Author Archives: Grier Cooper

Dance Meets Light: Dance & the Elements, Part I

Dance today is changing in so many exciting ways, through new ideas, new choreography and even new venues. Directors and choreographers continue to search for ways to create work that takes dance to another level and appeals to a wider audience, especially young people. This month’s posts, Dance and the Elements, will look at ways that companies have used the elements of light, water and earth to create something extraordinary.

Dance isn’t usually something one would associate with light, although lighting is an important part of any dance performance. Usually it’s dialed in at the end of the rehearsal period, just before the actual performance. But what happens when it’s put first– and everything else is designed around it? Take a look for yourself:

Attraction, a Hungarian shadow theatre group from Budapest, Hungary first made a splash during the London, 2012 Olympics, with their rendition of many of the traditional sports within the five rings of the Olympic Games logo, all created by the carefully contorted bodies of the shadow dancers. Less than a year later, they won the seventh series of Britain’s Got Talent

Using a simple back light to project shadows of the dancers’ bodies on to the screen, dancers turn themselves into an unending array of shapes to create seemingly impossible images and scenery: a camel, a huge face, palm trees, an enemy sniper, a cemetery.

So how do they do it?

It’s all down to firmly shaped bodies and exact positioning, explains Attraction’s founder and choreographer Zoltan Szucs. Thousands of tiny fluorescent stickers are dotted over the soft dance mat, each colour representing the foot and hand positioning for each shadow for every dancer.

Szucs, an award-winning breakdancer, founded Attraction in 2004 as part of Hungary’s Black Lights Theatre group. He runs it with his wife Eva, who is the troupe’s manager — as well as mother to the couple’s two sons.

The key to keeping the shapes is down to team work, says  Eva, 39. ‘We tell our dancers there is no room for  ego because the connection to others is vital… If not, they’re told to go.’ Eva, whose sons are aged ten and seven, takes care of all the dancers’ needs. ‘This is our second family. I am like a mother to the dancers who are mostly in their teens and early 20s.’

Although all the performers are a mix of ballet, modern, hip-hop and street dancers, Zoltan says the moves are easy for the troupe to master. ‘The real work is having the core strength to hold the shapes and also to work with the projector with precision,’ he says.

The Japanese dance team Wrecking Crew Orchestra/El Squad is mesmerizing audiences with their Tron-inspired moves, which they perform in the dark wearing specially-designed glow-suits, which were custom-designed by lighting-tech company, iLuminate While performing in the suits on a pitch-black stage, the dancers appear to disappear and reappear in a ripple effect, like a stop-motion flipbook come to life.

The glow-suits showcase a type of dance technology that uses wireless, light-emitting ribbons and tapes that can be controlled remotely. The wire system consists of two parts, a transmitter which is attached to the main show computer, and receivers which are worn by each dancer. The whole thing is enclosed in a ruggedized case to survive the heavy vibration due to the dancers’ movements.

There are approximately 12 to 24 dancers in EL Squad at any time and maintaining the equipment for all of them through rehearsals and shows is crazy,” says Akiba of Freak Labs, an electrician who’s been charged with maintaining the magic during the group’s recent shows. “The battery management alone is almost a full time job since we need to make sure nobody runs out of batteries in the middle of a performance,” he says.

An interesting aside: “People automatically assume that the EL Squad dancers are guys. Actually, most of the EL Squad dancers are female,” Akiba adds.

Pixel, the innovative dance performance conceived by French performance artists Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne, in collaboration with hip-hop choreographer Cie Kafig, bills itself as “a work on illusion combining energy and poetry, fiction and technical achievement, hip hop and circus.” The hour-long performance incorporates a host of digital projection mapping techniques, plus 11 dancers.

The creators–known collectively as the Adrien M / Claire B Company–(a French dance company) specialize in merging dance with cutting-edge technologies. Mondot and Bardainne have been exploring the intersection of projection mapping and dance since 2004, today creating dynamic virtual worlds that respond to and interact with the people among them. Pixel premiered at Maison des Arts de Créteil on November 15th, 2014.


