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FALL ARTS 2019: DANCE — Dance is central component in Kennedy Center’s new Reach programming

Mark Morris Dance Group takes inspiration from classic Beatles album

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The Mark Morris Dance Group in ‘Pepperland.’ (Photo by Gareth Jones; courtesy Kennedy Center)

Patrons are invited to celebrate the 10th annual National Dance Day at the Kennedy Center’s  (2700 F St., N.W.) new campus, the Reach, on Saturday, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m.-11 p.m. 

Emmy-winning choreographer and actress Debbie Allen will host the day’s festivities which will include interactive dance routines and lessons, outdoor performances, panel discussions, film screenings, live music and more. Participants can learn the official, nation-wide 2019 National Dance Day routine, created by the American Dance Movement and choreographed by Matt Steffanina, on the Reach’s main stage. 

The Kennedy Center has also crated it’s own line dance routine to tell the history of the Kennedy Center. There will be a panel discussion and performance by dancer Tiler Peck from New York City Ballet. Other events include 16 dance classes taught from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. including Chinese Ribbon dance, tap, salsa, Classical Indian dance, dancehall fusion and more. 

Attendees can also view film screenings from documentaries such as “Ballet Now,” “No Maps on My Taps” and “NY Export: Opus Jazz. This event is part of the Reach’s Opening Festival. Admission is free. For a complete list of events, visit kennedy-center.org.

The Reach at the Kennedy Center presents a screening of “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé,” on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. The film follows the pop star’s journey of curating and choreographing her 2018 Coachella performance. Admission is free but timed-entry passed are required. The screening is part of the Reach’s opening festival. For more information, visit kennedy-center.org.

D.C. Style Salsa Academy (7014 Westmoreland Ave., Takoma Park, Md.) presents Cuban Styling for Salseros taught by instructor Jonathan Burke on Tuesday, Sept. 24 from 8:30-10 p.m. The class will teach how to incorporate Afro-Cuban and rumba dance styles. Drop-in class pass is $25. Other class packages are available. For more details, visit dcstylesalsa.com.

The Silver Spring Civic Center (1 Veterans Pl., Silver Spring, Md.) hosts a Salsa and Bachata Block Party on Sunday, Sept. 29 from 1-9 p.m. There will be dance lessons, a block party and more. Dance lessons will include Zumba, kids Latin dance, hip-hop dance fitness, Caribbean dance fitness, salsa lessons and bachata lessons. Admission is free. For more information, visit facebook.com/eventsdowntownsilverspring.

The Kennedy Center presents “Merce Cunningham at 100” from Oct. 3-5. The performance will honor the iconic dance choreographer’s works “Beach Birds,” which translates the movement of birds into dance and “BIPED,” which merges technology and dance by incorporating animated images. Robert Swinston, who danced for Cunningham and worked side-by-side with him for over 17 years, now leads Compagnie Centre National de Danse Contemporaine-Angers, keeping Cunningham’s brilliant flame alive with dancers of today. CNDC-Angers performs the two Cunningham masterworks in its Kennedy Center debut. There will be a pre-performance talk on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25-79. For more details, visit kennedy-center.org.

The AfroCuban D.C. Dance Festival is at the Dance Institute of Washington (3400 14th St., N.W.) from Oct. 11-13. The festival will include dance and music workshops. On Friday, Oct. 11, there will be lessons on percussion in Rumba and Batá followed by an after party at Songbyrd (2475 18th St., N.W.) at 11 p.m. On Saturday, Oct. 12, there will be workshops on AfroModern, Female Orisha Dance, Rumba Percussion, Orisha Song and Orisha Dance. Sunday, Oct. 13 will feature lessons on Batá Musicality for Orisha Dancer, Rumba Dance and Orisha Dance. There is a fee for each workshop. Tickets range from $20-125. Visit danceinstituteofwashington.org for more details.

The Washington Ballet presents NEXTsteps, a collection of never-before-seen ballets from choreographers Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, John Heginbotham and Jessica Lang, at Sidney Harmon Hall (610 F St., N.W.) from Oct. 23-27. Tickets range from $25-100. For more information, visit washingtonballet.org.

