It was a sunny, hot and extremely humid Saturday afternoon, Labor Day weekend, and a crowd had started to gather at the Euclid oval on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. There were a few people who may have been there from previous word-of-mouth knowledge, but the majority of the ever-increasing crowd was just trying to see what the fuss was all about.
In the raised ground with fake turf, “center stage” was four chairs facing west. A conductor in a silver-grey suit came out and stood on the block, then lifted his baton to the applause of the audience now eager for what was to come next. An orchestra of strings, brass and woodwinds chimed in, playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while dancers performed around the oval. The performance also included choral singers, a gospel choir and a musical arrangement, and the piece itself combined jazz, gospel and African drum beats. At the climax, the performers shot confetti strings, followed by young men with signs that read, “You have just experienced a Random Act of Culture.”
The event — sponsored by The Knight Foundation — was the last official act of its kind in Miami, celebrating the more than 1,000 surprise performances in two years that have appeared in cities across the nation. In the midst of this organized chaos was a young man dressed in jean shorts and t-shirt, darting between the performers and giving directions. He is Pioneer Winter, who served as the dance coordinator for this event and choreographer for the contemporary dancers, the AileyCamp Miami alumni.
This was but one of the many projects the young dancer/teacher/choreographer/artist has recently been involved with. Not just the aforementioned AileyCamp Miami that took place at the Arsht Center, but also his performances of Mother-Son(days) last spring with Ana Bolt, his recent performance with Ana Miranda, the Aire Dance Company, and Carl Ferrari and Gypsy Cat in Soulé.
Now, he’s opened the Miami Dance Studio off of Biscayne Boulevard, on N.E. 2nd between 24th and 25th streets – a studio rehearsal space and a collaboration center. We caught up with Winter during a rare free moment at the studio, the Friday evening before the Miami Beach event.
The space is an open, sunlit and airy structure with a high vaulted ceiling, ceiling-to-floor-length windows and the requisite wall of mirrors. With studio owner and partner Jared Sharon in company, we sat down to talk about Winter’s work, vision and journey.
A graduate with both a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in Public Health, Winter also trained in conservatory and summer programs with the Miami City Ballet and North Carolina School for the Arts. Like many artists who try to find balance with their freelance artistic pursuits and personal subsistence, Winter pursued an academic track out of a need for stability. Although he danced and taught locally during and after his studies, he took a job in marketing at Care Resource Miami, a comprehensive community health-care center and resource for HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and support. But marketing was not his niche. He was more emotionally invested in the daily aspects of people living with HIV/AIDS.
In his Reaching the Surface, an evening-length work with artists either infected or affected by HIV, Winter aimed to “reduce the stigma” of what it is to live with HIV. A mixed-media piece that involved narrative and spoken-word, it sought to express a “universal language that creates awareness for a greater sense of community,” he says. Winter does not seek to use art to educate per se, as it is not his intention to be “preachy” or dogmatic; but he says that art “is a way to reach people as an instrument of positive social change.”
When discussing his collaborative work with Sharon at the Bass Museum, 42: A Stonewall Prospective (the Stonewall riots of 1969 were considered a turning point in the gay rights struggle), Winter talks about the idea of the human search for identity and what it means to “grow up” on the foundations laid by generations before him. The struggles and achievements of previous history-pioneers make it easier for subsequent generations to grow and explore their true selves and identity. Otherwise, he acknowledges, that “the search for identity can become unhealthy and stunted” or even be “unsafe when there is no social support” for young gay and bisexual men and women.
His work Mother-Son(days) was a more personal piece, with a narrative taken directly from his and his mother’s diaries. We asked him for details on his process in working with Ana Bolt, and with dancers in general. “I try to match my work with [the dancer’s] strategy. Some dancers need to know detailed direction — some need to know the intent. With Ana I gave her the movement and then stopped giving instruction.” Although he allows for dancers to be intuitive and to add their voice to his work, he does give critiques. Winter describes a moment where Bolt was posed on the floor and as she crossed her legs at the ankle and pointed her feet, he remarked, “Ana, that looks like the crucifixion!”
Winter says that in rehearsals he does not like to interrupt a movement to give directions. “I don’t want to ruin the focus and I save corrections for the end.” He respects the precious reality of a performer living in the moment of the art — something he hopes dancers translate onto the stage from the rehearsal process. “Stage presence is the real vehicle to bring an audience into a dance. The honesty of the performance is crucial.”
Although his themes have included social change or a support for individual identity, he understands that his work may not always appeal to everyone. “But I hope the audience can appreciate the work in some way…that they can make their own meaning even if they didn’t get what I tried to express, but they make of it something else.” Then, he adds almost with a wink, “sometimes, though, it is fun to confuse them.”
While working at Care Resource, Winter was also teaching and doing administrative duties at a local studio in North Miami Beach. What, he thought, “would I do differently if I had my own studio?” We’ll soon see. Future projects for Pioneer Winter include a choreographed piece for TEDxMIA during a residence at the New World Symphony on Oct. 23, and a new quartet with interactive installation for Art Live Fair, benefiting Lotus House Women’s Shelter, Oct. 26 to 28; go to pioneerwinter.org and miadancestudio.com for more details.
This article first appeared in Miami New Times