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The Alice Street Mural Project: Oakland Dance and Culture Comes Alive

Murals: colorful, magical… cultural storytelling at its best. Word on the street is there’s a new mural in town, right in the heart of Oakland. The Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP)’s Alice Street Mural Project will be officially commemorated this weekend with a diverse lineup of dancers and other local luminaries. A cool new mural and live dance? What more do you need?

More than two years in the making, the mural focuses on the contributions of the Afro-Diasporic community centered around the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts, as well as cultural icons from Oakland’s native Chinese and Chinese-American population located near the Hotel OaklandPainted on two walls, the mural prominently features Casquelord, a Congolese dancer and drummer; Carla Service, founder of Dance-A-Vision and the Oakland Dance Festival; Tony Cerda, chief of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe of the Ohlone Nation plus other figures of historic cultural importance: there’s a 30+ ft portrait of the legendary Carlos Aceituno  a section dedicated to LIKHA – Pilipino Folk Ensemble  and another portrait of onetime Oakland Chinatown resident and kung-fu icon Bruce Lee.

“This story’s not complete without people like CK Ledzepko, Mama Naomi and Papa Zac, Moshe Milion, Jose Lorenzo… there’s so many people who have to be put up on this wall,” said artist Desi Mundo. Mundo and fellow artist Pancho Peskador were the lead artists for the project, painted in two phases over the course of two years. During Phase II the artists worked every day for six weeks. 

A block party scheduled for Saturday, June 6, 12-4pm, in the parking lot at Alice and 14th Sts., will officially commemorate and dedicate this mural with a community celebration featuring guest speakers and live music and dance. Scheduled performers – many of whom are among the Oakland arts pioneers painted on the wall – include Oaktown Jazz Workshop, Kiazi Malonga, Mosheh Milon, Tacuma King, Diamano CouraDance-A-VisionFogo Na RoupaSambaFunkPE 2.0, and the Hotel Oakland Choir and Dancers. Guest speakers include District 3 Councilmember Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney, Alice Arts Center co-founder Halifu Osumare, media personality and author Jerri Lange, and Gerald Reese. The event will begin with an Ohlone prayer and song by Luta Candelaria, and will be hosted by Carla Service.

A planned documentary about the mural is also in production (scheduled to be released in 2016), as well as an educational website and companion coffee table book, to be published by Pochino Press.

30+ ft portrait of the legendary Carlos Aceituno  section dedicated to LIKHA – Pilipino Folk Ensemble 

Top 10 Swoon-Worthy Ballet Boys

One of the first questions people ask in a discussion about ballet is: what’s up with the men? There are those who assume that if a man puts on tights he must be gay. But if that were true, why are droves of football players signing up for ballet? Regardless of the choices they make for their private lives, ballet men are some of the strongest, most athletic and graceful beings on the planet. As headliner Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers says, “ballet is harder than anything else I do”. To quote a recent tweet (a Jane Austen spoof) from the Ballet Boyz: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that real men wear tights.” Check out this list of Top 10 Swoon-Worthy Ballet Boys and see for yourself.

Chihon Wespi-Tschopp. Chihon began ballet at age 13 and at 14 he was offered a spot to train at The Royal Ballet School in London. An alum of the Los Angeles Ballet, Chehon won the ninth season of So You Think You Can Dance and was the first winner who was classified on the show as primarily a ballet dancer.

Desmond Richardson. Desmond is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Richardson’s talent was first recognized as a student at New York High School for the Performing Arts during which time he received a merit scholarship from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He was formerly a principal at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and ABT.

Cory Stearns. Cory has been at ABT since 2004 in the studio company and worked his way up to become a principal in 2011. In 2009 he won the Erik Bruhn Prize for best male dancer. He also models for the runways occasionally, casual.

Alex Wong. Alex danced briefly with American Ballet Theatre before joining Miami City Ballet, where he was a principal dancer. He left Miami City Ballet to compete on So You Think You Can Dance but then had to drop out after an injury while remaining a crowd favorite. During recovery he focused on singing and acting and has since released his first dance single “Crave” on iTunes and Amazon.

