not just stay in shape – mentally and physically – but also have a blast in the process.

I recently participated in Ailey Extension’s dynamic fitness class event catering to all fitness levels. First, I took Hip-Hop Cardio, a class designed for beginners with no former dance experience. It’s goal: to up your cardio game by at least 100, challenge your coordination, and assault your sweat glands into submission. Sound extreme? Not really. The class will make you feel energized and emboldened. Thoughts of joining Beyoncé’s dance troupe will cross your mind. It doesn’t hurt that the instructor, Matthew Johnson Harris, is a big fan of the acclaimed pop star and features her music throughout his classes. DSMC chatted with Matthew to learn more about his love of dance.

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Matthew Johnson Harris, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What inspired you to become a dance instructor? 

Matthew Johnson Harris: I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. Moving activates endorphins that can literally make you feel happier. Dance and fitness are a natural antidepressant and I love to share that joy with the world.

DSMC: You are a multi-hyphenated force. What are you most passionate about, dancing, teaching or activism?

Matthew Johnson Harris: Activism is at the center of everything I do. Outside of volunteering and fundraising for multiple organizations – I’ve been teaching a free class every Friday in Harlem to promote health and fitness. We should use all of our gifts to inspire change.

Check out the Harlem hospital class here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QwTwTBOmq_0

DSMC: What’s the one piece of advice you offer novices to dance? And, when did you start collaborating with the Ailey Extension?

Matthew Johnson Harris: There is no way you can mess up. Give whatever your best effort is and just keep moving.  I created the Hip-Hop Cardio Class for Ailey Extension in March and it’s been the greatest experience.

My second favorite class of the day to exceed my expectations: Beginner Hip-Hop with Jonathan Lee. While Mathew’s interpretation of Hip-Hop was a little more relaxed and liberal with the movements, Jonathan was very precise with his dance steps. We’re talking focused choreography here! He had a Bob Fosse-esque quality to him that the class gravitated to and obediently mimicked his instructions. At the end of the class, I felt as if I really mastered some modern Hip-Hop moves and was ready for a dance-off . Okay, perhaps I was getting ahead of myself, but Jonathan has the capacity to get his students to push themselves and reach choreographic bliss. DSMC chatted with Jonathan to get the scoop on his motivation for dance.

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Jonathan Lee, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What are your earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer and what inspired you

Jonathan Lee: My earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer began early in my training. Whenever my teachers allowed me to freestyle, I was able to put my stamp of movement into the piece. Also working with some great choreographers that inspired me as well.

DSMC: Where do you see the evolution of dance going in the next few years?

Jonathan Lee: In my opinion, dance will evolve to become more of a fusion of various styles. I believe a dancer will need to be more versatile in many styles rather than just proficient in just one style.

DSMC: What piece of advice would you give students new to dance and or choreography?

Jonathan Lee: My advice to young dancers would be to really hone your craft. Always be open to new things because dance is evolving. To train in various styles and techniques, learn from many teachers. To young choreographers, I would say: what do you have to say with your movement? Make sure your choreography makes a statement.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension dance instructor?

Jonathan Lee: I am one of the original instructors at the Extension. I’ve been there since the Extension began 14 years ago.

What was next on my dance agenda? Afro’Dance with instructor Angel Kaba. When Angel turned on the music everyone in the class was instantly transported to the electric and carefree sounds from The Congo, Ivory Coast, and Angola. With a mixture of African influences and street dance, this class challenges students to loosen their hips and move the rest of their bodies to the flow of the thumping beats. The cultural, social and free-spirited vibes of the class is contagious and dance students at any level will enjoy it tremendously. DSMC spoke to Angel, who now calls New York home, about her dance career.

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Angel Kaba, Photo: Courtesy of Angel Kaba

DSMC: What or whom inspired you to become a dance instructor?

Angel Kaba: My mother was a traditional Caribbean dancer from Martinique (French West Indies). She moved to Europe, Luxembourg specifically to be a professional dancer. When she had me, she brought me to concerts with her. My first concert was “KASSAV.” I ended up going on stage and dancing with the band. I was 4 years old. So my mother decided to find a dance class for me and I started dancing ballet at the age of 6. Teaching came pretty early in my life. At 16 I was teaching Hip-Hop for kids in my neighborhood. I love helping people feel happy and good about themselves. Music is also a big part of my inspiration. I always say: I don’t do choreography, I make people dance!

DSMC: You mentioned growing up in Belgium, what influences did you grow up with there?

Angel Kaba: Belgium colonized Congo (formerly Zaire). There is a lot of Congolese in Belgium. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father, who is Congolese, I was still surrounded by my culture a lot, music, food, hairstyle, fashion and gossip. Belgium is a small country with a lot of talent, very interesting! We speak basically 4 languages: French, Dutch, English and German. Brussels, where I was born, is very well situated in Europe, so I had access to a lot of cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid, Prague…. I traveled a lot and that opened my mind and heart.

Belgium is my country, but my roots are from Africa. I learned everything I know from Belgium especially dance, theater and music. Belgium taught me and New York made me. In Belgium I was able to understand who I was. In the U.S. I learned how to be free by being myself.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension instructor and what piece of advice do you give aspiring dance students?

