Category Archives: Dance

Maks & Val: Our Way

Maks and Val

Dancing With the Stars is a great show because above all of the glitz and kicks, it conveys how anything is possible through hard work and commitment. I had the pleasure of seeing two of the show’s stars express this theme in their own live performance, Maks & Val: Our Way, which detailed the Chmerkovskiy brothers’ journey from the Ukraine into the hearts of Americans.

Accompanied by a cast of six dancers, Maks and Val told their story through dance vignettes highlighting transformative moments in their lives along with video montages and onstage interludes in which the brothers would poke fun at each other.

The show began with a video of Maks and Val’s father discussing the decision to send Maks to dance school at age four and the reason for leaving Ukraine ten years later in 1994. In preparation for their move to the US, their father wrote inspirational quotes on their kitchen wall such as, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail,” and, “We wil surviv.”

It was evident that Maks and Val were grateful to their parents for giving them the opportunity to dance and to move to the US. To make the best of their opportunity, they dedicated themselves to dancing and lived by the philosophy that it takes doing something 1,000 times in order to do it well. Maks started teaching dance in New Jersey and dancing at restaurants on the weekends to help support his family, and Val trained to win the first-ever world junior championship for the US team in 2001.

My favorite part of the show featured Maks as a dance instructor attempting to teach a group of unruly three year-olds to do the salsa. Eventually, under Maks’ direction, the students successfully worked their way through all of the dance styles. I loved how it showcased Maks’ discipline, patience, and drive.

I also enjoyed Val’s dramatic interpretation of love in the second act. The fusion of dance styles – in which the female dancers were portrayed as violins – conveyed the intensity and intricacies of love. Val also played the violin during the show.

Our Way also featured some comic relief revealing more about the Chmerkovskiy’s relationship. At one point, the brothers found themselves dancing together, prompting Maks to correct Val’s hold. During Drake’s “One Dance,” Maks executed a few booty-shaking solos, causing Val to role his eyes. They even brought a woman – from my hometown – onstage to be Maks’ prom date for a cute skit in which they were crowned prom king and queen.

All in all, Maks & Val: Our Way was an entertaining and heartwarming show underscoring the importance of hard work. Not only did I come away with a greater understanding of the Chmerkovskiy brothers, but with inspiration to keep working toward my goals. As Maks and Val took their final bow to Justin Timberlake’s new song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Val remarked, “Thank you for supporting the arts.” Amen to that.


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Reject Dance Theatre presents The Territory Suites

My dream of becoming a professional dancer has finally come true with the opportunity to collaborate with Reject Dance Theatre. My dear friend, Rebecca Hite Teicheira (here’s a post from her MFA Thesis), invited me to be a part of RDT’s first evening length piece, The Territory Suites presented at Triskelion Arts in Brooklyn, NY.

Reject Dance Theatre Rebecca Hite Teicheira Maria KucinskiAlong with the directors, Rebecca Hite Teicheira, Stephen Ursprung and Stephanie Simpson, I worked with Bridget Cronin, Jermaine Ellis, Cara Hoover, Rachel Pritzlaff, and Larissa Ursprung to explore the idea of territory through three distinct perspectives.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory SuitesIt was amazing to get back to work in the studio – conditioning my body, learning unique choreography and creating new movement. I forgot just how much I enjoyed dancing and the process of creating dance.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory SuitesWorking through the many details – from the concrete ones like choreography, spacing, timing, costuming, hair, makeup, and lighting, to the more intangible ones such as presence, interaction, and intention – re-energized me artistically. My favorite part of the process was examining the intention of every step, every movement in the piece, ensuring that there was a reason behind every action.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory SuitesThrough those intentions, we explored the notion of “territory,” investigating themes of gender identity, human relationships, and animal interactions through choreographic means of collaboration, partnering, and synchronization. The artistic vision of the three choreographers was distinct but centralized along this universal theme.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory SuitesIt was truly an honor to be a part of something very special for Reject Dance Theatre and its collaborators. I found that I forgot how much I enjoyed performing and am grateful for the opportunity to be on stage once again.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory Suites Rachel Pritzlaff Rebecca Hite TeicheiraAll in all, it was an inspiring experience to work with so many talented artists.

Reject Dance Theatre The Territory Suites Rachel Pritzlaff

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Come, and Back Again by David Dorfman Dance at BAM

David Dorfman Dance’s Come, and Back Again is a beautiful showcase of reflection through dance and multimedia.

