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Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky

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					Dance of the Auroras – Fire in
the Sky
                   Maida Withers

                 RUSSIAN PROJECT

     Residency to reconstruct Part II: Solar Wind
  Kannon Dance Company – St. Petersburg, Russia
                  March 9-23, 2003

 OPEN LOOK 5th International Summer Dance Festival
                 Perform and Teach
               St. Petersburg, Russia
                   July 1-10, 2003

        TOUCH2 International Dance Festival
                 Perform and Teach
                 Arkhangelsk, Russia
                  July 11-14, 2003
     Sasha Kukin_Back: Sasha Kukin, Russia, Part III: View from the Earth
(Sasha dances with projected photo of an aurora; Jan Curtis, photographer, shot
                                  in Alaska).


Artists (dancers, technicians, and collaborators) began arriving in
Russia on June 28, 2003 to restage the high-tech multimedia
production, Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky, as the
centerpiece for the 5th OPEN LOOK International Summer Dance
Festival in St. Petersburg and the TOUCH2 International Festival in
Arkhangelsk. We felt honored to be performing during the 300 th
anniversary celebration of the founding of St. Petersburg. Dance of
the Auroras, conceived and directed by Maida Withers (USA), was
first performed in Tromsø, Norway for the Northern Lights Festival
(world premiere) and in Washington, DC (USA premiere) in
February 2001.

Maida Withers Dance Construction Company of Washington, DC
assembled the original cast of Dance of the Auroras to perform and
teach in St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk, Russia. In addition to the
Company, international artists included Iwona Olszowska, dancer
(Krakow, Poland), Sasha Kukin, dancer (St. Petersburg, Russia),
and Tania Fraga, real-time interactive cyber-world artist (Brasilia,
Brazil). New to the production was the Kannon Dance Company
(St. Petersburg, Russia). In March 2003 during a two-week
residency, Part II: Solar Wind, a 17-minute segment of Dance of
the Auroras, was reconstructed with nine Russian dancers who
would perform in the work in St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk.

The tour in Russia of this large-scale international project by the
Dance Construction Company was made possible by the generous
support of The Trust for Mutual Understanding; Dallas Morse Coors
Foundation; Arts International Fund for U.S. Artists at International
Festivals and Exhibitions - a public/private partnership of the
National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of State,
The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Doris
Duke Charitable Foundation; private donors; artist/participants; and
the producers of the OPEN LOOK and TOUCH2 Festivals.

The original production, Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky, was
created through the support of The Trust for Mutual Understanding,
American-Scandinavian Foundation, Andrew E. and G. Norman
Wigeland Fund, Dallas Morse Coors Foundation, individual donors to
The Dance Construction Company, DC Commission on the Arts and
Humanities, The National Endowment for the Arts, Goethe Institut,
Jovid Foundation, Kosciuszko Foundation, Market Development
Group, Melton Arts Foundation, The Norwegian Government, the
Pola Nirenska Award, The George Washington University, and
contributions of Jan Curtis, photographer, R. H. Eather and SOLAR
MAX IMAX, NASA, European Space Agency, Johnson Space Center,
Trond Trondsen, Alexander Kosovichev and other scientists and
federal agencies, and photographers.

The idea for Dance Construction Company's participation in the 5 th
OPEN LOOK Festival was born in the year 2000 when Kannon Dance
School hosted a three-week residency by the Company to create
one segment of Dance of the Auroras. The resulting work, Part III:
View from Above, inaugurated the opening of the S'tansia (35
Dekabristov Street), the black box theatre developed and managed
by Kannon Dance Company and School since 2000 in St.
Petersburg.

Three years of planning from conception of the idea of the tour to
actual realization in July 2003 allowed time for preparation to
present a work demanding high technology support and for the
audience to have more contact with modern dance and become
receptive to a work of technological innovation and
experimentation.

For the OPEN LOOK Festival, July 1 – 10, 2003, our daily regimen
was rigorous and rewarding. From 10 am to 2 pm, Dance
Construction Company members taught daily workshops in
Improvisation and Performance (Maida Withers), Erick Hawkins
Dance Technique (Joseph Mills), Partnering (Adrienne Clancy and
Lyndsey Karr), and Modern Dance Technique (Iwona Olszowska).

The large number of participants and the diversity of their
backgrounds are testimony to the success of the OPEN LOOK
Festival, now it its fifth year. Students, mostly from Russia,
included a mix of dancers and teachers with varied backgrounds in
ballet, modern, and jazz, as well as actors, circus performers,
gymnasts and others.    Over fifty dancers participated in each dance
technique class and over thirty participated in the improvisation and
partnering workshops.