Angel Kaba: Very interesting question. I knew of Alvin Ailey since I was I child, my mother told me about him and his legacy. It was in 2012, when I met my mentor Robin Dunn, and got the experience – taking classes and performing with the Ailey Extension community. I became an official Ailey Extension instructor as of May 2019! I started to teach my Afro’ Dance class, just a few weeks ago!

To my students, I would say something like: Hello, and welcome to my world. I’m Angel Kaba, and I help you express yourself through movement and music. Yes, that’s right; I teach you dance moves through rhythmic and afro-dance choreographies but most importantly, I help you express your deepest self without using a word. I help you go deep into your soul to find the light that only you have. I strongly believe that everybody is great at something and I also believe that dancing is a vehicle to tap into that gift. And I would add, beginners are more than welcome with my French accent, Let’s dance!! Voilà!

I’ve been going to the Ailey Extension for a over a year now, and every time I try their new roster of classes I become more motivated to stick to my fitness goals – and guess what, I suspect you will to if you sign up. Each of these instructors have different teaching methods, yet will inspire you to dance like you’re up for your next audition. Check them out!

This summer Ailey Extension promises to get New Yorkers moving with the return of NYC Dance Week, June 13 – June 22, not to be left behind, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Lincoln Center engagement will run from June 12 – June 16. The annual citywide festival offers over 25 free dance and fitness classes for adults of all experience levels. To view Ailey Extension’s complete NYC Dance schedule, visit www.aileyextension.com/nycdanceweek. New students must present a downloadable NYC Dance Week voucher for all classes at The Ailey Studios, available here.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet 25th Anniversary: Bittersweet and Bold!

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Left To Right: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Photo: Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Black History Month has concluded, and the month of February has been replete with exciting events that have left a lasting impression on the patrons of New York City’s cultural art scene. One worthwhile mention: Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 25th anniversary benefit performance. The night began with host, Courtney B. Vance, veteran television and film actor and consummate supporter of dance programs around the globe, bringing enthusiasm and awareness to the fundraising efforts of the organization. The gala’s aim: To help build Complexions’ educational initiatives through scholarships, mentorship programs and the continued development of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s methodology of dance training.

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson co-founding artistic directors and executive directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet both have incredible careers spanning decades of choreography and dance performances in some of the most prominent theater and dance companies around the world. Their passion for dance and experimentation with cutting edge performances has earned them worldwide recognition and thanks to their dedication, Complexions Contemporary Ballet celebrates their 25th anniversary this year. This marks the end of an era for Richardson. He is hanging up his dancing shoes as a full-time company member, and is passing the dance torch to a slew of new up-and-coming rising stars eager to enter the dance foray – particularly, the students from the pre-professional New Orleans Ballet Association part of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Educational program. They performed the world premiere of Nostalgia. These students’ focus and commitment to dance is admirable and witnessing the various body types and statures dancing in the company was refreshing. Long gone are the conventional rigid body type requirements of the past; progression and inclusivity is prevalent for the future of dance. Dwight Richardson performed Moonlight as his farewell number. His grace and flexibility are still in tact – as evidenced by his coordination with a chair prop – his dance moves melted seamlessly into the music score.

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Desmond Richardson, Photo: Gene Schiavone

Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie – conceptualized, staged and choreographed by Dwight Rhoden was thrillingly captivating since its premiere in Detroit, MI 2016 and continues to be present day. With new company members debuting their rendition, of this now signature Complexions performance; their dance moves and lip-syncing capabilities were in perfect unison to David Bowie’s haunting and melodious voice. Songs like Lazarus, Changes, Life On Mars, and Modern Love transport you to a time in place where anything is possible and dreams if big enough, manifest. The elaborate costumes, makeup and set design is a sight to behold. The iconic singer would’ve been proud.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dance Company Performing Star Dust, Photo: Sharen Bradford

Complexion’s educational initiatives were offered in six cities this past year, allowing the company the ability to mentor and train hundreds of dancers. Although their season at the New York Joyce Theater has ceased, these dazzling superstars of contemporary ballet are traveling throughout the country to entertain and enchant audiences. Check out their upcoming performances and get tickets here!

“Nostalgia”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Staged by: Clifford Williams, Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lighting & Design by: Michael Korsch, Performed by: students from NORD/New Orleans Ballet Center for Dance: Angelle Brown, Kaleb Clausell, A’briel Mitchell, Scarlett Mitchell-Yang, Amari Patterson, Chloe Roberts, Manon Scialfa, Violette Stonebreaker, Marguerite Valadi, Amaya Williams, Special thanks to the staff and faculty of the New Orleans Ballet Association.

“Moonlight”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: Kemp Harris, Lyric Composer: Dwight Rhoden, Lighting and Design by: Michael Korsch, Costume Design by: DR Squared, Performed by: Desmond Richardson

“Star Dust”

I. LAZARUS (Blackstar album 2016), II. CHANGES (Hunky Dory album 1971), III. LIFE ON MARS (Hunky Dory album 1971), IV. SPACE ODDITY (Space Oddity album 1969), V. 1984 (Diamond Dogs album 1974), VI. HEROES (Heroes album 1977) Sung by Peter Gabriel, VII. MODERN LOVE (Let’s Dance album 1983), VIII. ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars album 1972), IX. YOUNG AMERICANS (Young Americans album 1975), Performed by: The Company, Choreographed by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: David Bowie, Staged by: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Costume Design and Construction: Christine Darch, Lighting and Set Design by: Michael Korsch

New York City Center Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Captivating And Nostalgic!

