Female Filmmakers Rule The Spotlight At The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

IMG_5340

Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

If you’ve had enough of the quintessential Hollywood hyped films that have been – and will continue to be – splashed all over TV stations and streaming services with overly saturated ads (after all it’s only the beginning of June), then check out the roster of films at the 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival to embrace global innovation and creativity. I’ve seen a few films thus far, in the narrative and documentary features and shorts, and experimental and animation categories, and wow! have they made an impact on me. And, we still have 6 more days of film festival-ing to revel in and see more fascinating films.

It all began with the presentation of The Gathering on BFF’s opening night and this year’s festival theme of empowering women to tell their stories and call out Hollywood for their inaction towards predatory powerful men. The Gathering, directed by Emily Elizabeth Thomas, showcases actresses dressed in character (the nun, elf queen, spy) all sharing personal accounts of sexual assaults within the film industry. The film and director’s message: “NYC…Brooklyn is a space for the other, the weird, the disruptors. And, that a better Hollywood is possible.” Following this powerful short film was the world premiere of Above The Shadows by Claudia Myers starring Olivia Thirlby, Alan Ritchson, Jim Gaffigan, and Megan Fox.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 2.18.17 PM

Olivia Thirlby and Alan Ritchson, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Above The Shadows is a supernatural action romance between a tabloid photographer (Holly) and a disgraced MMA fighter (Shayne). Holly has been invisible to her family and society for more than a decade. After discovering that one of her tabloid photos resulted in Shane’s downfall, she tracks him down to make things right and realizes he can see her and has the potential to restore her existence in the world. Director Claudia Myers brings a softer perspective to the sport of MMA and reverses the age-old boy-saves-girl paradigm with Thirlby as a believable heroine and savior of the day.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 2.17.50 PM

Elephant in Africa’s Congo Basin Region, Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival

Regardless if you love elephants or whether you just love all animals, the documentary, Silent Forests, is worth seeing. Taking place in Africa’s Congo Basin region, the film follows Cameroon’s first female eco-guard conversationalist, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, an anti-poaching sniffer dogs team leader led by a Czech conservationist all tackling the unbelievable corruption, lack of funding and weapons, as they deal with the huge crisis of the decreasing population of forest elephants. The film is eye-opening and sentimental in the depths these activists undertake to examine the problem head-on,  from poaching to conversation and vice-versa. Check out director Mariah Wilson’s documentary feature on June 4th at 10pm at the Wythe Hotel.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 3.11.59 PM

Numa Perrier as Susan (Center), Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

A recent film that had me immersed in thought long after it ended was: Una Great Movie by Director Jennifer Sharp. The story begins with an African-American woman (Susan) traveling back to Mexico to rekindle a romance with a former lover; then it cleverly switches to the film’s screenwriter second-guessing her characters and their actions in the film and the all-too-familiar producers, “screen therapists,” agents, and movie insiders injecting their formulaic and over-used anchors to drive the film to “sell” and have a mass appeal. This film will speak volumes to all, but is especially poignant for any creative who has dreamt, tried-but-failed, or succeeded in making their vision come to life. It’s funny, full of heart, and entertaining for the entirety of its 96 minutes. Check it out and buy tickets to the world premiere on June 7th at the Wythe Hotel at 8pm.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 3.22.01 PM

Mollie Cowen as Casey, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The documentary short, 3 Sleeps, by painter-turned-director, Christopher Holt is based on the true story of a 9-year-old girl (Casey) left to take care of her younger siblings for a whole weekend in a tough London neighborhood. After her mother leaves young Casey with little money to watch over herself and sisters, her youngest sister, aged 5, becomes ill. While Casey is forced to make the harrowing decision to either protect her mom or save her sister’s life, the audience is at standstill – grappling and sympathizing with Casey’s predicament. Fine acting by actresses Mollie Cowen, Keira Thompson, and Emily Haigh. 3 Sleeps has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Wythe Hotel at 6pm and encore on June 7th.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 3.37.44 PM

Bernard in Bristled, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The animation short Bristled is a gem of a film that captures the idiosyncrasies of dating perceptions in the modern world. After countless failed blind dates, Bernard believes he may have found “the one,” only to find yet another fault in the person and is quickly consumed with his perceived “fault” she possesses, only to discover he’s not perfect either. The narration’s comedic dialogue and timing is superb. Bristled, by Scott Farrell has been selected by the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Chicago Comedy Film Festival, and Canadian International Comedy film Festival to name a few. Go see this quirky film on June 5th at the NY Media Center.

