Early Ballet Films

Degas thought of himself as a painter of movement. As lovely as his paintings are, his dancers are frozen in their poses, beautiful bugs in amber. What if we could go back in time to watch a performance?

When motion pictures were invented, the camera was focused on anything that moved – trains, people, horses, and yes, dancers. There are no movies of ballet dancers during the late 19th century, but there are a precious few of ballet during the early 20th (close enough). With film, a famous dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet could be watched anywhere over the globe, or, a century later, delight us over the internet.

La Sylphide solo 1903

Pas de Deux 1902

Dance exercises at the barre 1920

And this beguiling couple….
Geltzer & Tikhomirov, husband and wife in the Bolshoi Ballet – Pas de Deux

This last performance reminds that, aside from the dance master, there are no male dancers in Degas’s ballet scenes. This recalls Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti, in which there are few, if any, men depicted. Was Degas, like Gauguin, creating his own private paradise?

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant

From Synchronized Swimming to Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! dancers perform in response to Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series at Phillips after 5. Photo: Charles Mahorney

Last August Director Dorothy Kosinski agreed to judge the Washington Project for the Arts‘s second synchronized swimming competition at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. Little did she know she was about to meet C. Brian Williams, fellow judge and founder and executive director of Step Afrika! The conversations started poolside on that sunny day came to a culmination last Thursday night during the museum’s Phillips after 5.

As Brian has shared here, Step Afrika! and the Phillips collaborated to create a dazzling marriage of the performing and visual arts. In June, Step Afrika! premiered The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence inspired by Jacob Lawrence‘s The Migration Series in their Home Performance Series.

Last night, the dance troupe performed excerpts from the show at Phillips after 5. Brian told me it was Step Afrika!’s first presentation in an American art museum, and I’m so pleased it happened at the Phillips. The stage come to life from the percussive energy of the dancers, and they awed the crowd! The audience clapped and sang along with the dancers; they gave the performance a standing ovation–something I’ve never seen happen in our auditorium.

I’m looking forward to seeing our stage come alive again when we collaborate with the Washington Ballet for programs related to our upcoming Degas exhibition!

Wade with Step Afrika!

C. Brian Williams, founder and director of Step Afrika!, guest blogs about the dance company’s new performance series inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. Read his first post here

Step Afrika! dancers perform.

Six days away from opening night . . . and as any performing or visual artist knows, every second is absolutely critical.  The amount of detail that has to come together for any successful production can be overwhelming and for this particular show by Step Afrika!—The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence—we are pulling out all stops.

We have a set designer, costume designers, lighting designers, scenic artists, master electricians, stage manager, sound designers, and, of course, 15 multi-talented artists.  It’s a lot to manage, and this will be the biggest Step Afrika! production in our 17-year history of performance and community outreach worldwide.

Two great things already happened today that will help me get through a very long week at the theater:

First, I finally got the time to read the amazing article printed in the Washington Post on Sunday, June 6, 2011.  DeNeen Brown, feature writer for the Post, not only created a wonderful story but perfectly captured a conversation between myself, Dorothy Kosinski, Elsa Smithgall, and several Step Afrika! artists.  The promise of this collaboration sounded great on paper . . . but will look even better on stage.

Second, my dear friend Nsaye Barnwell from Grammy-award winning ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock stopped by the studios to work with the artists.  She offered a nice training for our “choir” of singing dancers as they prepare for an important piece in this production simply titled “Wade.”  “Wade” is a classic Step Afrika! work choreographed over 10 years ago that has not been seen in D.C. for some time.  In 2007, we actually performed this piece in collaboration with Sweet Honey in the Rock to sold out audiences at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and the Warner Theater.   Check out some clips from the rehearsal (that’s me teaching Sweet Honey how to step!) and witness how the audience responds later in the clip.  Be sure to turn up the volume!!

The goal of “Wade” is to transform the theater into one community where everyone is involved with what’s happening on stage.  So if you are coming to the performances June 15-26, bring your tambourine and free, sharing spirit.  I promise, you won’t be disappointed . . .