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The holiday season is upon us and if you’re in search of cultural entertainment that will revitalize you – mentally and spiritually – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th Anniversary performances is just what you need. I recently attended the New York City Center’s 75th birthday celebration program featuring Alvin Ailey’s presentation of Piazzolla Caldera, The Golden Section, and Revelations. What a night of magical and transcendent dancing from the company’s members, and tribute to the choreographers that made these acts possible throughout the years at the revered New York City Center. The evening began with an homage to the New York City Center’s historic residency (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is their principal dance company) in New York’s cultural scene. Stage and film stars reminisced about the significance of this cultural landmark followed by an introduction from Alvin Ailey’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

The first act, Piazzolla Caldera, by critically acclaimed choreographer, Paul Taylor, fuses sensuality and the beautiful rhythms of traditional tango with four distinct dance numbers. The dancers role-play fiery confrontations between working class men and women, moving gracefully in a dimly lit club background to set the mood. Duets and trios of dancers interpreting lost loves and predatory conquests round out this act. The melodies emanating from the conventional accordion synonymous with Argentinean tango have never been sultrier.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green and Danica Paulos in Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Remembering one of my favorite revolutionary and experimental new wave bands from the 80s, The Talking Heads, I would have never imagined their songs interpreted to modern dance ballet. Yet, it happened. Listening to David Byrne’s voice electric voice wafting through the theater and witnessing the dancers move to his words was exhilarating. Premiering in the Broadway production of The Catherine Wheel in 1981 by Tony Award winning choreographer, Twyla Tharp, The Golden Section pushes the physicality of dancers with aero-dynamic like movements and superhuman leaps. Truly breathtaking to see. Although over 37 years-old, the production withstands the test of time and has an enchanting futuristic appeal.

The final act of the night was Revelations, created and choreographed by Alvin Ailey at the age of 29 in 1960. Inspired by Alvin Ailey’s childhood memories of church service in his hometown of Texas and the works of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, laid the foundation for Ailey’s signature work of art. I’ve been fortunate to see Revelations more than once and as you listen to the songs you’re powerless to the grasp of the emotional ride you embark upon with feelings of sorrow, grief, lament, joy, hope and triumph; a tribute to the African-American cultural experience, its message is universal and speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s repertoire of performances never disappoints and pushes the boundaries of creative expression every season. Whether it’s modern dance or traditional ballet, there is something for everyone this holiday season. Don’t miss out on these upcoming spectacular performances now running through December 30th. Click here, for Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater schedule.

Piazzolla Caldera: Choreography by Paul Taylor; Restaged by Richard Chen See; Music by: Astor Piazzolla, Jerzy Peterburshsky; Set, Décor, and Costumes by: Santo Loquasto; Lighting by: Jennifer Tipton; Song: “El sol sueño” Performed by: The Company,  Song: “Concierto para quintet” by: Jacqueline Green, Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun; Song: “Celos” Performed by: Daniel Harder, Michael Francis, McBride, Ghrai DeVore, Jamar Roberts; Song: “Escualo” Performed by: The Company
The Golden Section: Choreography by Twyla Tharp; Restaged by Shelley Washington; Music: David Byrne; Set, Décor, and Costumes by Santo Loquasto; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton; Performed by: Samantha Figgins, Jacqueline Harris, Jacqueline Green, Danica Paulos, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Constance Stamatiou, Solomon Dumas, Clifton Brown, Chalvar Monteiro, Venard J. Gilmore, Michael Jackson Jr., Michael Francis McBride, Jeroboam Bozeman
REVELATIONS: Choreography by Alvin Ailey; Music: Traditional; Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper; Costumes for “Rocka My Soul” redesigned by Barbara Forbes; Lighting Design by Nicola Cernovitch; Song: “Buked” Performed by: Hope Boykin, Megan Jakel, Jessica Pinkett, Yazzmeen Laidler, Courtney Celeste Spears, Khalia Campbell, Solomon Dumas, Jamar Roberts, Riccardo Battaglia Song: “Daniel” Performed by:  Daniel Harder, Hope Boykin, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Song: “Fix Me” Performed by: Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Jamar Roberts, Song: “Processional” Performed by: Kanji Segawa, Megan Jakel, Solomon Dumas, Riccardo Battaglia, Song: “Water” Performed by: Jacqueline Green, Vernard J. Gilmore, Khalia Campbell, Song: “Ready” Performed by: Clifton Brown, Song: “Sinner Man” Performed by: Michael Jackson, Jr., Yannick Lebrun, Solomon Dumas, Songs:  “The Day is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On” and “Rocka My Soul,” Performed by The Company.