This year The Brooklyn Festival’s programmers are committed to advocating for filmmakers who are working in critical systems, taking risks and challenging themselves to tell stories that are breaking barriers. Please check out these amazing films and support these extraordinary and talented artists. To see Brooklyn Film Festival’s full schedule, click here. Plus, don’t miss my festival wrap-up piece next week. The Brooklyn film festival will be running through, June 9th.

Advertisements

Complexions Contemporary Ballet 25th Anniversary: Bittersweet and Bold!

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.30.22 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 12.14.56 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 12.25.13 AM

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 6.00.54 PM

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.

JanelleIssis

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.

extension_cesar_valentino_0

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 5.58.28 PM

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.

Rock The Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS Event Slayed! – Politically and Socially

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 3.07.43 AM

Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Rock the Vote Attendees at the New TOMS Williamsburg, Brooklyn Store

Covering the Rock the Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS event has been one of the most thrilling moments for me this year. Why? It was unexpectedly delightful and inspirational. It moved me to act; to care more; to save our democracy; to donate; to tweet and raise awareness about the impact of the midterms and how each of us – really can make a difference. I had this preconceived notion that this event, geared toward Teen Vogue’s Gen Z audience, a far cry from my hazy Generation X/ millennial cusp residency, wouldn’t be relatable to me. Thoughts of ill-conceived, potentially overheard conversations I’d be succumbed to, filled my head: From Cardi B’s/Nicki Minaj’s latest feud-y clap-backs to the best unicorn hair color dye brands on the market. Boy, was I proven wrong. I was surrounded by teens and girls in their early twenties that had founded nonprofits for trans youth in need, created grassroots organizations to get women elected, and launched crowdsourcing campaigns for victims of gun violence. These girls have powerful messages to convey: Get ready. We are changing the world!

Founded in 2003 by parent company Condé Nast, Teen Vogue still caters to fashion lovers, keeping up with the beauty and fashion trends, its sister magazine, Vogue exemplifies as the beacon of  high fashion and beauty . These days, Teen Vogue, primarily a digital magazine, captures the attention and support of political and social activists. According to Alli Maloney, Teen Vogue’s news and politics features editor: “We cover news as it happens. But we also cover things that we reframe in a new lens. We get pushback every day basically with people telling us to stay in our lane, but our readers’ lane includes politics now. It’s a political world.” And on this night the political world took center stage. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the guest speaker for the Rock the Vote discussion, moderated by Teen Vogue’s news and politics editor, Lucy Diavolo. Gillibrand, who began her political career in Congress in 2006, ran for an incumbent held Republican seat, which she defeated, and in 2009 became Senator of New York State.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 2.59.47 AM

Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, from L to R, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and News+ Politics Editor, Lucy Diavolo

Gillibrand, who’s seat is also up for re-election, didn’t shy away from audience questions on our failed political system under-serving Americans. She acknowledged the system is broken and that young people, women, people of color need to take action to see themselves represented in the House and Senate. The work is tireless and essential to protecting people’s rights for adequate healthcare, education, and women’s reproductive rights. Gillibrand became the first member of Congress to post her official daily meetings, and personal financial disclosures. Her push for transparency in politics led to the passing of the STOCK act, which makes it illegal for members of Congress, their families, and their staff to benefit from insider information gained through public service. Diavolo posed questions to Gillibrand on the minds of many Americans right now: What are the pressing issues, if Democrats take back the House and Senate, that will take precedence? Is she running for president in 2020? What are some bipartisan solutions both parties can agree on and pursue – with gun reform regulation? And of course, with Trump’s proposed agenda to erase Transgender rights, especially affecting trans youth. I asked Lucy, as a transgendered journalist, her thoughts on the following:

DSMC: In a Teen Vogue article from October 24th, you wrote: “As I said in the speech I gave during the Hell No to the Memo rally on Sunday, October 21, I believe voting alone is not enough right now. I believe it is important to go beyond the polling booth and provide direct, material support to transgender people.” Can you elaborate on this statement? What do you mean by “material support?”

