Dance Till You Drop

"It's like eating a great meal: You don't always like every single thing on your plate, but you've got to taste everything, and you might like it." So says Sheldon Schwartz, director of the Florida Dance Association, referring to the mind-boggling variety of offerings that constitute the Florida Dance Festival, taking place June 15 through 27.

The festival was based in Tampa for most its nineteen years, but in April 1997 Schwartz was lured south from Washington, D.C., where he was director of programming at the Kennedy Center. His mission: Move the largest dance event in Florida, which the association produces, to higher-profile Miami. Not an easy task given that the mammoth production, celebrating its twentieth anniversary, comprises fifteen performances and more than 300 classes that Schwartz says include "absolutely anything and everything to do with dance and the related arts."

Over the next two weeks, the New World School of the Arts hosts 600 students and teachers, ranging in age from 12 to 70 years, who will be instructed in ballet, jazz, tap, modern dance, African and Haitian dance, Irish step dancing, improvisation, choreography, and more. An affiliation with FIU's Intercultural Dance and Music Institute will allow students to take some courses for college credit. And a privileged few can take advantage of seminars with prominent instructors such as Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux of the New York City Ballet; dancer/choreographer Ralph Lemon; Sarah Stackhouse of the Jose Limon Dance Company; and local improvisation maven Dale Andree.

In addition to stressing education, the festival is hoping to attract more than just dance disciples by emphasizing entertainment -- attention-getting, traffic-stopping entertainment. Road Work, the ambitious opener choreographed by Gerri Houlihan and narrated by Miami Beach historian Jeff Donnelly, will be performed outdoors on Lincoln Road. "It's a fantastic urban setting, what with the fountains and the zebra stripes on the sidewalk," says Schwartz. "But we will need some policemen to redirect the traffic for a while." Traveling east on the Road, Houlihan and company may pop into a store or two along the way, but don't count on their buying anything, except perhaps bathing suits: The work culminates in a water ballet at the Albion Hotel pool.

Other festival highlights include eight guerrilla-style Art Attacks, impromptu events by the Mary Street Dance Theatre that will be held outside at busy locations -- MDCC's Wolfson Campus, and Coral Gables's Venetian Pool, to name two. Choreographer Ralph Lemon's video documentary Konbit, a visual and rhythmic depiction of the Haitian community's assimilation into American life, will premiere. And a slew of Florida dance companies and guests perform, including the Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance Company, the Ukrainian Folk Dance Ensemble, and choreographers Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman from New York. A gala finale will spotlight a cornucopia of cultures with performances by the Miami City Ballet, Segovia Ballet Espanol, the Jose Limon Dance Company, and recent Cuban defector Joan Boada and his Brazilian partner Fernanda Diniz of Jeune Ballet de France.

Unfortunately Miami's first Florida Dance Festival will be Schwartz's last. Next month he begins a new job with the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation in New York City. But he leaves Miami with the satisfaction of having achieved his goal. "We've created an arts festival of substance, but it's fun. It's a combination of entertainment and serious art. I hope it's going to educate, entertain, and challenge the community."

-- Nina Korman

The Florida Dance Festival takes place from Monday, June 15, through Saturday, June 27, at various locations. Road Work is free. Tickets for other performances range from $5 to $35. Call 237-3413 or check "Calendar Events" for details.

 
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