Ailey Extension Honors Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 60th Anniversary – With Exhilarating Classes To Meet Your Holiday Fitness Goals

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Photo: Courtesy of Karen Arceneaux’s Instagram @kaep247, Students and Instructors at the Ailey Extension

If you’re like me and need to some inspiration to try a new fitness routine; look no further. The Ailey Extension has you covered. On a recent November evening I was invited to a press-only dance and fitness class event at the Ailey Extension studio in Manhattan. They promoted the most popular classes on their holiday schedule: BellydanceBURN – a mix of interconnected spine, chest, hips, and shoulders movement designed to make you become one with the music. All Styles Vogue – teaches students the fundamentals of Vogue Dancing, as well as current trends with special emphasis on its rich history, and classic Runway. The class begins with a funky contemporary jazz warm-up, targeting core muscle strength, grace, clean lines, balance and control. The third and most exhilarating class I took, was DanceFit. I’m not impartial to this class and I’ll tell you why. Created and developed by instructor, Karen Arceneaux – this is my 4th time taking DanceFit. It’s a high-intensity training, full-body workout that will push your muscles to the limit and beyond. I was introduced to DanceFit over the summer for Ailey’s NYC Dance Week. For this DanceFit class sampling, students received a 15-minute teaser. The class is normally 60-minutes of dance-based training with a mix of cardio and strength training to sculpt the entire body. Karen keeps the momentum going throughout the whole class with intermittent pauses to let you catch your breath. Thanks! Karen.

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Photo: Courtesy of Janelle Issis’ Instagram @jbellyburn

The evening began with BellydanceBURN. Instructor Janelle Issis distributed colorful sarongs with chains, sparkles, and sequins to get your mind bellydance-ready and move to the sultry beats of the dance’s traditional music. Belly dancing is believed to date back to 6,000 years ago with origins in Turkey and Egypt. As the class progressively reached hip-swaying levels of 15 – everyone relished in the upbeat energy and sensuality of Janelle’s steps. Issis has been studying classic Egyptian bellydance since the age of 4. Featured, as the top 6th female finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9 and debuting her first international T-Mobile commercial with artist, J. Balvin, is a testament to Janelle’s rising star. Apart from joining the Ailey Extension in 2018, she currently travels teaching with “Hollywood Dance Jamz” and “Showstoppers on Tour.” Her love for the art of choreography extends past bellydancing. Janelle has trained in multiple genres of dance including contemporary jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, Bollywood, modern, tap, salsa and more. Don’t Miss Janelle’s BellydanceBurn Schedule.

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Photo: Courtesy of the Ailey Extension

The second class to get students revved up was All Styles Vogue with Cesar Valentino. Out of all the classes, this had to be the most intimidating for me. Images of Madonna’s hit song, “Vogue” came to mind. I remembered as a teen being in awe of the elegance and enviable fluidity Madonna and her dancers exuded throughout the black and white video. How my friends and I would try to mimic their poses by rewinding and fast-fowarding our VCRs – to get the moves right. Cesar’s demeanor completely obliterated my voguing fears. He instilled a resolute confidence in the class –stripped away our shyness – with no turning back. Leading with skilled precision, Cesar and his students  sashayed across the studio and to learn the fundamentals of vogue dancing, and the elements of classic runway stances and walks. Cesar Valentino is a legend on his own. You wouldn’t be able to tell by his youthful appearance, but Cesar has 35 years of dancing under his belt. Caesar became a fixture in the vogue dance genre early – with the underground ballroom and club scene winning trophies for his performances. Valentino was featured in the cult classic vogue documentary Paris is Burning, Netflix original series Get Down, has appeared in music videos with Toni Braxton and Carmen Electra, and served as runway and performance coach for New York’s Olympus and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Apart from being the resident vogue expert at the Ailey extension, Cesar Valentino is a master craftsman and designer of one-a-kind garments, costumes and accessories. Check out his upcoming All Styles Vogue schedule.

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Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Froman, Karen Arceneaux

Last, but never least, was DanceFit. Karen Arceneaux combines cardio, strength training, her high-octane energy and dance-based training background. This final class of the evening was not meant to wind you down – but lift you up into the stratosphere! Karen’s choreography and teaching expertise is extensive and impressive. Receiving her B.F.A in Choreographic Design from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) and Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix may have led you to believe that she wanted to pursue a career in academics. You would be wrong. She has choreographed performances for the Saint Paul’s Church annual Christmas concert in NY, ULL in Louisiana, collaborates with dancers from the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A program, and founded the Genesis Dance Company, LLC – she serves as the Artistic Director and has presented her work in New York, Connecticut, Michigan, and South Carolina. Besides being a celebrated choreographer, Karen is a certified personal trainer, weight loss specialist, and TRX Suspension Trainer. Part of the Ailey Extension for over 10 years, Karen’s mission is to be an inspiration to others. Click here for the upcoming DanceFit schedule. 

This year the Alvin Ailey American Dancer Theater is celebrating its 60th Anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, the company will be hosting an array of events, workshops, panels and performances for patrons to indulge in. From November 28th – December 30th, you can catch these holiday engagements featuring the world premiere of Ronald K. Brown’s The Call and Rennie Harris’ Lazarus. Contemporary workshops by Ailey Company dancer and choreographer, Jamar Roberts, plus Young New York Night, where patrons aged 21 – 30 can purchase tickets (any seat in the house) for $29. Free your mind of holiday stress and join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company for these captivating performances. To learn more, click here.