Lucy Diavolo: In terms of providing material support to transgender people, I think there’s a number of options. As I wrote on the 22nd, it can be as simple as just checking in on your trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming friends with a kind word, calling a congressperson, or educating your family and friends. In terms of material support, simple things like donating directly to a trans person, taking the time to make a trans friend a meal, helping them cook or clean, giving them a place to crash if they don’t have one, or weighing in on a job application can all be very direct ways to do so.

DSMC: Should the proposed Trump bill reversing Obama-era protections for LGBTQ citizens be instated, what can the LGTBQ community and their supporters do to fight back?

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 3.01.18 AM

Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Lucy Diavolo, News + Politics Editor, Teen Vogue

Lucy Diavolo: If you’re talking about the transgender HHS memo, absolutely not. Under Obama, the LGBTQ community saw serious progress made at the federal level for the first time in history — it’s a low bar, but Obama (like many Democrats) changing his tune on marriage equality and standing up for trans kids in schools was unprecedented. Many of us believed a Trump presidency would undo much of that progress, and the HHS memo was the latest horrifying proof that the current administration is actively engaged in looking for ways to strip our community’s basic human rights.

Lucy Diavolo: Whether you’re a binary trans person, a non-binary trans person, or experiencing your gender in other ways, know that you’re valid. Being young and trans (or any kind of queer) in a hostile environment can be very challenging. I know because I was outed as bisexual in the 8th grade and spent most of high school suffering for it. My best advice for a young person in a situation like that is to look for community where you can. It can be online, where there are lots of great community spaces for learning and having conversations. Or it can be in the other folks who might be struggling at your school, who can commiserate with you over your situation, even if it’s when no one else is listening. A sense of community has made even the most difficult, painful, and ugly parts of my transition feel safe and supported.

If you find yourself in a truly untenable situation, know that, in many cities, there are people, social services, and communities that will support you. Young LGBTQ people have been running to the cities for decades, and in many places, there are not only organizations working to serve them, but entire populations of older LGBTQ folks who want to support them. Look for those organizations and people in online spaces if you feel you absolutely have to get away from wherever you are.

Apart from curating news and politics for Teen Vogue’s monthly 5 million plus monthly visitors to the site, Diavolo help founded the Transfeminine Alliance of Chicago and plays bass in the Chicago-based band The Just Luckies.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 3.04.03 AM

Photo: Courtesy of TOMS

Rock the Vote event host and Teen Vogue advocate, TOMS, opened their new store/café – complete with an outside patio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. DSMC asked TOMS’ Director of Global Brand Marketing, Kate Faith, to discuss the – successful and impactful – Teen Vogue and TOMS collaboration.

DSMC: TOMS has partnered with Teen Vogue in the past, the recent Teen Vogue Summit in Austin last month, what makes this partnership so special?

Kate Faith: Our partnership with Teen Vogue started last year with the first ever Teen Vogue Summit where we hosted the opening day reception at TOMS HQ in Los Angeles. To continue this partnership, this year we hosted meet ups at our TOMS stores across America including Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, and finally at our new store here in Brooklyn. Teen Vogue is educating and inspiring young people to take action, which is at the heart of what we’re doing here at TOMS. We both know that Gen Z has the power and courage to change the world. We are here to support Teen Vogue as they rally the next generation to create a better world for us all.

DSMC: With over 60 million pairs of shoes donated to children around the world so far, what does TOMS hope to establish with the one-for-one model eyewear? Is eyewear as scarce as shoes around the world? Why this product line?