Dancer Gian Carlo Perez in Washington Ballet’s ’NEXTsteps.’ (Photo by Procopio Photography; courtesy Washington Ballet)

The Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company presents “Origins of Modern Dance Salon” at the Woodrow Wilson House (2340 S St., N.W.) on Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. The performance, which explores how modern dance evolved during the post-WWI era, will include dances and stories about dancers Isadora Duncan and Michio Ito who pioneered this new form of dance. The opening night performance will be followed by a reception. The Sunday performance will include a post-performance talk with Dana Tai Soon Burgess, the openly gay troupe leader. Tickets range from $25-35. For more details, visit dtsbc.org.

Dancers perform ‘Exploring the Rise of Modern Dance’ by Jeff Watts. (Photo courtesy DTSB Dance Co.)

Mark Morris Dance Group presents “Pepperland,” a dance tribute to the iconic Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center Nov. 13-16. Along with music composed by Ethan Iverson, the group will dance to Beatles hits such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “A Day in the Life,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Within You Without You” and “Penny Lane.” There will also be six additional pieces of music inspired by the album. On Nov. 13, there will be a post-performance talk with the dancers, choreographers, composers and other members of the creative team. Tickets range from $35-99. For more details, visit kennedy-center.org.

Bowen McCauley Dance Company returns to its debut venue Dance Place (3225 8th St., N.E.) on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. Resident choreographer Ilana Goldman will debut her world premiere piece “Crossing.” It will feature music composed for the Kronos Quartet by Stephan Thelen. Other works in the performance will include “Gershwin Preludes” and a surprise work by by Lucy Bowen McCauley. General admission tickets are $25. Senior and student tickets are $15. There will be an opening night after party on Nov. 16 at 9 p.m. with the cast and crew. After party tickets are $25. For more information, visit bmdc.org.

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Music & Concerts

May pop-up performance features women composers

Whitman-Walker Health and the Goethe-Institut present ‘Kept Under Glass’

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(Image via ‘Kept Under Glass: Unheard Women’s Voices’ Facebook event page)

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., N.W.) and the Goethe-Institut present “Kept Under Glass: Unheard Women’s Voices,” a multimedia street concert, May 5-6 on the corner of 14th and R Streets.

This free event features songs about love and a longing for connection by rarely heard Austian and German women composers, including medieval chants, classical opera and early 20th century works.

The four performances will take place over the course of two evenings at Whitman-Walker’s new cultural center, The Corner at Whitman-Walker. Performances will last 30 minutes while three performers, each in their own window, sings to sidewalk audiences on the other side of the glass.

Event times and other information is available on the event’s Facebook page.

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This queer ‘Genera+ion’ doesn’t care what you think

HBO Max ‘dramedy’ follows the stories of a group of queer students

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Justice Smith stars in ‘Genera+ion.’ (Photo courtesy HBO Max)

If there’s anything pop culture has taught us, it’s that the future belongs to the young.

It’s a statement of the painfully obvious, of course; the patterns of our existence are shaped and defined by the repeating cycle of generations succeeding each other, to the point that we take it for granted. Yet for the same reason, it’s a fact that is easily forgotten – or, perhaps more accurately, ignored – when we are living in the present.

This is especially true if we belong to the generation that “owns” the present, who have suffered through the frustrations of coming of age under the thumb of our elders and are in no hurry to pass the baton to the kids who are next in line.

Pop culture, however, has a way of reminding us that our days are numbered. Driven by the fires of capitalism, which are in turn stoked by the tastes of the most lucrative demographic (and we all know which age bracket they belong to), it repeatedly confronts us with glimpses of our own inevitable irrelevance – and that’s terrifying.

Which is why the history of pop culture is also the history of youth rebelling against age, and while the individual skirmishes in that eternal battle might go either way, only the most delusional among us could doubt which side will always prevail in the end. Usually, these are the ones who respond with the most violent distaste when they see a vision of the world as imagined by young people; clinging to the hope they can hold fast against the winds of change, they dismiss, decry and disparage, attempting to exert control by invoking the same core beliefs and traditional values their own elders used to control them.