‘Antigone’ Review: Modern, Timely and Necessary

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Alexandria King as Antigone, Photo: Richard Termine

Summer in New York City is replete with outdoor activities to fulfill the public’s yearning for quality music, film, fitness and cultural events. How do you choose from so many worthwhile attractions? If you were a theatre and cultural arts aficionado you’d be remiss not to take advantage of The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s free production of “Antigone.” This modern revival of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy is inspired by the Paul Roche adaption and infuses African-American traditions while adhering to the Greek tragedy format. Presented at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park and referred as the ‘Uptown’ Shakespeare in the Park by Ty Jones, Producing Artistic Director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem, lead actor in “Antigone”, and fellow theatre creatives – the space is conducive and complements “Antigone’s” production and set design with the names of those killed by police brutality.

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Alexandria King and Ty Jones as Antigone and King Creon, Photo: Richard Termine

Although the cornerstone of Greek plays emphasize tragedy, what stands out in this particular rendition and lauded by Carl Cofield, Director of “Antigone,” is the valor of conviction. The story of “Antigone” opens at the end of a battle between Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, both were vying for control of Thebes and died in combat. Ultimately, King Creon claims the throne as the new leader and proclaims one brother a hero (Eteocles) while the other a usurper. Antigone demands her slain brother (Polynices) receive a proper burial against the king’s wishes. The timeliness of “Antigone” couldn’t be more appropriate as we face an administration attempting to impose their unjust system on its citizens – and most of these citizens are challenging their ideology and taking to the streets to protests their policies – to salvage our Democracy. Alexandria King plays the main character of Antigone. Don’t be fooled by her small stature opposite King Creon, Ty Jones’s 6 ft. build. King’s powerful voice commands the stage and she does a superb job of portraying the defiant and valiant Antigone. Jones, known for his portrayal of Agent Donovan in the POWER series on the Starz Network is a natural as enforcer and upholder of law and order. But, Creon’s family and citizens of Thebes are reluctant in sharing his views.

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Ensemble from Elisa Monte Dance Company, Photo: Richard Termine

The choreography by Tiffany Rea-Fisher is stellar and the talented singers in the chorus are sensational. “Antigone” offers hope reflected in the selfless acts of sacrifice in the name of justice and even though the play, originally written by Sophocles in 442 B.C. – 2,500 years later, stands the test of time. Check out the free production of “Antigone” produced by The Classical Theater of Harlem at the Richard Richards Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park through July 29th, for more information, click here.

CREDITS:

The company of “Antigone” includes: Obie Award winner Ty Jones (as Creon; POWER, Julius Caesar), Alexandria King (as Antigone), Kahlil X. Daniel (as Teiresias), Avon Haughton (as Haemon), Ava McCoy (as Ismene), and Adaku Okpi (as Eurydice). The ensemble features dancers from Elisa Monte Dance.

Inspired by Paul Roche’s Adaptation of “Antigone” by Sophocles
Director: Carl Cofield
Choreographer: Tiffany Rea-Fisher
Costume Designer: Lex Liang
Lighting Designer: Alan C. Edwards
Scenic Designer: Christopher & Justin Swader
Sound Designer: Curtis Craig
Production Stage Manager: Megan Sprowls
Projections Designer: Katherine Freer
Props: Samantha Shoffner

Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st Season Delivered Its Finest Cinema To Date!

The 10-day Brooklyn Film Festival Wrapped up its 21st Season. And its festival slogan: “Bad times make great art” undoubtedly established a theme for an array of sentimental, political, satirical, activist, and unflinchingly honest films projected on screens all throughout Brooklyn. What was glaringly different from last year’s festival? Filmmakers commanded the audiences’ attention with their eye-opening subject matter: global female exploitation and oppression, political strife – domestically and internationally, mental illness, prison reform, terrorism and racism. Yes, there was some comedic relief in the mix – worthy of artistic recognition, but 2018’s films I mention below will grab hold of your sensibilities and perceptions of the world with a winding rollercoaster ride of emotions.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Winner of Best Documentary, “Afghan Cycles” takes you on a journey with the first National Cycling Team for girls in Afghanistan. It’s heart-wrenching to learn, watch and try to fathom the obstacles these girls, featured in the film, endure to be free – to enjoy their favorite hobby: cycling, all while succumbing to oppressive conditions placed on them by their country. It’s often said, that you don’t know what you have until it is gone, is fitting to describe the sacrifices the subjects make to live out their life’s dreams. Director, Sara Menzies seamlessly captures this poignant narrative and makes the audience sympathize and root for these girls.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Two films about prison life, albeit with starkly opposite narratives are “Hidden BluePrints: The Story of Mikey” and “Prison Logic.” “Hidden Blueprints,” a documentary short by prisoner turned filmmaker, Jeremy Lee Mackenzie is auto-biographical and describes his time in a Kentucky prison as a teenager, after a bank robbery and drug-trafficking charges put him there. The jail that housed Mackenzie burned to the ground after a riot. The director illustrates his time in prison through intricate art and a praying mantis named Mikey – both cathartic outlets to get him through the trials and monotony of life in jail– which later fate manifests into creative professional endeavors. It’s a refreshing perspective on prison life, emphasizing a willingness and fortitude a person can muster to turn their life around. With hope and creativity – anything is possible. The narrative feature “Prison Logic” by multi-talented actor, writer, and first-time director, Romany Malco Jr. gives us the story of Tijuana Jackson, a character he’s been playing on-and-off on the web since 2007, now immortalized on screen. Tijuana Jackson has a dream of becoming a motivational speaker, but his penchant for not following the rules, coupled with his ball-busting, by-the-book parole officer, played by the supremely talented and ageless actress, Regina Hall, present many obstacles in his quest for stardom. We see many stereotypical nuances and gags in this film genre, but Romany Malco Jr. does a great job to inflect humor, evoke laughter from the audience at the right time, and make these scenes memorable. “Prison Logic” won the Best Actor, Male and Best Editing Awards.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Three female directed films about female oppression that made a huge impact at this year’s festival are: experimental short, “That Part,” narrative features “Are You Glad I’m Here?” and “Can Hitler Happen Here?” Directors Mia Sorenson and Catherine Delaloye’s experimental short “That Part” is a 4-minute spoken word film exploring adversity, inequality, and the ongoing challenges women face in everyday life; voiced by women from different backgrounds and captured visually by dancers expressing the words’ intensity through choreographed dance. This film’s powerful message to women to champion and persevere for their rights – to live freely and happily – on their own terms, is necessary.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

