The 2013 documentary Flex Is Kings dives headfirst and somersaulting into the world of Flexing, a style of street dance centered in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York.
Schoo has captured a do-it-yourself dance movement in the most appropriate way. In an interview for The Wrap, she describes how she met a Flex dancer on a photo shoot and felt inspired to tell the story of Flex. Flex Is Kings, like Battlefest, is a grassroots, self- and crowd-funded operation.
Much of Flex dancing is narrative, an extreme reflection of life in East New York. It’s athletic, flashy and theatrical, full of aggressive one-ups and punchlines (showstopping stunts involving anything from acrobatics to magic tricks) executed to the soundtrack of “B.A!” cheers from an all-ages crowd, including Flizzo’s finger-gunshooting grandmother.
There’s no discussion of Flex’s evolution as a dance style, and here it doesn’t seem to matter. What’s evident is what Flex is to the dancers: a fleeting escape from the tough realities of life, a way of getting out and bringing home culture with you, a way of shaping the future. As one dancer puts it, “It’s really raw. It comes from us, from the neighborhood.”
Schoo and Nichols focus on three personalities. The unstoppable impresario Reem is the force behind Battlefest, a series of dance battles in Brooklyn. In the film, he’s a guide and anchor for this universe who dreams of leaving “a global imprint of what Battlefest, of what extreme street dancing is all about.” He coaches the dancers that they’re role models in their world and representatives of Flex to the world outside. Without knowing who might show up at Battlefest, they should look clean and presentable, “your jeans not on your knees…You’ve got to understand where you want to go”
For Jay Donn, another featured personality, dancing opens up an entirely new world of opportunities. He’s sought by modern dance group Company XIV to perform in a new Pnicchio, an adventure that takes him on a month-long trip to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Fest. Wide-eyed and speechless, he couldn’t look more incongruous than when passing out flyers outside L’Occitane on the streets of mostly-white Edinburgh.
Unemployed with two young children, Jermaine “Flizzo” Clement uses performing to escape from his rough past and harsh present. As a mentor to neighborhood youth, he uses his talent to help shape a better future for the next generation. He has a mentor in Jay, who urges him to “keep doing your thing…and if you don’t make it here we’re gonna make it somewhere, together. This is the life. I deserve it, so do you.”
The film culminates in a frenetic sequence that cuts back and forth between Pinocchio and King of the Streets. It’s all energy and inspiration from there, neatly finished with a brief epilogue for each of the three principal characters.
Disclosure: 4dancers previously ran an ad for this DVD.
Basic Castanet and Movement Technique Volume 1
In this thirty-five minute instructional DVD, New York City-based teacher and choreographer JoDe Romano walks the beginning student through a series of six castanet exercises. She begins with simple instructions for putting on and adjusting the castanets, then moves on to finger exercises, and eventually incorporates arm, head, and leg movements. Each new element is added systematically, with emphasis on slow repetition and daily practice to develop strength and accuracy.
Romano’s verbal directions are clear and easy to follow, and each exercise is shown from the front and back. Her demonstrations cleanly show the technique for each combination, and she provides an inspiring example of the strength, passion, and power of Spanish dance.
This DVD is a useful tool for beginners of any age, or any dancer looking for a better understanding of the basics of Spanish castanet movement. Basic Castanet and Movement Technique is the first of a two-part series. Both DVDs can be purchased on Romano’s website, www.flamencoromano.com.
Yoshi Gurwell’s Gorgeous Moments lives up to its name. The California-based pianist plays with heart and personality on all 40 tracks for barre and center floor. Rags, waltzes, tangos, marches, and polkas come in all speeds, lengths, and flavors to suit intermediate, advanced, or professional dancers. The music is a joy to move to—expressive without being overly busy. All the compositions on the disc are original works by Yoshi Gurwell’s husband Doug, arranged and performed by Yoshi.
I’ve come across other ballet class CDs with this much content (Gorgeous Moments offers 19 tracks for barre and 21 for center), and often the selections are so similar they seem unnecessary. Here each piece feels specific and important, making this album both useful and inspiring. I highly recommend it to teachers of higher-level dancers.0
Unveiling Motion and Emotion
Photographs by Todd Carroll
A student from age five, choreographer from age 11, and teacher from age 15, Anabella Lenzu has a lifetime of experience, exploration, and contemplation to inform her first book, Unveiling Motion and Emotion. In fifteen essays on dance pedagogy, the role of artists in society, the dancemaking process, and her personal artistic development, Lenzu reveals an immense capacity for both action and feeling.
