Miami Contemporary Dance uses letters in new piece
By Marj O’Neill-Butler
Diana Diaz, one of the dancers with Miami Contemporary Dance Company Photo: Lucrecia Diaz
What does it mean to be an American? Growing up I never really thought much about it. I was born in Brooklyn, New York to parents who were born in Brooklyn, New York. Until 20 years ago, I lived in the northeast where Italians in the north end of Boston seemed like the newcomers. Then I moved to South Florida. What a difference 1,500 miles makes. Welcome to the new America.
Recently I talked to Ray Sullivan, artistic director of the Miami Contemporary Dance Company and he told me about his latest production, Letters to America. I was invited to a rehearsal to see the production in progress. What a nice way to spend an afternoon.
The piece is evolving during the four-week rehearsal period, although Sullivan has spent months developing and researching his ideas. He asked his dancers a series of questions including: Are you an American? Where were you born? When did you arrive in this country? Where would you like to be buried? Of the nine dancers, three are American-born and the other six come from as far away as Japan and as near as Haiti and Cuba. Sullivan asked each one to write a letter to America. These letters were then read by the dancers and filmed. The filmed readings became the “music” of the piece for each member’s solo. There is also some additional spoken text and music. When I first heard the title, I thought the production might be a bit political. But the piece is about the dancers themselves, their take on America, their own lives. And how different they are.
I trained in modern dance, and although I have long since aged out of moving the way these dancers move, I lived vicariously through the rehearsal. The dancers are as unique and individual as their homelands. Watching each one was like diving into a chocolate sampler. I remarked to Sullivan that they all have beautiful feet, a clear example of their training and technique.
|Mark Milner, who will perform in Letters to America
Sullivan began his career in dance as a performer and he has lived and worked in many parts of the world, including six years in Argentina. And although he earned his living performing, he feels he has always been a choreographer. I asked him one of his own questions: Where you would like to be buried, and he smiled at me. He says he loves Argentina and the United States and would like to be able to retire in both places, but he would always be an American.
“When I leave this life I would like to leave a touch of slightly elevated poetry,” he said. Letters to America is just that.
Letters to America will be presented at the Lincoln Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Road on Miami Beach on Friday and Saturdays November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 $25 and $35. Limited student and senior tickets are available at the box office. For tickets, call the Colony box office at 305-674-1040 or TicketMaster.com 305-358-5885. For more information, visit www.MiamiContemporaryDance.net.
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