When a curious-yet-naive 20-something American (Kristin) teaching English in Beirut crosses paths with a resilient, yet unhappy 30-something Lebanese housewife (Nadine) – an unusual friendship forms that will compromise each woman’s moral beliefs, we have the film: “Are You Glad I’m Here?” Director, Noor Fay Gaharzeddine does a wonderful job of developing these two characters’ friendship organically, as each woman attempts to learn more about the other’s culture. Tensions rise and each must face a shocking truth about Nadine’s abusive husband that will determine their future. Awarded the Audience Award for Best Original Score, this film addresses complex female relationships we need to see more of in cinema.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The third female-directed film by Saskia Rifkin awarded the Best Female Actor award is “Can Hitler Happen Here?” Rifkin shoots the film in black and white and her female lead is 74 years old – a reclusive artist played by Laura Esterman (Miriam Kohen) with candor and conviction. Rifkin allows us to enter Miriam’s mind while she endures endless harassment by her neighbors who insist she conform to societal norms and presentation, when Miriam refuses and holds her ground, we enter her shifting psyche’s interpretation of her neighbors’ motives, her sexuality, and creative persona – all clashing to make sense of her current situation. “Can Hitler Happen Here?” explores taboo subject matter through the eyes of a septuagenarian – that is captivatingly eccentric – and we are here for it!

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Lastly, a film that explores the universal themes of family and loss are present in “My Country.” The film about two brothers, one American, one Italian – who’ve never met – take a road trip together to spread their late father’s ashes in the small town (Molise, Italy) where he was born. As the brothers get to know one another, cultures collide, and each find faults in the other, they contemplate their situation and wonder whether they should continue their journey together. The beautiful Italian countryside, its warm and inviting residents, the bittersweet interactions between actor/director, Giancarlo Iannotta and his on-screen brother (Antonio Palumbo) will make you hug your sibling and forget your rivalries – for good!

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st season has come to end, but the extraordinary films they showcased and hosted will not. To learn more about the Brooklyn Film Festival’s line-up and the films featured in this article, click here.

NYC Dance Week is Here! Come Celebrate with Ailey’s Extension Program: June 14 – 23

Ballet, Zumba, yoga, modern dance and hip-hop – just a few class options in the Ailey Extension arsenal – to get you moving! Ailey Extension kick-offs their 6th season of NYC Dance Week beginning June 14th thru June 23rd. NYC Dance Week is a citywide celebration during which Ailey Extension offers three free dance and fitness classes each day for new students – and two free classes for new and returning students – for a total of 30 classes! I was fortunate to try three distinctive class offerings: Afro-Cuban Folkloric, DanceFit, and Absolute Beginner Horton (the modern dance technique created and made famous by Alvin Ailey).

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Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance Class, Photo by: Christian Miles

When I first entered Studio C at the Joan Weill Center for Dance in Manhattan, I was a little nervous about what to expect. The mounted ballet bars alongside the white walls, mirrors, a piano, and sprung floors seen in a traditional dance studio didn’t ease my trepidation. Plus, the fact that two percussionists with drums would be an integral part of the class repertoire was both nerve-wracking and exciting. Instructor Noibis Licea guided students through various forms of Afro-Cuban dance tradition while representing the Orishas (dieties from the African Traditions brought to Cuba that explores movement within cultural context. This 90-minute class allowed for very little moments of rest, and challenged my coordination and ability to dance along with my fellow classmates. My body responded to the beats of the drums and transported me to the island I was born in. Noibis Licea, the Afro-Cuban Folkoric dance instructor has been with the Extension program for 5 years, also teaches Afro-Cuban Modern Dance. “My music inspiration comes from all types of music primarily percussion, strings, and wind instruments.” Noibis will be participating during NYC Dance Week and you can catch his class on Friday, June 22nd from 7 – 8:30pm.

