In August of 1978 I moved to DC to teach dance at the University of Maryland, and to perform with Maryland Dance Theater. The Dance Department at that time was chaired by Liz Ince, and Maryland Dance Theater was directed by Anne and Larry Warren. My first priority arriving in the area was finding a place to take class. Most people told me to try the Dance Project with Jan Van Dyke on 18th and Columbia NW in Adams Morgan.

The Dance Project became my home away from the University every Saturday morning. At the time, most of the professional modern dancers went there for class. I met many of the people with whom an artistic community would form: Carla Perlo, Jan Taylor, Karen Bernstein, Harriet Williams, Stephanie Powell, Eric Hampton, Cathy Paine, Keith Goodman, Linda Miller and Adrain Bolton. We danced in each other’s work, helped each other develop work and became each other’s support system. When Jan Van Dyke left for New York the Dance Project was sold to Carla Perlo, and the beginnings of DC Wheels Productions and Dance Place materialized.

The first dances I made away from the University were at Dance Place – then still on 18th St NW. Carla Perlo received a grant to tour a company of dancers to each ward in DC. This makeshift company performed in many alternative spaces and taught classes, introducing dance to many who had never been exposed to it. When word got out that I enjoyed working with a large cross-section of dancers, requests for dances came from many sources. I made dances on quite a number of groups in the area, including Karen & Alvin (the duet company I shared with Karen Bernstein), Perlo/Bloom and Company, Cathy Paine and Friends, Jan Taylor Dance Theater, Adrian Bolton Dance Company, Arlington Dance Theater, Jane Franklin Dance, CityDance Ensemble, CrossCurrents Dance Company, Bowen/McCauley Dance, Tommy Parlon Dance Projects and the Maryland Youth Ballet.

I have had the privilege of working with incredibly generous artists in the Washington metropolitan area for 30 years: students, professional artists, choreographers, dancers, athletes, videographers, costumers, set designers, singers, instrumentalists, poets, actors and the list goes on. I am celebrating my thirtieth anniversary in the area by doing some of the things I love most: making dances, working with artists, and singing. Happily, I have been able to do all those things at the University of Maryland and Dance Place.

Dance Place has, at its core, the mission to help develop area artists.  It has opened its arms to me many times with various projects from Alice’s Down the Rabbit Hold, to the Paradise Project:  Adam and Eve.  It is fitting that Dance Place is producing the show I am working on right now – Love Come Down

One of the dances is a reconstruction of two sections of Tahquamenon Falls, commissioned in 1994 by the Maryland Youth Ballet. This dance was brought to MYB by directors Tensia Fonseca and Michelle Lees to give the dancers experience integrating modern dance movement with classical ballet. Tahquamenon Falls is an incredible place in the upper peninsula of Michigan. In spring, the cascading water drops nearly 50 feet with amazing hypnotic power. In winter, the frozen falls produce extraordinarily dynamic ice sculptures similar to stalactites and stalagmites.

I used my feelings and recollections of T-Falls in creating this energetic work. Working with the dancers we explored finding movement from imagery, using weight to initiate level changes, especially as it applied to going from the sky into the earth safely, imitating the great waterfalls. I also introduced a number of explorations that are widely used in modern dance choreography today – how to decipher architecture of design from movement, and how to manipulate movement choreographically by reversing it, retrograding it, adding partnering and the like.

Another dance in this concert, My Journey is a collaborative work. My Journey is a collaboration between singers, a dancer, and myself (the choreographer.) Initially I wanted to use My Journey Yours, a work written by singer-songwriter Elise Witt and sung by Not What You Think (an a cappella group) to accompany the dance. The song reflects a diversity of people, similar to many communities in Washington, DC. Within NWYT we had started identifying where we are each from, where we went to school, where we traveled, where we worked, which languages we speak and how we ended up here at this moment. It was amazing how many of us were not born in the U.S., how many of us had worked in other countries and how few of us are actually from DC, even though we call it home. This is true as well for Diedre Dawkins who dances the work. In a parallel discussion, we explored personal identity, including understanding physical and emotional self, gender identity, gender issues and how we select repertoire based on sensitivity to gender. My Journey explores where we started, and culminates with where we are right now.
Alvin Mayes
One of my “loves” is bringing people of different fields and disciplines together. There is a shyness among artists when we integrate disciplines – in this case dancing and singing. Dancers respect singers, often saying, “I can’t sing.” Likewise singers are often in awe of dancers, saying, “I wish I could do that.” Then the work of making something truly unique happens – we delve with depth into our individual contributions, and what we collectively can accomplish. In creating My Journey our personal journeys united our voices. We are hoping that this process and work will eventually expand into a full evening work where roles are further developed, turned inside out, reversed, and then put back on like a familiar old sweater.

Creating this concert affords me an extraordinary opportunity to bring a community of 30 dancers and 14 musicians together in a benefit for Dance Place. Love Come Down will be at Dance Place October 18 and 19, 2008. I hope you will come be a part of this celebration.

1 COMMENT

  1. Alvin,
    finally I found you – my 10th grade geometry teacher (and favorite at that)! So great to see you back in your element. I live in Sacramento now, divorced and have 2 children (7 & 4) – my ex was the birth mother and my brother the donor.
    How are you?
    Sonia Menenberg

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