Wearing black tops and skirts, four dancers walk the diagonal in the Little Haiti Cultural Complex’s bright studio. Allyn Ginns Ayers, Benicka Grant, Isabelle Luu Li Haas, and Renee Roberts are accompanied by five 12-year-old girls in jeans and brightly colored shirts from Miami’s Conchita Espinosa Academy. Soon the ensemble members reach up while sashaying side-to-side in time with a recording of the 1941 Ink Spots hit "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire.”
They're rehearsing for Women II, part of Dance Now! Miami’s Program I, set to show this Saturday, December 21, at the storied Colony Theatre in Miami Beach. Program I will also include Elemental and Those Things...
Inspired by the #MeToo movement, Women II represents the first new work in 25 years by Daniel Lewis, founder and former dean of dance at New World School of the Arts. Ayers, one of the dancers and a five-year veteran of the company, says the recent activism of young people greatly influenced Lewis.
“The youth energy today around the Parkland shooting and #MeToo reminds Danny of the ’60s,” Ayers says.
The dancers have connected to Lewis’ choreography by including movements and gestures they suggested on the basis of personal experiences related to the movement. Haas, a new dancer in the company, says Women II resembles a rite of passage, with the young girls maturing as the piece progresses.
Those Things... is the work of choreographer Angela Gallo, who is dean of the arts at Coker University in South Carolina. Where Women II examines the gender and generational divide, Those Things... challenges the separation of public personas and private realities.
To a sharp techno-pulse, dancers Matthew Huefner, Anthony Velazquez, Joshua Rosado, and David Harris practiced pairing off and testing one another through spins and lunges. In one sequence, Rosado and Harris performed a tug-of-war as each raised a leg behind him for balance.
In another sequence, Harris and Velazquez formed a standing lean. Harris hit the floor and flipped, catching a falling Velazquez with a foot to his chest. They disengaged, and Harris suddenly began to spasm and shake with a panic attack. Velazquez shifted from athletic aggressiveness to comfort him in a half-embrace. The gesture was so intimate it triggered a reflex to look away and give space.
“Originally, I didn’t understand the piece whatsoever,” Velazquez says. “But in my personal life, I work like 50 jobs. One day, I was in the car when the pressure of it all caught up with me. I pulled over to the side of the road. I was just breathing so hard, and then I thought, Oh, that’s what this piece is about.”
Audience favorite Insomnia, by Dance Now! Miami (DNM) co-artistic director Hannah Baumgarten, has been revived for Program I as a nod to the company’s 20th anniversary. It opens with dancer Julia Faris (new to the company) clutching an ottoman-size pillow and thrashing through sequences that anyone who has ever been unwillingly wide awake at 2 a.m. will recognize. As the percussion line strengthens, Faris throws herself more forcefully through turns and sharp pivots, her arms swinging to their apparent limits before she suddenly sits, chin on palm.
Treading the line between reality and delirium, the so-called pillow solo was prompted by the sleeplessness the choreographer experienced after enduring a hip injury.
“Though it was a painful period, it was also out-of-body. I would get close to falling asleep, only to be shocked awake by the injury,” Baumgarten says.
Elemental, a new work by choreographer and DNM co-artistic director Diego Salterini, forms the second half of the December program. The work was inspired by the pressing themes of environmental crisis and resource depletion — topics that are relevant to Miami.
“For the first movement, Gaea, I had in mind a battle between human beings, represented by the three men and Earth in the figure of Julia [Faris],” Salterini says.
His passion for Eastern philosophy pushed the work from solely occupying a political plane to one of spiritual struggle.
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For example, Gaea opens with Faris, Huefner, Velazquez, and Harris forming a braid of limbs. They stretch away, and the men sweep Faris repeatedly overhead. In the sequences that follow, she remains their focus. At one point, she hits an arabesque, and Velazquez catches her head between his hands. Their eyes lock.
Salterini’s four-part work treats the classical division of the five elements of nature expansively. For the final movement, Heavenly Creatures, he locates the element of air in a purely spiritual register.
"In it, we shed everything that is physical, and we live in pure joy," the choreographer explains. "After all, once you get to be a spirit, you have to have fun.”
— Sean Erwin, Artburst Miami
Dance Now! Miami’s Program I. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-1040; colonymb.org. Tickets cost $35 via colonymb.org/dance-now-miami.