A wall of stuff, fossilized in white frames the stage. A band, also in white, sits upstage, playing songs of “poetic rock and roll.” Four dancers and David energize the space with the weighted – but not heavy – and entangling choreography. Real-time projection, text, and the presence of David’s wife and son convey the powerful symbols of clutter, preservation, and what we leave behind.

All in all, the high intensity piece was a touching reminder that there are those moments in life, those emotions that are worth experiencing, worth feeling. But what I enjoyed the most about the piece was David’s ability to tell his story, so beautifully, so poignantly, so joyfully.

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Meryl Tankard: The Oracle at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle starring Paul White is a mastery in the limits of the human form and its relation to the mind.

With its point of departure as Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring with the score by Igor Stravinsky, Australian native, Meryl Tankard presents a multimedia and solo performance that is wildly expressive yet contained. The star, Paul White, is in control of his every movement even as he expresses desire, excitement, confusion, and despair.

The opening reveals a kaleidoscopic view at our protagonist, each angle of the body morphing into another, creating abstract forms and recognizable shapes. Then we find White center stage, repeating the undulating choreography of Nijinsky in only white briefs. He continues through many phases of choreography, with his costuming changing, with interaction to the projection behind him, with interplay with light, and finally in the nude with a white powder trailing him.

White’s body is incredible. Unlike any other male dancer I have seen before. But more than that, he has the ability to flow seamlessly through the choreography, hitting the deepest poses and maneuvering to the next with fluidity. One does not realize how challenging the movement is.

And this must be attributed to Tankard, the former ballerina and Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal dancer. Her choreography and artistic vision weave through time periods, physical limitations, and man’s need to satisfy desire.

All in all, I found myself in admiration of this piece for honoring an historic piece of dance and advancing the the medium through presentation, choreography and dancing.

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Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Walkaround TimeA day trip to Philadelphia to see Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp was filled with subversions, underminings, deconstructions, and sincerity.

The exhibition brings together masterworks, collaborations, and homages by these important and influential artists who wanted to challenge the notion of art. They experimented with what is defined as art, how art is created, and how it is experienced.

Throughout the exhibition of over 100 pieces, it is evident the star is Marcel Duchamp. He is the genius who wished to debunk “preexisting ideas about art, which he believed should appeal to the intellect rather than the senses.” He turned the art world on its head with his notion of “readymades” – objects that he found to be art, the most famous being Fountain, 1917. These pieces, as well as other work including drawings, paintings, photographs, scores, and installations tested originality, concept, and taste.

Marcel Duchamp Door 11. Rue Larrey, 1927

Marcel Duchamp, Door 11. Rue Larrey, 1927

The remaining four artists were very much influenced by Duchamp, but also – not knowing all of his entire oeuvre – their thought process in making art in ran parallel in some regards.

In one example, John Cage and Merce Cunningham did not realize that Duchamp had used the idea of “chance” in his artwork. The concept of “chance,” made famous by Cage and Cunningham explored how the outcome of the an artwork was dictated by the unknown. Certain parameters were put in place and the rest was up to chance – whether it was musical notes or silence, or movement or stillness and so on. And so, when Cage found out about Duchamp’s use of chance, realizing that it occurred in the year of his birth – he did not find that to be a coincidence.

In another example, Duchamp’s concept as key, exploring the distinctions between original and replica, object and idea is examined by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg created “combines” – sculptures made from nontraditional materials while Johns made paintings that explored what you were looking at as a physical representation.

One of the most interesting aspects of this exhibition is the interplay between the artists. They all influenced or collaborated or co-opted certain aspects of each other’s work. The portraits by Rauschenberg were so interesting and so spot-on in my opinion. I also enjoyed how Johns used the mold from Duchamp’s Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage in his paintings.

And maybe the most meaningful thing I took away from the exhibition is how sincere these artists were about art. They were dedicated to exploring, experimenting, and pushing the bounds. They did not hold back, they learned from each other and challenged each other. I believe that because of that, their influence is pervasive today.

All in all, I thought the exhibition was a unique opportunity to see spectacular works – shown in conversation with each other – by Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and of course, Duchamp.