Today’s kids, however, will have none of it.

Consider, for instance, the case of gay singer/rapper/songwriter Lil Nas X, who just last week shoved aside the homophobic boundaries of the music industry – yet again – with the debut of the spectacularly subversive video for his newest single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” in which the out Lil Nas appears first wearing a body-hugging sequined onesie, then sporting full Marie Antoinette drag, and finally clad in underwear and a pair of stiletto heels as he performs a lap dance for the Devil himself.

In an Instagram post marking the release, addressed to his own 14-year-old self, Nas fully acknowledged that he was “pushing an agenda… to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.” It was not an apology, nor an attempt at damage control over an inevitable backlash he already knew would be fierce. Nas was throwing down the gauntlet – it was a given there would be an outcry against the no-holds-barred queerness of the video, and he was sending a clear message that he was there to take on all challengers.

These included the predictable right-wing suspects, like “Blexit” founder Candace Owens and anti-trans South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, but also fellow musicians like rapper Joyner Douglas, who lamented in a pearl-clutching tweet that Nas had “dropped some left field ish & all our kids seen it” – joining many other homophobic commentators who trotted out the time-worn and long-discredited idea that any expression of queer sexuality is harmful to children. What’s telling is that while many of these attempts at “cancellation” come from younger voices (most, but not all of them, overtly right-leaning), the justifications behind them are based in ideologies that can safely be called ancient.

Needless to say, Nas has been more than up to the task of swatting aside all these objections in the still-ongoing social media fray, and it has been truly glorious to watch.

At 21, Lil Nas X is a voice that rises from a generation waiting in the wings, and it’s a generation that won’t wait quietly. They’ve caught on to their own inevitability, and they’ve decided they’re just going to go ahead and claim their time right now.

It’s that particularly “now” spirit of youthful rebellion that can be felt in “Genera+ion,” the HBO Max “dramedy” that premiered earlier this month and follows the interwoven stories of a group of queer students at an Orange County high school. Created by father-daughter team Daniel and Zelda Barnz, it depicts the struggles of teens as they try to make sense of their sexuality in a world defined by adults – and often, by the baggage those adults carry with them from their own struggles.

Widely compared to “Euphoria,” HBO’s other show about the severely dysfunctional hidden sex life of high schoolers, it’s a series that opts for a lighter spin. This manifests in the sure-fire humor to be found in typical comedic cliches of teen stories – awkward gaffes, clueless adults, “Mean Girl” style social politics, etc. – but can be found, albeit more subtly, in its handling of dramatic tropes, too. In its pilot episode, for instance, it introduces the relationship between defiantly queer star student Chester (Justice Smith), who has been slapped with his third violation of the school’s “dress code,” and new school counselor Sam (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) with a scene in which the assumptions of the older man color his perceptions of the younger, resulting in an attempt at guidance that – at least in the beginning – seems more a response to his own inner conflicts than anything being felt by his new charge.

The joke might not seem apparent to those conditioned to assume a power dynamic weighted on the side of an older-and-ostensibly-wiser authority figure, but for anyone who can remember being a kid forced to listen to advice from a grown-up who doesn’t even understand your problem, it’s unmistakable.

“Genera+ion” teases the possibility of an inappropriate relationship blossoming between Chance and Sam, and introduces similarly salacious storylines as it interconnects its young characters’ lives – we meet closeted bisexual Nathan (Uly Schlesinger), whose Grindr-esque hook-ups include his sister Naomi’s (Chloe East) boyfriend, as well as Greta (Haley Sanchez) a Latina with a deported mom and a lesbian crush on artsy and seemingly free-spirited Riley (Chase Sui Wonders), and all of that is just in the first episode – and in each case, our expectations are smashed in short order, along with any egoistic presumption that we know better than they do.

It probably goes without saying that “mainstream” reactions to the show have been mixed. Many critics, such as Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, have resorted to snark as they attempt to characterize it, according to conventional notions of storytelling and aesthetics, as an angsty teen drama that tries too hard. But “Genera+ion” transcends these kinds of assessments. It may be messy, confusing, shallow, and even shocking – but that’s the world its teen ensemble (as well as their target audience) lives in.