Kate Faith: Since our founding in 2006, TOMS has given over 80 million pairs of shoes to those in need both abroad and here in the United States. That number is something we’re very proud of, but we also recognize we can do more and have the opportunity to scale our impact beyond our shoe gives. TOMS launched eyewear in 2011 as we saw a need to help more people in a new way that would make a very big difference in their lives. During Blake’s travels, he saw many kids who weren’t able to see the chalkboard at school so would fall behind and elderly people developing cataracts which affected their work life and the livelihood of their family. Wanting to find a solution, he came up with TOMS eyewear – with every pair of sun and optical purchased, a person is provided an eye exam and given treatment through prescription glasses, medical treatments, or sight-saving surgery. We have now provided sight to over 600,000 individuals around the world. I recently was in India on a Giving Trip and was able to witness a cataract surgery first hand. It was incredibly moving to see people’s reactions when their bandages came off and they were able to see their loved ones – some for the first time! I’m proud to work at a company that is creating this level of impact in the world.

DSMC: Does TOMS support/endorse certain politicians for the midterms?

Kate Faith: Our #1 objective is to inspire and educate young people around the importance of using their voice to create positive change. Voting is one (very important) avenue for people to address the issues they care about most, and we want to provide the tools for people to make informed decisions when heading to the polls. We don’t endorse specific politicians, but our hope is that elected officials support basic human rights for all individuals. We are in this together and must create a world that works better for all of us. To learn more about TOMS global work and products, click here.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 2.58.30 AM

Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Attendees at the Rock The Vote Teen Vogue X TOMS Event

This event opened my eyes to a whole new group of passionate activists that are committed to making a difference in our nation. I had once solely perceived them as meme-creating, snap-chat happy simplistic youth consumed with finding the perfect selfie. Sure, they may engage in these activities on their down-time, as most of us have, but they are laser-focused on championing for causes that are vital to their generation and ours.

Review: ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ Greek Mythology, Modern Times, and Social Justice Parallels

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 9.09.38 PM

Photo: Gregg Richards, De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson (center) and choir members 

With so many transgressions of police brutality plaguing African-American communities in our country, daily – it’s quite easy to slip into a path of desensitization. The Harlem Stage in collaboration with Theater of War Productions, the citizens of St. Louis and Ferguson refuse to let that transpire with the production of Antigone in Ferguson. One-part play with gospel chorus inflections; one-part panel discussion and equal parts entertainment, patrons of this unconventional presentation are in store for an eye opening cultural awakening. With scenes from Sophocles’ ancient Greek play, staged readings performed by leading television, film, theater actors and an unusual – yet extraordinarily talented choir – comprised of law enforcement, activists, educators, and counselors – form this experimental show.

At first, I couldn’t fathom staged readings in lieu of customary scenes with verbal and physical components performed against picturesque backdrops to illustrate the highly popularized Sophocles’ play, Antigone – done in past iterations, similar to the Classical Theatre of Harlem Stage production I covered earlier this the summer. The synopis: Antigone, it’s about a young woman who is adamant about burying her brother, Polyneices, whose slain body lays lifeless in the ancient city of Thebes at the end of the civil war, against the wishes of newly crowned King Creon. The courageous Antigone is ready to risk life and limb to honor her deceased brother and seek a proper burial for him even though he was considered an enemy of the state. The parallels, from this more than 2,500-year-old play, couldn’t be timelier, as this rendition focuses on the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014 at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. The subsequent African-American deaths by white police officers that followed in our country, the lack of action this administration demonstrates, and the perseverance of movements such as Black Lives Matter to affect change.

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 9.18.23 PM

Photo: Gregg Richards, (L to R) Actors Tamara Tunie and Tate Donovan

What’s fascinating about this production is that the mix of stage readings from acclaimed actors Tate Donovan (King Creon) from the Damages and The O.C. series, Tony award-winning actress Tamara Tunie (Antigone), Chris Myers from the She’s Gotta Have It and Netflix’s Sneaky Pete series (as Creon’s son, Haemon, among other roles) and Chinasa Obguagu from the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and A Walk Among the Tombstones films (as Ismene, Antigone’s sister, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife) are instrumental in telling the story, yet their performances don’t overshadow the focal point of this production – which is: solutions communities and lawmakers – can and should – come up with to end senseless deaths as a result of police brutality and gun violence across the nation with much needed conversation. Panel discussions with Michael Brown Sr., community members-turned-activists describing first-hand accounts of the night of the Ferguson shooting, members of the Man Up Project, therapists and individuals committed to make an impact and let their voices be heard – moved the audience in the theater that night: including me.