Robert Fairchild. Robert and his sister Megan Fairchild are both principal dancers with New York City Ballet. The real-life romance between Robert and fellow NYCB principal dancer Tiler Peck rivals most popular big-screen love stories. 

Chase Finlay. Chase is a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. In 2011, while part of the corps de ballet, he danced the title role in George Balanchine’s Apollo, one of the most sought-after male roles…and it shows the male form in a particularly enticing way.

Chris Rodgers-Wilson. Chris is originally from Australia, but studied at the Royal Ballet School before joining the Australian Ballet. Rumor has it he’s dating Andrew Killian — both of them dance at the Australia Ballet and both of them are painfully gorgeous.

Ivan Vasiliev. Ivan trained in Russia and was a prinicpal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet until he left in 2012 to join ABT as a principal dancer.

Billy Bell. After competing on So You Think You Can Dance, Billy joined Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in 2012. Most recently he founded the Lunge Dance Collective, a project based dance company for young artists.

Roberto Bolle. Roberto is a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre and has been featured in Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo ad campaigns.

Hope you found a new favorite!



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New Ballet Fiction: OFF BALANCE by Terez Mertes Rose

If you are one of those people who feels a flutter in their heart when a new book is released–especially if it’s a book about ballet–then you’ve come to the right place. I’m pleased to share the news of this brand-new, hot-off-the-press novel from Terez Mertes Rose: OFF BALANCE.

Terez Mertes Rose is a writer and former ballet dancer whose work has appeared in the Crab Orchard Review, Literary Mama, Women Who Eat (Seal Press), A Woman’s Europe (Travelers’ Tales), the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. She reviews dance performances for and blogs about ballet and classical music at The Classical Girl. She makes her home in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her husband, son and too many cats. She loves good food, good wine, great books, and a good (but not too hard) adult ballet class. She also publishes under the name Terez Rose.

Isn't the cover gorgeous?

Isn’t the cover gorgeous?

About the Book:

Alice thinks she’s accepted the loss of her ballet career, injury having forced her to trade in pointe shoes onstage for spreadsheets upstairs. That is, until the day Alice’s boss asks her to befriend Lana, a pretty new company member he’s got his eye on. Lana represents all Alice has lost, not just as a ballet dancer, but as a motherless daughter. It’s pain she’s kept hidden, even from herself, as every good ballet dancer knows to do.

Lana, lonely and unmoored, desperately needs some help, and her mother, back home, vows eternal support. But when Lana begins to profit from Alice’s advice and help, her mother’s constant attention curdles into something more sinister.

Together, both women must embark on a journey of painful rediscoveries, not just about career opportunities won and lost, but the mothers they thought they knew.

OFF BALANCE takes the reader beyond the glitter of the stage to expose the sweat and struggle, amid the mandate to sustain the illusion at all cost.



1. Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

That’s a trick question, because it’s my third novel of six that’s heading out into the world this month. But we’ll go ahead and call this novel both “my first” and “my most recent,” to keep life uncomplicated. Sound okay? So. Where did I get the idea? This is going way, way back. I wrote my first novel in 2002 about a ballet dancer who runs off to Africa to escape her problems, only to encounter thornier ones there. I spent over two years on it, lovingly crafting it, and while it didn’t earn me an agent, it impressed one enough to say “great stuff but a tough sell. Please keep me in mind, though, for the next one.” Well, two years and a polished manuscript later, turns out she hated the next one, but she still liked my writing enough to chat with me, discuss what she felt my strengths were as a writer. “Why not a ballet novel for the next one?” she suggested. “I loved what you wrote about ballet in your Africa novel. It’s a fresh topic [particularly back in 2006] and I think editors would take interest.” The conversation took place on a Friday afternoon, and I told her, with a confidence I didn’t feel, that “sure, I can make this happen! Let me tootle around with some ideas over the weekend and I’ll touch base early next week.”