They may make questionable choices, they may even suffer for those choices, but in the words of a pop culture boundary-pusher from another era, they are “quite aware what they’re going through.”

After all, the clueless adults have already proven they don’t know how to make it better. Why should they listen to anything we have to say?

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The challenges of conducting in a pandemic

TWC’s first Black maestro Eugene Rogers on COVID and inclusion

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Dr. Eugene Rogers, artistic director of The Washington Chorus.  (Photo courtesy of TWC/Sundeep Studios)

When renowned conductor Dr. Eugene Rogers was announced as artistic director of The Washington Chorus (TWC) in February 2020, he was thrilled. As the first African-American maestro in the Grammy Award-winning choral ensemble’s 60-year history, he was eager to get to work. In midsummer, when he was in fact handed the reins to the chorus, the state of the world had changed dramatically and consequently conducting had too, yet he remained equally enthused.

By the end of the year, despite unprecedented challenges, TWC successfully managed to virtually present its popular annual holiday concert, “Candlelight Christmas,” as well as the moving short music film “Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow,” a TWC-commissioned work by acclaimed composer Damien Geter inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rogers grew up singing gospel and R&B in rural Halifax County, Va. He sang everywhere – up and down dirt roads and from the altar at church. A love for music prompted him to earn a bachelor’s degree in choral music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in choral conducting from University of Michigan.

“Who grows up knowing what a conductor does?” Rogers asks. “But from my first conducting class I was hooked. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I’d been put on earth to conduct.”

And now knowing there are people of color who look to him for inspiration, Rogers takes his background as a Black conductor seriously. Through his presence on the podium and repertoire, he draws an increasingly diverse following to the classical music scene and beyond.

In addition to TWC, Rogers is Director of Choirs at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he lives with his husband Mark, a music lover though not a musician.

WASHINGTON BLADE: During a pandemic, what exactly is conducting?

DR. EUGENE ROGERS: For me it depends on the scenario. Here at the University of Michigan I’m in person with my classes. It’s the same but with precautions – we wear masks and the singers stand 12 feet apart. The space seats 300 plus with only 30 people or so in the room.

With TWC, my work is mostly remote. Still, the connection remains strong. The artistic work and inspirational motivational work as a conductor, the logistical work of increased planning, those elements are all there except in a different format.

BLADE: What else is the same?

ROGERS: Even with masks and Zoom, I’m still connecting with people and there’s always the musical merit – the craft, the art of what we do. And that’s why I’m not afraid for the future – if we can get 113 people at virtual rehearsal engaging with this art form even though it looks so different, that tells me we’re not going anywhere.

BLADE: This must require some flexibility.

ROGERS: Because of my background, I grew up able to improvise in styles. I’ve always brought that to my work. An ability to read the audience, change it up. That has benefited me during the pandemic.

I won’t lie — the stress level has been high when you have to throw everything and reinvent.

But together with my nimble, creative colleague Stephen Marc Beaudoin [TWC’s executive director], we’re not afraid to think outside of the box. We’re not afraid to make choices that look different from a traditional symphonic chorus.

BLADE: What’s your favorite music?

ROGERS: Whatever I’m studying at the moment. I love classical equally to folk, idiomatic music, as well as popular music. It changes with my mood, and the story I’m telling in a concert. I don’t have limits.

Right now, my life is mostly classical because I teach grad students who are going to be conductors. Currently I’m in a Mendelssohn and Bach world. Not a bad place to be.

BLADE: As TWC’s first African-American artistic director is inclusion on your mind?

ROGERS: Yes, inclusion ranks high with musical excellence and community.

TWC has a long relationship with conducting local youths. And I’m only hoping to expand that with relationships with HBCUs in the area and DCPS. I started off as a high school teacher.

We’re also creating the Mahogany Series, an annual concert focusing on the artistic contributions of black and Latinx and American Indian communities – symphonic, operatic, musical theater, jazz or blues.

I want to add more chairs to the table. To honor what TWC has done in the past and expand on it.

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