Withers first experience in teaching in Russia was in 1997. The
expansion of interest in dance is quite remarkable. Vadim and
Natalie Kasparov, founders and directors of the Kannon Dance
School and Company, have been a driving force in this development
of contemporary dance in Russia. The joy they find in their work
and their shared vision is infectious. Their management of the
Festival is of the highest caliber. The Kannon School offers daily
classes, presents concerts, and the Company tours in Russia and
Europe. Kannon sponsors four international events, annually,
including International Jazz Dance and Music Festival, OPEN LOOK,
Young Choreographers Competition, and International Dance Film
Festival KINODANCE.

The dancers in the festival were very enthusiastic and committed
and demonstrated daring in their movement explorations and
investigations. Their curiosity and thirst for ideas was evident in
each workshop. Their openness and freedom to move and express
their experiences and aspirations through dance were most
refreshing, and may be defining contemporary dance in Russia
today.

Dancers involved with the Dance Construction Company's Dance of
the Auroras project are all mature and experienced choreographers
and skilled teachers with extensive experience teaching in
university, community, and studio settings. Each artist/teacher is a
specialist in the subject of the workshop they taught. Each was
committed to deepening the understanding of the body and to
building a community in each workshop through intense
engagement in the creative process. Analysis and evaluation were
important to building the confidence of each dancer and in spawning
possible ideas useful to these emerging artists in Russia.

Daily from 3 pm to 7 pm, Dance of the Auroras rehearsed in a
rented gymnasium across the street from the Kannon Dance
studio. Thus we had no scheduling conflicts with workshops offered
in the afternoon by various guest artists coming in for three or four
days to teach and perform in the festival. Our converted studio, a
large gymnasium painted bright green, was fondly called “the
pool.” Swimsuits hung on the clothesline near the stairwell, even
though the swimming pool in the building was empty. Surprisingly,
no electricity was available in the studio/gymnasium so there was
no power for our boom box during rehearsals. We speculated that
someone wanted to purchase the building and one means of
encouraging the sale was to have the power company turn off the
electricity to limit use by the current owner. When the sound was
crucial, one of the cast would follow dancers through the space
carrying the battery-operated boom box. Surprise is a fact of life in
Russia. We definitely got into the swing of things in this way. To
our great joy, our studio, “the pool,” was filled with the glorious
light of the “white nights” through a row of large windows on the
south wall.

Day by day the restaging of Dance of the Auroras was
accomplished. The principal cast of dancers reestablished and
integrated the choreography that had been separately rehearsed in
the USA, Poland, and Russia. Since the dance was originally
created with these dancers, the beauty and power of each dancer
was once again revealed and the innovation of the choreography
became evident once more. The men and women dancers of the
Kannon Dance Company were integrated into the rehearsals,
bringing their strength, passion, and expressive ability to the work.
New costumes, made in Russia for the Kannon Dance Company,
were hand- painted to match the original silk costumes.

Dance of the Auroras explores the potential of new relationships
between humans and their natural environment, specifically the
connection between the Sun and the Earth and the resulting new
mythology. Projected images of the Sun, satellite images from
NASA, photographs of Earth's auroras documented by astronauts
from their spacecraft, movies provided by R.H. Eather and SOLAR
MAX IMAX, and auroral photographs combine with 3-D cyber- world
images of the Sun, solar wind, and aurora created by Tania Fraga.

Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky requires extensive
technological support from the sponsor (high-end computers, video
technology, and projectors) to achieve the real-time interactive
aspects of the production. The Pro Arte Foundation, an organization
founded in St. Petersburg over ten years ago to develop new media
performances and research, provided computer equipment,
projectors and personnel to support the multimedia aspects of
Dance of the Auroras performances in St. Petersburg and
Arkhangelsk. Oleg Vargo, media specialist with Pro Arte,
collaborated with Tania Fraga, computer artist, to meet the artistic
goals for this aspect of our production. Adaptations were made in
the script by Oleg and Tania to create the overlay required for the
3-D computer art images and the video of film and photographs of
the Sun and the Earth's auroras. By the final performance, we had
achieved an effective and sophisticated interactive installation – no
small accomplishment, considering the requirements of the
technology involved and the limited access anticipated.

Dance of the Auroras features real-time interaction where dancers,
using the wireless mouse, manipulate and control the 3-D cyber
world images projected large-scale on the set. Tania and Oleg
became a formidable team as they navigated between the
languages of Russian, Portuguese and English. As rehearsals
proceeded, the necessary bond was established between the
dancers and the visual/computer artists.

Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky is an evening-length
production, a continuous performance in four parts: Part I: Sun
and Virtual Sun, Part II: Solar Wind, Part II: View from Above, and
Part IV: View from the Earth. The multimedia work of dance,
music, and visual installation featuring science, art, and technology
takes the audience on a dramatic journey through space from the
Sun to the Earth. This virtual space odyssey engages all the
senses.

In St. Petersburg, the rousing cheers of the festival participants and
of the general public were highly gratifying. Our hope to provide an
engaging and unforgettable experience was achieved, as evidenced
by their positive response.

Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky was featured as the GALA
Concert Event for the 5th OPEN LOOK Festival, July 10, 2003 in the
Theatre for Youth in St. Petersburg. This unusual theatre, a perfect
selection for the presentation of Dance of the Auroras, was also a
challenge of some magnitude. The theatre was built as part of the
cultural system of Communism in the 1950s, when theatres were
built in every large city in Russia to support and sponsor culture
specifically for young people. This is the primary function of this
theatre today, with the exception of the OPEN LOOK Festival
programming. The theatre space was ideal in regard to our interests
in innovation and experimentation. For our production the side
curtains were removed, and the white scrim stretched fully across
the back area, approximately 60 feet, and upwards to reveal the full
height of the immense space. The proscenium and thrust stage
were lighted to create the volume and void of space desired for our
space odyssey, Dance of the Auroras. The visual installation was
stunning in this environment.

Theatre for Youth was a challenge for dance but at the same time
quite extraordinary. We were accustomed to moving freely through
space, as the work is choreographed to express the immensity of
space. However, the floor was extremely uneven, with large valleys
and ridges due to the mechanical rotating stage situated in the
center of the stage. We did overcome this to fill the space and
create an unforgettable experience for the audience in this quite
unforgettable theatre.

The Theatre for Youth allows felines to roam freely in the large foyer
circling the theatre in the round. On entering the space, there is a
brief stinging sensation to the eyes and nose. Fortunately this
pungent odor was limited to the exterior spaces - my first
experience with a theatre for cat lovers.
Joseph Mills-Aurora: Joseph Mills, Dance of the Auroras, Part I: Sun / Virtual Sun
 (Joseph Manipulates the cyberworld images, Tania Fraga from Brazil, using the
                                wireless mouse);


Lighting design for dance is an art form promoted by American
modern dance. Dance of the Auroras requires a delicate balance
between the colorful and dramatic projected images (photographs,
cyber worlds, and movies) and theatrical lighting in the
performance area. The lighting design by Michael Stepowany and
Nicholas Johansen (USA) successfully met the challenge of the
theatre and created impressive lighting design In St. Petersburg and
Arkhangelsk. The designers for the Dance Construction Company
hung, focused, and created a design for dance in both theatres that
was used by other companies performing in the space. We were
happy we could provide this service.

The lack of a communication system (intercom or walkie-talkies) for
use by the technical personnel in the Theatre for Youth and the
Arkhangelsk City Cultural Center created difficulties in staging the
production. The personnel for sound, lighting, projectors,
computers, and the fly system were, out of necessity, situated in
seven or eight different places in the large theatres. With no
communication system, each player was on his/her own throughout
this real-time interactive work. The three technical personnel with
our production served our needs very well and the needs of other
companies from the USA and Russia.

Our residency activities in St. Petersburg and in Arkhangelsk were
greatly enhanced by our association with Russian interpreters who
were university graduates in philology (linguistics). They translated
for all the workshops, television interviews, technical rehearsals,
and after-concert discussion as well as assisting with transportation
and touring events. Their scholarly backgrounds were very
beneficial in the workshops, and their study of literature and history
greatly enriched our time spent in Russia. Many of the dance
students understood or spoke some English and were also anxious
to join in for clarification and embellishment of the ideas discussed
and presented.

Publicity and promotion for the 5th OPEN LOOK International Modern
Dance Festival created a high interest in Festival workshops and
performances. In March 2003, when Maida was in St. Petersburg to
stage Part II: Solar Wind with the Kannon Dance Company, the
local television station broadcast a special on the residency,
interviewing Withers and showing a substantial segment of the
dance in rehearsal at the time. During OPEN LOOK, this station
broadcast a segment featuring a partnering workshop taught by
Adrienne Clancy of the Dance Construction Company.

The July issue of RED, a slick colorful popular magazine, included a
two-page feature story and photo on the festival and Dance of the
Auroras – Fire in the Sky. Articles and photos appeared in the
magazines Pomorskaya Stolitsa and Shokolad, and in Docug,
Kommersant, Isvestia, Pulse, Where, Guadeamus, PRO, and Chas
Pik. The comprehensive and sophisticated OPEN LOOK Festival
brochure details information about participating companies and
their respective workshops. This beautiful booklet served as the
program for each performance. From our interaction with people,
the City of St. Petersburg seemed well informed and highly
respectful of the festival activities.