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Noibis Licea, Photo by: Joe Epstein

Next up – DanceFit: A high-intensity training with R&B, pop, and hip-hop blasting in the background meant to give you a full-body workout without you realizing it, until the next day. This 60-minute class will test your endurance. I stumbled upon the class’s one-year anniversary, created and taught – by the charismatic Karen Arceneaux. Sure, you may think every instructor is full of energy and ultimately their job is to motivate students, but Karen has a synergy you instantly feel upon meeting her. There was a mix of students – young and old – in the class. A delightful couple in their sixties couldn’t stop praising Karen’s class and so were a number of her current students. Her enthusiasm for each student to have fun is contagious. I chatted with Karen Arceneaux about her career in dance and motivation to teach.

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Karen Arceneaux, Photo by: Rachel Neville

DSMC: How long have you been with The Ailey Extension? 

Karen Arceneaux: Wow! I think I’ve been teaching for The Ailey Extension since 2005.

DSMC: You move effortlessly when you teach DanceFit. What inspired you to take up dance?

Karen Arceneaux: Thanks a bunch. Dance was not something I had access to as a child growing up in Louisiana. However, I remember, as clear as if it happened five minutes ago, the librarian giving away old books. I was in 2nd grade and quite shy. I had my eye on a totally worn out, tattered book (cover threading seriously unraveling). It was a book with a pink pointe shoe on the cover. I watched other kids pick the book they wanted and run to the librarian with their choice. I waited on the side, hoping no one would pick up the book I wanted. After the other kids left the library, happy with their book in hand, I walked over to and picked up the book I wanted and approached the librarian. In 2nd grade, I don’t remember being introduced to any form of dance prior, except for my own happy dancing around the house or at family outings. This (the book) was the first time I saw a pointe shoe. I was immediately drawn to it. This was the first inspiration that led me to dance. We would have to sit over coffee or tea so that I could provide greater detail as to what happened after that has led me to here and now. 🙂

DSMC: What made you create the DanceFit class?

Karen Arceneaux: Movement is my life. I’m a dancer. I teach Horton technique. I train private clients and teach group fitness classes. I also create movement for my dance students in classroom and theater settings. I thoroughly enjoy wearing each hat and want my students to have fun while learning. Through dance and fitness, my mission is to inspire, uplift, and transform lives with outrageous passion and energy. As a dancer, a choreographer, and personal trainer, I wanted to create a super fun class experience that would combine my areas of dance and fitness expertise with the goal of fulfilling my mission. With all of that, I created DanceFit.

DSMC: Who are some of your favorite dancers?

Karen Arceneaux: Debbie Allen was the only dancer I saw on television when I was about 12. She was an inspiration then and has remained for the past 36 years. She is my favorite dancer! I just love her.

DSMC: How did you get your start in dance?

Karen Arceneaux: Well after much back and forth with my mom (she was a no) and dad (he was a yes), my mom listened to my dad and allowed me to audition for my high school dance team. Mind you, I had no training in dance. I just loved moving and picked up movement quickly. I didn’t receive formal training until my sophomore year of college.

DSMC: Will you be participating in NYC Dance Week? If so, which classes? 

Karen Arceneaux: Yes, Yes, Yes! I will be participating! I think my Ailey Extension Absolute Beginner Horton on June 16th from 3:30 – 5pm, and DanceFit on June 22nd, which is open to the general public.

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DanceFit Photo by: Christian Miles

DSMC: What tips can you provide to those that are new to dance?

Karen Arceneaux:

My Tips:

  1. Prior to class, let the teacher know that you’re either new to the particular class or new to dance period
  2. Breathe
  3. Come in with an open mind, ready to learn something new
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes (that’s how we learn)
  5. Relax. Don’t stress (It hinders learning)
  6. Have FUN
  7. Continue to do Tip#2 throughout class

The third and final class I experienced at the Ailey Extension was Absolute Beginner Horton with instructor, Fernando Carrillo. Right before I walked into the studio, panic set in, after all this class implements the dance techniques used in Alvin Ailey’s signature Revelations performance, which I had previously reviewed . To me, this class embodies ballet and modern dance at its core. It allows students to challenge their flexibility and coordination in ways they hadn’t before. Fernando’s graceful instruction towards new and existing students is a testament to his teaching skills. I came to class with a misguided perception and left thinking about the limitless dance potential my body has – bad knees and all. I asked Fernando about his dance background and what led him to the Ailey Extension:

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Fernando Carrillo, Photo by: Leon Lee

DSMC: What was your first experience with dance? How did you know it was your calling?

Fernando Carrillo: I knew dance was my calling when I was around 10 years old. I became very interested in dance when I would watch my family dance and I loved the rhythmic steps they did to the music. I never danced back then, so it was this unspoken thought that remained in my mind until I went to college and took my first dance classes.

DSMC: How long have you been with the Ailey Extension group?

Fernando Carrillo: I have been teaching for the Ailey Extension for over 10 years.