Well. I am simply not that talented a creative writer. Essays, I can whip off in a few days’ time, but novels? Even the core idea? Yikes. I finished the call, wandered outside to my front yard, and began walking in small circles, thinking, shit – what have I done?” Because every aspiring novelist really, really wants an agent, and this was an agent I’d targeted as someone I wanted to work with, over two years earlier. I went to bed that night, mind blank, in a mild panic. Saturday, all day, I cast about for ideas with little success. And then, on Sunday in yoga class, it all came to me, spilling out like a tipped over jar of honey. An ex-dancer (like me). A rising star dancer (never like me, but ah, every dance student’s fantasy, right?). Romance (always my favorite writing topic). The struggle to actualize not just professionally but internally. The struggle to face the difficult things in life you keep running from (a recurring theme in all my novels). The way friendships can both nourish and challenge you. All amid the glorious backdrop of the ballet world, where I’d devoted so much of my time, energy, love and attention, through my adolescence and young adulthood.

In the course of one afternoon, OFF BALANCE was born. I tore out of that yoga class, hurried home, hastily sat down in front of my desktop and stopped writing only to make meals for my family, get some sleep, get my son off to elementary school and various mandated afterschool activities, but my mind was always, always, inside my story. Three months later I had it, the first draft of OFF BALANCE.

 2. What are you currently working on?

I’m tweaking Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles. It goes out for an edit in July, formatting in August, and its own pretty little cover in early September. Then it’s off for pre-pub marketing for a Nov 10th release date. After that, I get to pull out Black Ivory Tango, for some of my readers the novel they love the most. I think because it reads like a cross between Bridget Jones’ Diary and Out of Africa. Well. Probably a bad analogy. But you get that it’s set in Africa, right? White woman stumbles along in this new culture and ultimately embraces it [and the gorgeous African man she can’t stop thinking of]. It’s much more romance-based, in my mind, than the others. It was my first novel. I didn’t know what was happening as I wrote and wrote and wrote, about this African guy named Christophe, and Fiona, my main character, was just hopelessly, impossibly infatuated with him. I was, too. Never has a fictional character had so much hold on me. It’s not a well-formed novel, but everyone who’s picked it up has gobbled it down. It seems like my readers enjoy its honesty, its organic nature. (And, I’m going to guess, the sex scenes.) Christophe, as a character, is sexy and compelling, and Africa is such a weird place to live and write about. Working on that novel was like entering another dimension. So. Less ballet world, there, although Fiona is a ballet dancer, which is a curious vocation in provincial Africa. But I digress. Well, you asked, I told you. I’m working on making those two novels ready for market, for their late 2015 and 2016 releases, respectively.

3. What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

If you don’t love the process, really love to write, well, don’t do it. If you can’t not write, well, there you go. Write. The reward is in the journey, and journeys don’t pay well. I am okay with the fact that I’ve devoted an astonishing number of hours over the past twenty years to project after project, with very, very little income generated. We’re talking something like $2.00 a week for a thirty hour work week. But what do I get instead of money? Oh, wow. My spirit, soul and heart all sing when I’m engrossed in my work, or when I look over a finished product. It’s a good feeling like nothing else on earth. Over the years, I’ve tried the 9a-5p route, the sales representative route, the hotel and food/beverage industry route, the teacher route, and nothing, nothing, came close to nourishing me like my writing has. If that’s the way you feel, too, well, WRITE. But do this, too: try those other worlds, those other jobs. Bump along in the wrong place for a while. Nothing makes the right place resonate more than finding it after living in the wrong place/space for a while. And besides, if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have something to write about. Don’t go immersing yourself in your ivory tower, away from the real world, all the time. That’s escaping life. Writing shouldn’t be about escaping life. It should be about taking what’s tough, what’s unutterably beautiful, what’s baffling or enraging, and using your skills as a sensitive, thinking person, to craft prose that reflects how you feel about the world. Or that shines a new light on an issue, a problem.

Feel free to give a shout out to Terez! You can find here here:

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