Company members felt sad to leave St. Petersburg. We had
enjoyed our relationship with students and managers of the festival
and other visiting dance artists and companies. We enjoyed our
visit to the Hermitage Museum, to Catherine's Palace of Tsarskoye
Selo, where we enjoyed the recently restored Amber Room, and to
the world-famous Peterhof fountains and park, the splendid official
royal summer residence of Emperor Peter the Great. We were
impressed by both the beauty and magnificence of the city and the
openness to modern dance in St. Petersburg. This was truly a
memorable experience for all concerned.

The OPEN LOOK Festival presented a performance each night by an
international company in the alternative stage S'Tansia (34
Dekabristov Street Theatre), the theatre founded and managed by
Kannon Dance School and Company for concerts, seminars, and
sessions dedicated to contemporary art. Performances this year
included: Kannon Dance Company, resident company for the
Festival; Sasha Kukin and Dancers, the first modern dance company
established in St. Petersburg (Russia); Miguel Gutierrez and the
Powerful People (NYC); Provizional Danza (Spain); Cornfield Dance
(NYC); David Greskovik (NYC); Teek Kask (Norway), and others.
Members of the Dance Construction Company enjoyed seeing these
performances and participating in the after-concert discussions.

Following our ten-day residency in St. Petersburg, twenty-one
artists, producers, and technicians involved in Dance for the Auroras
– Fire in the Sky traveled by plane to the north of Russia in the
arctic region to participate in the TOUCH2 Festival in Arkhangelsk.
2003 was the second year of the TOUCH Festival, an event designed
to introduce contemporary dance to students, teachers, and
audiences in the Arkhangelsk region.    We had experienced the
White Nights in St. Petersburg, but were even more astonished with
the White Nights of Arkhangelsk with the minimal down time of the
Sun from 2 am to 3:30 am.

Nikolai Schetnev, Director of TOUCH2, worked closely with Vadim
Kasparov, founder and director of the OPEN LOOK Festival, to
arrange for the participation of The Dance Construction Company,
international collaborators, and Kannon Dance Company in
TOUCH2.      TOUCH2 was very well organized and our needs
attended to most graciously. We were housed in the lovely,
recently renovated Dvina Hotel. All the festival activities, classes
and performances took place in the Arkhangelsk City Cultural
Center, a large building that included a café/bar, studios, and a
1000-seat theatre. The Festival was very well organized and
successfully produced.

The City of Arkhangelsk was supportive of the festival. We were
met at the airport by the local television station for a brief interview
and asked to perform a sample of our dance, on the runway so to
speak, to be broadcast on the evening news. We shared their
interest, it would seem, in spontaneity and site-specific work. Since
the television station was located on the thirteenth floor of our
hotel, we became well acquainted with the lead anchorwoman. We
were on the evening news for four days with interviews and shots
from the workshops and rehearsals. Cameramen engaged in close-
up shots of the performances by moving freely throughout the
theatre and onto the edge of the stage to get “live” shots for
broadcast.

Incredibly, the television station broadcast a thirty-minute interview
with Maida Withers with the translator (philologist) bridging the
ideas. The anchorwoman asked hard and important questions:
How does contemporary dance relate to the dance of Isadora
Duncan, a Western dance figure of historic stature in Russia? What
would the difference be if you were teaching these workshops in the
United States? Could TOUCH2 become a world-class festival for
dance?

We talked at length with the Festival participants, the press, and
political figures about the importance of this TOUCH2 and the
possibilities of the Festival, as we saw them, for the future.
Arkhangelsk, located on the beautiful Dvina River near the White
Sea, was established more than 300 years ago. It is a stopping-off
place in the summer for thousands of tourists on their way to visit
the Gulag Archipelago, Solovetskii Death Camp, (written about by
Solzhenitsyn), a concentration camp on the Solovetskii Islands for
Russian political dissidents. The Solovetskii Islands also feature the
16th century Solovetsii Monastery, an important religious and
political center of Russia historically. Arkhangelsk, city of the
archangels, seems a most desirable setting for a successful
international festival of dance.

The day following our performance, our hosts took us by bus to
Malye Karely, a village 25 km outside Arkhangelsk, to visit an
outdoor museum of ancient wooden architecture, churches, barns,
windmills, and folk art assembled in the rolling hills there. The
suspended wooden sidewalks and steep stairways throughout the
park were of special interest.