DSMC: Who are some your dance inspirations?

Fernando Carrillo: My dance inspiration comes from two mentors I had the pleasure to learn from. Milton Myers is a master teacher who has always been very supportive. He helped me hone my skills as a dance teacher. He gave me many opportunities. I was able to teach at The Juilliard School, The Ailey School, Steps on Broadway and Peridance Capezio Dance Center as his substitute. My other great mentor is Mrs. Carmen De Lavallade. I am so grateful for her generosity. She has shared invaluable information with me. Mrs. De Lavallade helped me uncover a sense of home within me whenever I am teaching the Horton Technique. It is an extraordinary feeling of sharing and cultivating a true human relationship with people without bias or judgment.

DSMC: Have you performed in Alvin Ailey’s dance productions? If not, will you be in the near future?

Fernando Carrillo: I performed with Ailey II where I was fortunate to perform many of Mr. Alvin Ailey’s choreographies.

DSMC: Will you be participating in NYC Dance Week? If so, which classes?

Fernando Carrillo: I will be participating in NYC Dance Week. I will be teaching at Ailey Extension the following class:

Absolute Beginner Horton: June 14th from 7-8:30 pm

DSMC: What tips can you give those new to dance classes?

Fernando Carrillo: I recommend they show up to class with an open mind and ready to experience something new they have never tried before. I like to see people walk into the studio with a feeling of belonging to the arts and taking part in the world of dance. People will clearly see that with our passion and power; we have the ability to change people’s perspectives through our art.

I was truly impressed by the Ailey Extension and am considering becoming a permanent member. I encountered talented instructors with a passion for dance and wanted to know more about this extraordinary program and its formation from the woman who oversees it, Executive Director, Lisa Johnson-Willingham. Check out our conversation below:

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Lisa Johnson-Willingham, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

DSMC: What are some of your earliest recollections of wanting to become a dancer?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: I was always very active as a child. We played a lot of music in my house. My entire family loved dancing. For my 6th grade graduation, we created choreography to the one of the Funkadelics’ songs. My counselor saw me and introduced me to a National Youth Sports Program – a summer camp with dance program. Ms. Reed was my first dance instructor. When I saw her – so graceful and beautiful – long and lean, I was 10 and said: I want to be her! That was the moment I wanted to be a dancer. I was there for 10 years. When I started, I was the youngest in the program. Everyone else was older. I loved the challenge. It was so much fun. Ms. Reed had just graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C. and I decided that’s where I wanted to go for high school.

DSMC: You had joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1994 as a dancer and remained with the company for 5 years. Was becoming a dance instructor a natural progression for you?

Lisa Johnson-Willingham: Definitely, yes it was. After I left the company I was AileyCamp Director in Chicago for 10 years. After that, I became the Director for the Ailey Extension and that was an easy transition for me. AileyCamp consists of 6 weeks in the summer, but you work all year round with 100 kids, bringing dance to the people. Which is the Ailey Extension’s mission: real classes for real people. It was the same, but with children. Dance changes lives. It has a real effect on people’s health, it uplifts the mind, body, and spirit. When you come into this community you get a whole body experience – a spiritual experience. We have classes, workshops, and performance workshops. Last week Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey Artist Director) taught a repertory workshop at the Extension. It was amazing. That connection goes deeper than taking a dance class.

DSMC: What’s your vetting process for selecting the instructors at Alvin Ailey?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: We want prominent instructors. We have instructors from around the world. I participate in one of their classes, look at their resume. Teaching at the Extension is different than teaching at the Ailey School. They are professionals. They need to be skilled instructors that can deal with the general public. They need to be skilled at all levels of dance and have experience in teaching. In this room you’re going to have all levels of people who are beginner or advanced. It’s a beautiful thing to have so many people at all levels – and being able to handle that well – is a skill in itself

DSMC: NYC Dance Week is in its 6th season, how involved were you in creating the classes?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: My team and I got together and chose classes we thought the public would be interested in. We didn’t want people coming through the doors feeling intimidated. So of course, a lot of the classes are our beginner-level and fitness classes. Horton is on the list. We want to welcome people and allow them to have the Alvin Ailey dance experience.

DSMC: Are there any disclaimers or waivers the public has to fill out before taking  classes during NYC Dance Week?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: Everyone can go through NYC Dance Week’s website, fill out a form and retrieve a voucher, and bring it with them before participating in the class.

DSMC: What’s the adequate mindset people need to have before participating in NYC Dance Week?

Lisa Johnson-Willingham: If you’re new to dance, it takes time to perfect the steps. It’s a welcoming environment. You are there to have a good time. There’s no pressure. You can zone out at the gym or any other fitness facility, but with dance, you use your mind, body and spirit – you’re telling a story, expression through movement. And, life is constant movement.

Since its inception in 2005, the Ailey Extension program has welcomed over 83,000 new students with the help of Lisa Johnson-Willingham, creating annual workshops: The Ailey Exeperience, Voices and Visions, and World Dance Celebration. The Ailey Extension shows no signs of slowing down; instead it plans on bringing new and exciting challenging dance classes – to existing and new students. To check out NYC Dance Week’s schedule, click here.