“Never in my life have I been able to imagine doing anything but sharing dance, teaching dance, and choreographing dance.”
“We cannot control the weather, the economy, politics, what people think, or how our partner feels! The only thing we can control is our body, our own microcosm, and our attitude toward life.”
Lenzu’s attitude ranges from humor to joy to nostalgia to frustration to gratitude, according to the subject matter of each piece of writing. She aggressively calls on teachers and dancers to fully investigate every aspect of our art form: its history, cultural influences and affects, and personal intricacies. Ignorance, lack of curiosity, and inaction seem to be the Holy Trinity of thorns in Lenzu’s side:
“…Good teachers are good teachers or they are s**t. There is no middle ground.”
“My goal is to try to decode and understand why people express themselves with this body language that is emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.”
Lenzu has taught ballet, Argentine tango, modern dance, barre a terre, and dance history and criticism at universities, dance studios, companies, and cultural centers in Argentina, Chile, Italy, and the US. In a strikingly candid reflective essay, “The Teacher Learns,” Lenzu names some of the fruits of her educational labors: how to tell the truth with tact, level egos, appease anger, calm panic, receive affection and criticism, give without expectation, build dreams, inspire, celebrate life. The list takes a full page and is by turns pragmatic and idealistic.
Lenzu currently directs her own company, Anabella Lenzu/DanceDrama. Of that role, she writes:
“Being a choreographer is a way of seeing life, an attitude, a way to both absorb and react to life. It’s a way to express our thoughts and inner world.”
“Nothing makes me feel more accepted and respected than sharing my work with others.”
She also founded, directed, and edited the cultural magazine Nexos, whose publication lasted from 1998-2001. In the essay “Words Impressed on Paper,” Lenzu states:
“For me, writing is not so much a pleasure as it is a civic responsibility, and as an educator, my perennial goal is to generate appreciation for and understanding of the arts and of artists.”
That sense of responsibility is at the center of this collection of essays. Where Lenzu’s tone is steely, she never rants. That would merely be unchecked emotion without subsequent action. Nor does she ever simply describe or prescribe methods of working; her writing is filled with questions and challenges to herself, to the dance world at large, and to audiences.
“To criticize isn’t simply to make negative remarks, it means questioning the system. …Without questioning, there is conformity, which brings mediocrity.”
“Dance is at a disadvantage to other art forms with respect to its methodological development…dance is like a folk tradition; it is transmitted orally. This is the reality, but we don’t have to accept it. …We as teachers must take responsibility for our actions; students cannot be blamed for our ignorance. Worse yet, if we do not take care, our ignorance will be passed on to younger generations. This is my call for an educational conscience.”
Action, investigation, contemplation, and further action: these are the responsibilities of all artists. Lenzu has chosen—or been chosen by—dance as her investigative framework because, as her opening essay is titled, “dance underlies all that I am.”
This boldly provocative collection of writing should be in every dancer’s personal library.
For more information about Anabella Lenzu/DanceDrama and Unveiling Motion and Emotion, visit http://www.anabellalenzu.com/book/.
JoDe Romano is a teacher and choreographer of Spanish dance currently working in New York City. Here she is joined by pianist Felix Ventouras for a selection of ten pieces by George Bizet, Isaac Albeniz, Manuel De Falla, and others.
Both Romano and Ventouras perform with great joy and brio, and a precision that sounds clean but never constrained. There’s a spirit of excitement from beginning to end that makes the CD a pleasure to listen to, even though there are works here from Spanish, Cuban, and French composers. Some of the music, like Albeniz’s sensual “Cordoba,” was originally written for piano, but most are opera dances: De Falla’s La Vida Breve, Bizet’s Carmen, and Geronimo Gimenez’s rhythmically playful El Baile de Luis Alonso. The latter is part of the opera sub-genre of Zarzuelas, traditional Spanish operas, several of which JoDe Romano has herself choreographed at Thalia Hispanic Theater in Queens.
Much of this music (like Emanuel Lecuona’s “Andalucia” and Pascual Marquina’s famous pasodoble) is instantly recognizable, and Romano and Ventouras overdo nothing. The piano and castanets are animated and expressive enough in the hands of these two skilled artists. Carmen has more mystery and allure in this arrangement than in many orchestrations I’ve heard. Joaquin Turina’s saucy Sacro-Monte is also a delight.
This is the only CD collaboration between Romano and Ventouras. It’s intended as dance accompaniment, but is worth listening to on its own.0