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TeenLIVE at the NYPL in Retrospect: Young Dancemakers Co. on July 28, 2012

Photo by Julie LembergerPhoto by Julie LembergerOriginal Choreography: We were very lucky to have the Young Dancemakers Company visit the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA) for a TeenLIVE event. I think that it is fantastic that young people are creating their own choreography. In addition, I had not been to LPA for a couple of years, so I was excited to see how it has changed. The Young Dancemakers Company is a free summer program, and it is in its 17th year. NYC teens from 15 public schools each year rehearse their dances for three weeks and then perform for free in different locations across the city. I was excited to see the choreography of the dancers. (I have learned a little bit about dance choreography from watching Dance Moms. I love the artistry of the choreography on that program.)

The Young Dancemakers Company is newly chosen ever year by auditions in March. The auditions are open to all NYC public high school students.

Audition for Young Dancemakers Company! 

Dances: The program consisted of the Director of the Young Dancemakers Company, Alice Teirstein, who hosted the program, the music director, William Catanzaro, who played drums, Marlena Wolfe, a member of the former Robert Battle Dance Company, and of course, the teen dancers, who ranged in age from 14 to 18 years of age. There were boy and girl dancers. First, the dancers introduced themselves through movement, then the following dances were presented: Tempo Study, Vortex, P.A.R.T.Y., Talking Eyes Silent Lips, Bully, School's Out, Ella, Trapped, Ode to Isaac Newton, Last Words, Competition, Helpless & Urban Shuffle. At the end of the dance performance, the members of the company grabbed audience members to make a finale with audience members and company members dancing together. Most of their dances appeared to be a mix of modern dance, hip hop and ballet, but there was one step piece. The teens created themes and pieces that were of importance to them.

Chris Shoemaker, Teen Programming Specialist, introduced the Director of the Young Dancemakers Company. He invited the audience to partake in a program of dance and performance and magic. He quoted Voltaire as saying, " Let us read and let us dance. Those are two things that would never harm us." He mentioned that there are 500,000 dance materials at the Library for the Performing Arts, including film reels and materials from the costume collection.

Photo by Julie LembergerPhoto by Julie LembergerThe costumes were fantastic thanks to designer Jennifer Lee. They reflected the mood of the dances and the colors and styles were very aesthetically interesting.

Tempo: The director of Young Dancemakers Company talked about dance as consisting of rapid movements punctuated by periods of stillness and slow movements. There were many jumps punctuated by periods of stillness. There were six dancers in this piece: two had red body suits, two had purple body suits, and two had orange body suits.

Vortex: The central idea for this dance is that objects spiral into a center. The dancers had blue and grey costumes for this dance, and they walked, then ran around in a circle around a central dancer. Of course, there were jumps and other cool dance moves.

P.A.R.T.Y.: This was a song about a fun-filled celebration. The dancers were wearing casual clothes with very bright colors. There were turns and jumps in unison and splits. At the end of the dance, the dancers sat on the edge of the stage with the letters YDC 2012 displayed for an intimate moment with the audience. The dance and music were very light and airy.

Talking Eyes Silent Lips: This was a dance about self-mutilation and eating disorders in girls with low self-esteem. There were three dancers in black costumes with red ribbons on their arms and legs to signify wounds. The choreographer read her poetry about deep-seated pain while the instrumental music played and the dancers moved to express their anguish.

Bully: This dance was about bullying that can occur and friendships that can insulate people from that. The dancers wore white shirts and jean shorts. There were many turns and jumps. This was one of the best choreographed pieces because it was clear what the dance was about. One girl was being targeted by one of the boys, and then her friends started shunning the boy who was bothering her.

Photo by Julie LembergerPhoto by Julie LembergerSchool's Out: The dance was about the chaos and excitement of the last day of school. The dancers wore black and colored shirts. It occurred to me that the dancers need many costumes for dance performances. The kids were jumping (literally) for joy. It started off with the kids looking bored and sitting on the stage tapping their pencils on the stage. Then, finally, and joyfully, the bell rang. One of the teens said, "Oh my God, guys. School's out!" They were doing cartwheels on the stage, shouting with joy, slapping each others hands, and dancing with partners. Animal sounds (such as moo) were interspersed with the music. One teen was running frenetically on the stage, and one of the teen guys came and carried her off of the stage. This dance was a crowd favorite, and it was very creative and funny.