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 9.21.13 PM.png

Photo Credit: Gregg Richards, Panel (L to R): Erica Wright, Lt. Latricia Allen, Michael Brown Sr.

Artistic director and moderator of the Antigone in Ferguson production, Bryan Doerries has presented over 60 performances across all five boroughs. Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage marks a departure from the company’s history of nomadic presentations. Having mounted over 700 events at a range of venues around the world, from Guantanamo Bay to a playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn, this extended run (September 13 – October 13) will be the first time Theater of War Productions will embed itself in one location for an extended period of time. Exclusively supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the 30 free (RSVP required) performances at Harlem Stage will offer expanded opportunities for community participation in this innovative social justice project. Don’t miss upcoming performances by actors: Frankie Faison (Coming to America, The Wire) Chris Noth (Sex and the City franchise, Law & Order), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to name a few. For more information on Antigone in Ferguson and upcoming schedule, click here.

The Kew Gardens Festival Of Cinema’s 2nd Year Anniversary Review: Tragic, Timely and Titillating!

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.35.06 AM

Song of Sway Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Kew Gardens isn’t known to be epicenter of film, but with this year’s film festival lineup – it is well on its way. This culturally rich Queens enclave is currently hosting 110 films from 23 countries, including the U.S. Canada, Italy, Turkey and South Africa. The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, now in its 2nd year, is claiming its status as a purveyor of cutting edge cinema. Watch out Cannes! This year’s festival categories include narrative features, documentaries, short films, animation, experimental, music video and web series. The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema has partnered with the Regal Entertainment Group’s UA Midway Stadium 9 and The Queens Museum to bring these brilliant films the recognition they deserve. After meeting their crowdfunding goals, festival organizers are committed to endorse neighborhood businesses to festival attendees.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.37.57 AM

(L to R, Elizabeth Pena and Mary Beth Peil. Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

On opening night, there’s always a film that steals the spotlight and sets the bar for the rest of the festival, At the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, this night was no exception. “The Song of Sway Lake” directed by Ari Gold was it. The film about a young man, Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin), who travels along with his friend, a comical and sly Russian transient, to the his family’s once glamorous lake house in the Adirondacks to steal a one-of-a-kind vintage record with the secret recording of the hit “Sway Lake.” Ollie believes the record will improve his life and help him understand his father’s suicide at the famed lake – until his plans are thwarted by his grandmother, Charlie Sway (Mary Beth Peil). The cinematography and original music by the director’s brother, Ethan Gold are expertly sprinkled throughout the film and transport the audience back-and-forth to a simpler elegant era in America. The scoring in the film is a character in itself with nostalgic interludes between scenes. “The Song of Sway” is a romantic drama tackling the complexities of family, love, friendships, and death with beautiful storytelling. Rory Culkin and Mary Beth Peil are extraordinary to watch. The late actress, Elizabeth Peña as Charlie’s housekeeper/confidante/friend/punching bag is resilient and stoic. Known for “La Bamba” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” Peña will be missed.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.39.02 AM.png

(L to R, Aurora Perrineau (Addison) and Rachel Hendrix (Lyle), Photo: Courtesy of Rushaway Pictures

Festival closer and critically acclaimed film, “Virginia Minnesota” also examines complicated friendships. The indie film by Daniel Stine about two friends reconnecting after 15 years for a will reading at the foster home they both lived in as young girls and vowed never to return, due to the mysterious childhood tragedy bestowed on their young friend Virginia. Now in their mid-twenties, Lyle and Addison embark on a journey of painful childhood memories, turbulent relationships, and self-reflection. This film will make you believe in fairy tales and the monsters that sometimes inhabit them – with optimism and faith.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.46.45 AM.png