Participants in TOUCH2 ranged in age from twelve to seventy years
of age. Many were teachers who planned to use the material in
their home dance studios. For four days, Joseph Mills and Iwona
Olszowska taught workshops in dance technique while Maida
Withers and Adrienne Clancy taught workshops in dance
improvisation and partnering.      The director and dancers of Kannon
Dance Company taught workshops in jazz and modern dance. In
the short period of four days there was incredible growth in
understanding and increased openness to participate and engage in
exchange. It was obvious that these leaders in the region would be
instrumental in the development and expansion of future festivals
and in the growth of dance in northern Russia.

The people of Arkhangelsk graciously and warmly received the
performance of Dance of the Auroras – Fire in the Sky. Modern
dance is quite new to this city and region. We deeply appreciated
the receptiveness of our host and the audience. We were especially
excited to present Dance of the Auroras in Arkhangelsk since the
city is located in the Arctic region where auroral displays are a
common occurrence in the long dark nights of the north. We
thought there would be a special understanding of the performance,
since the people there would be familiar with the northern lights or
the polar lights, as they are referred to in Russia. We were honored
to be able to introduce images of the Sun, NASA images from
satellites, magnificent virtual images of the Sun and solar wind,
photo images of the Earth's aurora shot by astronauts from the
window of the spacecraft, and actual movies and photographs of the
aurora similar to those the audience would see in the fall and winter
months in Russia.    We regret that we did not have the opportunity
to have an open discussion with the audience about the polar lights
after the performance, but instead, there was an extended interview
with the magazine Shokolad which had done a preview story on
Dance of the Auroras and intended to do an extensive story
following the presentation in Arkhangelsk.

We were also sad to leave this beautiful city. Seventeen of our
entourage returned to St. Petersburg for a final day to take a canal
trip and visit other historic sites. Four of us spent the day with our
hosts, visiting the historic outdoor museum before leaving for
Moscow, Russia.

The classes, reconstruction rehearsals, and performances of The
Dance Construction Company tour in Russia were documented on
digital video by videographer Linda Lewett. Extensive interviews
were conducted with the artists, producers, students, television
personnel and others doing publicity and promotion. Interviews
included the audiences in the OPEN LOOK and TOUCH2 Festivals.

This process of engagement acted as a magnet that brought
modern dance in Russia into focus for everyone. Not only was the
documentation an instrument of communication important to
building strong cultural ties between Russians and the international
visitors, it has set the stage for a follow-up to our tour with the
planned creation of a documentary for television, Aurora in Russia,
featuring artists' views on life in Russia today.

We appreciate the commitment of organizations and individuals
whose support made the tour in Russia possible. We feel the stage
is being set for a rich and fertile period of expression through
contemporary dance in Russia. The Dance Construction Company
began the association with dance artists in Russia in 1997 with our
participation in the Conference on Dance in Volgograd. This year
marks our 5th year of association with artists in St. Petersburg. We
have enjoyed our opportunities to bring Russians to Washington,
DC. We are honored to have had the privilege of being part of this
important period of development in Russia as a nation and a
people. We look forward to a continuing relationship.
Maida Withers_Aurora: Maida Withers, Dance of the Auroras, Part III: View from
                                  the Earth
    (Maida manipulates the cyberworld images using the wireless mouse);
Maida Withers is the founder and artistic director of Maida Withers Dance
Construction Company (1974) and a professor at The George Washington
University's Department of Theatre and Dance in Washington, DC. Withers has
created a significant body of work for stage, site and video, over 75 dances of
breadth and vision through a process of experimentation, innovation and
collaboration integrating art and interactive technology. She received the
prestigious title of Columbian Professor for her artistic research and creative
artistic endeavors in 1999 and the Pola Nirenska "lifetime achievement award" in
2001. She currently teaches improvisation as performance, advanced dance
technique choreography, and performance art theory and practice, and has been
the director of the MFA graduate dance program. Withers is the founder of the DC
International Improvisation Plus+ Festival, now in its tenth season
http://www.improvfestival.com). The company and Withers tour extensively
internationally. performing, teaching, and collaborating on choreographic projects
in Norway (2001), Venezuela (1998), Russia (1997, 2001, 2003, 2004), Poland
(1997); France (1997), Finland (1998), The Netherlands (1996), Japan
(1993,1995), Malaysia (1994, 1995), Korea (1993, 1994, 1995. 1999), Hong
Kong and China (1994), Brazil (1992, 1999, 2001, 2002), Mexico (1987, 1988),
Guatemala (1987), Germany (1981). http://www.maidadance.com

				
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