Ella was a dance about Ella Fitzgerald, and Marlena Wolfe, a member of the former Robert Battle Dance Company, joined the teen dancers. The dance was a guest repertory project, choreographed by the renowned Robert Battle. The music was Ella Fitzgerald's and the professional dancer was so fluid, so relaxed and in control of her timing, and her movements were impeccable, as if she were playing with the music. The dance was full of attitude and bold, strong movements.

Trapped was a dance about being trapped in a box and in ones own thoughts and ideas. The dancers wore vertical black and white striped costumes, as if they were prisoners.

Ode to Isaac Newton: The dance was based on the abstract theories of motion that this scientist propagated. The dancers wore grey costumes and you could see that an object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by another force.

Last Words was a dance about losing a grandparent to cancer. Three dancers dressed in white mourned their loss.

Competition was a step piece. The dancers wore jeans and T-shirts and were clapping and stomping on the ground. I have seen other high schoolers do this sort of very rapid rhythmic dance before, and it is somewhat mesmerizing. This dance was particularly refreshing because the movements were so different than the rest of the dances, which were mainly a mix of ballet, hip hop and modern dance.

Helpless was one of the best choreographed pieces because it was immediately and saliently apparent what the dance was communicating. The dancers were in black and white costumes. One dancer was limp and had no energy while another dancer was trying to lift her up and she kept resisting and wanted to lay on the floor. The helper was supporting the other dancer's weight when she started to fall.

Urban Shuffle was the Young Dancemakers Company's finale. This was also a guest repertory piece, choreographed by the renowned Sean Curran. The kids were in street clothes and dresses. The colors were red, white, blue jeans, black and brown. One dancer had newsprint on her shorts. They danced toward one another and jumped in two lines in unison. This dance was somewhat entrancing. Then the Dance Company came into the audience to pick members for the last dance.

Dance With Us! was the finale in which the Director of the Young Dancemakers Company held a mini dance class. First, dancers lunged in unison with her. Then she asked them to reach high, spin and they copied some other movements of hers. She asked dancers to fill 8 counts (seconds) with as many movements as they could. Then she asked them to move as slowly as possible.

Audience Questions: After the dance, the director opened up the floor for questions from the audience. One audience member expressed amazement that 17 dancers did not crash into one another on the stage. The director said that her heart was in her mouth so much, but that the dancers did a great job adapting to the stage. Some performance stages are different than others.

Another person asked if any of the dancers had taken gymnastics. Some had; some of the dancers had also taken hip hop, jazz, and ballroom dance. Someone asked how the dancers learned the step piece. The choreographer of that piece said that it takes a lot of hard work and practice, but that it is relatively easy to learn. Someone asked if the dancers attend special high schools (performing arts). The dancers responded that some of them do and some of them do not. They come from 15 NYC public high schools.

The audience thought that the Young Dancemakers Company was terrific. The dancers sat on the edge of the stage while they answered questions for an intimate moment with the audience. It struck me then how, despite their kinaesthetic talent, when you sit down and talk to them, they are just regular kids, but awesome and dedicated teens as well.

Thanks to Chris Shoemaker, Teen Programming Specialist, for bringing the Young Dancemakers Company to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The dance of Apollo with the Muses., Digital ID 1624290, New York Public LibraryI have not seen dance choreography in a long time, probably 12 years or so ago. I danced in a Irish step dancing dance and a modern Men in Black routine with a college club when I was an undergraduate, but mostly, I have not watched dance much, except for the TV show, Dance Moms, which usually does not show entire dance pieces. It was an enlightening experience, the teens are so creative, and it was great to see LPA after I had not been there for a while. TeenLIVE events are awesome!

Future TeenLIVE Event: TeenLIVE present Johnny Iuzzini!

Thursday, September 20, 2012
5:30pm - 6:30pm
Jefferson Market Library
425 Avenue of the Americas (@ 10th St.)
New York, NY 10011

From cold storage in Brooklyn to Ladurée in Paris and Restaurant Jean Georges and Nougatine in NYC, get the sweet scoop on culinary careers and experiences from a James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year” award winner Johnny Iuzzini.


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