Murder Made Easy, Jessica Graham (Joan) and Christopher Soren Kelly (Michael), Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Two whodunits worthy of recognition are “Murder Made Easy” by director Dave Palamaro and Canadian film “The Doctor’s Case,” directed by James Douglas and co-director Leonard Pearl. Each offers a creative spin on the murder-mystery genre. “Murder Made Easy” follows Joan and Michael, two friends throwing an elaborate dinner party for their close friends to remember the passing of Joan’s husband, Neil, on the one-year anniversary of his death. The friends may not want to ingest what these hosts are serving – literally and figuratively. Although some of the scenes are far-fetched and a little over-the-top, the plot twists are so entertaining you’re willing to forego some of the missteps in this clever pop horror film. Based on the short story by Stephen King, “The Doctor’s Case” shines the spotlight on Sherlock Holmes’ assistant, Dr. Watson, as he takes the lead in solving the murder of a contemptuous English lord. When you couple The King of Horror’s story with the mastermind detective, audiences are in store for a thrilling ride. Add to that, actors William B. Davis as Dr. Watson from “The X-Files” series and Denise Crosby (also guest-starred on “The X-Files”) as Captain Norton from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” who keep the suspense going throughout the movie.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.32.19 AM

The Doctor’s Case, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.50.59 AM.png

Modified, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

A film festival isn’t complete without stellar documentaries making powerful statements. And, after watching “Modified” and “Beneath the Ink,” mission accomplished. Filmmaker Aube Giroux takes a startling look at the inclusion of GMOs – Genetically Modified Organisms – for instance: corn crops being injected with pig genes by food manufacturers in the US and Canada with no regulations in place. Scared yet? You will be after viewing “Modified.” Giroux took over 10 years to finish this personal project and interjects touching memoir-style scenes of her family and her love of food throughout the years. It’s eye opening, frustrating and necessary to watch. “Beneath the Ink” by director Cy Dodson is a timely documentary exposing the hate and racism in a Southeastern Ohio (Appalachian region) community and what one tattoo artist is doing to help change people’s views and a chance at redemption. The film shows various facets of racism – how it is taught through generations and the individuals in this community that are committed to changing their indoctrinated hateful beliefs. It’s raw and real and we need more films like these highlighting solutions – not problems – with racism, exacerbated by the current administration.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.49.43 AM.png

Beneath the Ink, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Short film “R.V” was made right after the 2017 elections by directors Will Hawkes and Melissa Center to give women a voice and take a stand on the injustices seen in this country as basic human rights are consistently stripped away by elected officials. The film follows a couple after they make a difficult decision to have an illegal abortion in a seedy motorhome after the wife is left with no other legal alternative. This film’s subject matter couldn’t be any more relevant as the looming induction of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is underway. Kavanaugh is a vocal opponent of Roe v. Wade. Time will tell if the landmark case and law that followed to make abortions legal will be phased out.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.55.11 AM.png

R.V, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

On a lighter note, the Belgium animated film “Catherine” by director Britt Raes, is about a girl who loves pets, but has a hard time keeping them alive, until she gets a cat. The film illustrates the universal empathy children display to animals. As she grows up she has a hard time socializing with other people but is comforted by her cat and ultimately becomes a crazy old cat lady. This film is reminiscent and a sweet reminder of the childhood pets we love and become accustomed to and how we recover from the limited time they spend with us – funny and bittersweet film worth seeing.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 5.52.45 AM.png

Catherine, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Apart the fantastic screenings, The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema presents two panels: The Jury’s Out: Meet the 2018 Festival Jurors, and A Change Overdue: Diversity in Cinema, a discussion on diversity in independent film featuring invited filmmakers from the festival at the Center at the Maple Grove in Queens. On Sunday, August 12th, the final day of the festival, the Awards Dinner Gala returns to Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Do not miss out on this incredible film festival! To get more information and to buy tickets to the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, 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).

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.24.09 AM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.48.26 AM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.27.27 AM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.25.25 AM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 12.40.44 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 1.47.35 AM

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.