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Russell Maliphant: The Rodin Project at the Joyce Theater

Rusell Maliphant Rodin ProjectMuch like the original production of Sunday in the Park with George or that amazing flamenco interpretation of John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo, I was very excited to see Russell Maliphant’s physical exploration of the work of the artist Auguste Rodin. Unfortunately, I felt his interpretation lacked direction and cohesion.

The opening scene revealed a large Pina Bausch-esque set of various elevations draped in white as well as four white drapes hanging vertically downstage. The six dancers (three male, three female), were also draped in white as they let the warm lighting pour over them through their sculpture-esque poses. Each bone, muscle, and piece of flesh was revealed as they elegantly maneuvered to the dissonant score by Alexander Zekke.

My favorite part of the entire evening occurred in the first scene as the women wrapped themselves in the drapes, acting as the muses and counter balance to the men. Unfortunately, the women’s role throughout the rest of the piece was held in the background and occasionally in the nude.Russell Maliphant Rodin Project

That is due to the fact that the men were the powerhouses with the parkour meets capoiera choreography that dominated the rest of the evening. It was beautiful and exciting but it just didn’t work as an evening length piece.

Act I had all the draping and fluidity that worked within the group dancing, trios, duos, and solos while Act II revealed a bare set, casual costumes, and disjointed choreography. A fine change, but the connection to Rodin was lost – even with the allusions to his studio practice. How does it connect to this contemporary choreography? And how can it be executed without feeling like “Voguing?” I understand the sense of exploration of movement in the vein of Rodin but what is the goal of the “Project?”

Russell Maliphant Rodin ProjectYes, the dancers have an otherwordly quality with their strength, flexibility, and speed, and the choreography pushes the boundary of contemporary hip hop, but I missed the larger meaning of the piece. Why is Rodin so important to contemporary art?

All in all, the concept is amazing but the piece falls flat.

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Why ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is my guilty pleasure

Dancing with the Stars

Three simple words sum up why Dancing with the Stars is my guilty pleasure: Pure Entertainment Factor.

From start to finish the seasonal ballroom dancing television show places celebrities (of whatever list) with a professional partner to compete for the coveted “Mirror Ball Trophy.” 10 weeks of competition, multiple styles of dance and dozens of stories of hardship and heartbreak make for the most entertaining show on television.

Where else can you find Superbowl champions cha-cha-ing against 1980’s television stars? Nowhere. And to do it with such finesse and fun makes it totally worth watching. Every week is a new surprise. Jennifer Grey relives her time in Dirty Dancing. Kirstie Alley loses a shoe! Bristol Palin wears a monkey suit. The perfect meets the comical meets the absurd – and all live.

A true Hollywood production that harkens back to the golden days yet folds in reality television. A genius show. For the following reasons:

  1. Live – It is unpredictable what happens when the cameras roll.
  2. Lowbrow – This show is made for all Americans to enjoy. (Trust me, I watched Mira Quien Baila cuando vivía en España y el talento no es el mismo.)
  3. Glitz – The makeup, hair, spray tans, abs, costumes, sets, and live music create a heightened environment for the dancers to exceed expectations.
  4. Sportsmanship – At the end of the day, it is a competition and whether they are Olympic athletes or “reality tv” stars, these celebrities and professional dancers want to compete, want to grow their audience, and want to impress their agents with their versatility – all making for good sport.
  5. Proper judging – This ain’t America’s Best Dance Crew where Lil Mama is saying, “You danced. You danced!” as if she were merely stating a fact. This is educated professionals judging the performers on technique, choreography, and performance. Their thoughts are [for the most part] fleshed out and in keeping with their onscreen personas.
  6. Creativity – Every week there is a new surprise for the dancers and it is up to the professionals to bring something new to the audience who may or may have not been watching for the past 13 seasons. I know that Derek Hough, Cheryl Burke, and Mark Ballas Jr. always bring out new and exciting choreography as well as the best in their partners.
  7. Tom Bergeron – cracks me up. He is the king of ad-lib. Plus Brooke Burke-Charvet always looks glamorous and asks the hard-hitting questions.
  8. And last but certainly not least – Kirstie Alley – who can put on a show like no one else.

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Honorable mentions for the All-Star Season go to that clusterf*ck of a group dance known as Gangnam Style and to Carrie Ann Inaba for FALLING OFF HER CHAIR.

All in all, I appreciate Dancing with the Stars for continuing to entertain and being a classier and more fun version of Celebrity Rehab. Just kidding.

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