Miami signals the start of its fall dance season with a party. The Daniel Lewis Dance Sampler unites area dance lovers with a showcase of the best of Miami dance.
Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini — co-artistic directors of the modern dance company Dance Now! Miami — founded the sampler in 2012, which they named in honor of Daniel Lewis, the former assistant director of dance and faculty member at the Julliard School. Lewis is also the former dean of dance at Miami's New World School of the Arts.
Since then, the sampler has become an informal kickoff to Miami's dance season, where audiences catch a preview of their favorite companies and the region's dancers and choreographers while dance administrators network and plan new projects.
As it turns out, Baumgarten and Salterini were inspired by the success of another sampler, which was known as the Modern Dance Sampler, an annual Miami event from 1988 to 1997.
Baumgarten and Salterini had danced in an earlier version of the event, which Lewis produced through Miami Dance Futures, a nonprofit organization he founded to support dance in South Florida.
"[The Modern Dance Sampler] was usually presented at the Colony Theatre [on Miami Beach] and presented works of modern dance from Miami choreographers and companies," says Baumgarten. "As young performers in Miami, we found the experience had a profound community-building component."
Both old and new dance samplers work in the same way — by "aggregating" and "cross-pollinating" audiences.
Dance enthusiasts flock to the event hoping to see strong performances in at least one of their favorite dance genres.
Gathered in one place, those who favor one kind of dance can see talented dancers performing another form they might otherwise never have attended.
"Our goal is to give our audiences a taste of what each company has to offer and leave them eagerly anticipating their future performances," says Salterini. "First and foremost, it's important to us that all of the companies and choreographers we feature are professionals. This means they have a track record of paying their artists and have a somewhat formed season of events beyond the sampler."
The formula is working. The sampler continues to expand to theaters outside Miami-Dade. Even last year's Hurricane Ian couldn't block its debut on Florida's west coast.
"Two years ago, doing our best to rebuild after COVID devastated the performing arts, we decided to expand the sampler both in terms of participating artists and audience reach," says Baumgarten. "We sent out our call for submissions to every professional dance company in the state and as many professional choreographers as we could find."
The venues that responded included Artis-Naples, a performing and visual arts center on Florida's West Coast. "Our friends at the Limón Dance Company had just performed at Artis-Naples following their weekend of concerts in collaboration with Dance Now! so we thought they may be interested in co-presenting, and to our delight, they were," she says.
Even the devastating pandemic has proven a source of the sampler's growth. For the third time, the showcase includes a video dance showcase featuring works online made to be viewed on a screen.
Baumgarten and Salterini create each year's program by putting out a call to companies to submit videos of performances; then, the pair assess them with an eye to quality, style, rhythm, and length.
They aim to curate a program that fully represents Miami's dance community while respecting audience attention spans.
"The dance community here is constantly evolving and growing, with new artists and organizations emerging all the time," says Salterini. "That's why we prioritize giving up-and-comers a chance to plant their roots and show their commitment to our community."
This is where the sampler shows its value to area dance professionals as a networking opportunity for performers and companies.
"It means a lot to me to be accepted. I'm a freelance ballerina," says classical dancer and choreographer Emily Ricca, who will perform at the event for the first time with dance partner Isaiah Gonzalez.
"I've served in professional ballet companies throughout my career, but in Miami, I've created things on my own, and it means a lot to me to be part of a collective and to see other dancers and what they are doing," says Ricca. "I want to be able to create with more dancers. I'm usually on my own or with my dance partner, so I am so excited to be with other dancers and network."
At the upcoming Sampler, the couple will perform "Coleridge Classic," a pas de deux set to "Fantasiestücke for String Quartet (Op. 5)" by composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912).
"You will see some performers you may remember from one troupe last year dancing with another this year, and, in fact, you may see even a few dancers performing with several different groups," says Baumgarten. "This is a testimony to the overarching climate in our community — one that understands we all need each other. We need to share audiences, marketing, and sometimes even dancers."
– Sean Erwin, ArtburstMiami.com
Florida Daniel Lewis Dance Sampler. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 7, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, October 8, at New World School of the Arts, 25 NE Second St., Eighth Floor, Miami; 305-975-8489; dancenowmiami.org. Tickets cost $15 to $25