New World School of the Arts (NWSA) is recognized as a premier institution for training young artists in the visual and performing arts. Among its nationally recognized programs is the dance division, a conservatory-based program grounded in classical ballet and modern dance, which also exposes its students to diverse, contemporary dance as well as World dance forms — the latter of which can be seen by the public at large this weekend, Nov. 16 to 18, for a three day World Dance Celebration.
The program presented and produced with the University of Florida will include performances by 55 college and high school dancers, accompanied by live drums and recorded world music, and featuring choreographic works from contemporary to traditional African dance. Mary Lisa Burns, Dean of Dance at NWSA, describes the program as “works contributed and performed by NWSA’s Dance Division coming primarily from the realm of concert dance, but speaking to world cultures either by virtue of the nature of the choreographic work itself or of the nationality or ethnicity of the choreographer.”
Choreographers include the NWSA dance faculty’s own Tina Santos, a former principal dancer with Dance Theatre Philippines, the Harkness Ballet NY and San Francisco Ballet companies. An international teacher of over 25 years, Santos contributes a highly anticipated, energy filled treat in Jazzapalooza and a classic lyrical duet Poème set to Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Opus 9.
Another offering by faculty includes Lara Murphy’s contemporary ballet, Liminally Venn, set to Kodo drums. Murphy, a native Miamian and herself a graduate of NWSA High School, is a founding member of local Maximum Dance Company and current dancer with the Miami Contemporary Dance Company.
Guest choreographer/filmmaker Darshan Singh Bhuller directs his new piece Mapping #1. Dean Burns describes the piece as “mysterious and beautiful…[a piece] he created for NWSA dancers in the spring of 2012 and which draws on his experiences moving from his childhood home in India to his subsequent life in England.” Bhuller was a longstanding member of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and has gone on to create and set works internationally on companies and schools, including NWSA. He continues to choreograph and direct for his company Singh Productions.
The program also includes a nod to dance icon Martha Graham as the students perform Prelude to Action, a section of a larger piece Chronicle that Graham choreographed in 1936 as her answer to the rise of fascism in Europe. As the final section, Prelude alluded to an unconquerable human spirit in light of the devastation of war. The piece was almost prophetic as nations began to maneuver into the upcoming stage of World War II.
Rounding off the program is the presentation of traditional African dances under the direction of Professor Mohamed DaCosta, lecturer in African Performing Arts in the School of Theatre and Dance and the Center for African Studies. A native of Boké, Guinea, DaCosta is one of the select few cultural authorities on the traditional performing arts of Africa living in the United States. A three-time University of Florida Center for African Studies artist-in-residence, DaCosta has contributed to the appreciation of West African culture at the University of Florida, New World School of the Arts, Santa Fe Community College, and in the greater communities of Florida and North Carolina.
Answering some of our questions, Dean Burns offered additional insights to this celebratory presentation.
What is the history of the World Dance Celebration and how did the collaboration with University of Florida come about?
The World Dance program is a collaboration with the Agbedidi Africa program at the University of Florida’s Center for World Arts and was started by Dr. Joan C. Frosch, director of the center, and Daniel Lewis, the founding dean of Dance at NWSA. The selection of works contributed by the University of Florida features an ensemble of students from UF’s School of Theater and Dance as well as general students representing a multitude of majors there, performing works inspired by the traditions of West Africa, and including the powerful live music which is such an integral part of these traditions.
What year are the students and what are their academic or artistic backgrounds?
All of this year’s NWSA performers are college students representing the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Our students come from diverse backgrounds, but share a passion for dance, which most of them continue to pursue at the professional level following graduation.
The UF student performers, as well as choreographer and musicians, come from Gainesville to perform with us here in Miami, and then we travel to Gainesville and perform the same program of works there at UF. So our students do not collaborate in the creation of the dances themselves, but meet for these two weekends of performances.
Performances are scheduled for Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2:00 p.m; New World Dance Theater, MDC Wolfson Campus Building 5, 25 NE 2nd St., 8th floor, downtown Miami. Admission is $10. Tickets can be purchased online at nwsa.mdc.edu or by calling (305) 237-3341.
Photo by Carlos Llano; NWSA college dancers Johan Rivera and Claudia Lezcano in “Poème”