Things to do in Miami: The “Modern Masters” of Dimensions Dance Theater
Miami’s Dimensions Dance Theater knows how to put the audience in a friendly zone. Often sunny and sonorous, the troupe’s repertoire is full of games that draw us in with big, fast moves, upbeat music, and eye-catching designs that promote a good feeling.
Naturally, there will be no shortage of those bright high marks when the company returns to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Saturday, July 16 and Sunday, July 17, with its “Modern Masters” program, which features new and newly adapted works from in-house artists, including the beatific “Adiemus” by choreographer-in-residence Yanis Pikeiris and his longtime associate David Palmer. Yet, for an intriguing balance, it is the intimate voice of French-Canadian choreographer Helen Simoneau that will lead to a more nuanced and circumscribed territory.
In “Smallest Orbits,” her first stage work for DDTM, Simoneau references the setbacks of lockdown and progress toward reconnecting amid the pandemic. The springboard was a brief dance that the oft-commissioned choreographer — who also directs Helen Simoneau Danse — virtually put on members of Philadelphia’s Ballet X housed in their respective pods. So while our COVID battles will long continue to reverberate in the arts, “Smallest Orbits” arrives like a dispatch from the trenches.
“I focused on the isolation and how our worlds had shrunk,” says Simoneau, pointing out how lives that would have crossed paths became parallel. “Just saying hello, checking in with people, felt so valuable.”
But limitations turned into lessons. “We realized how much joy begins in these smaller orbits of our lives”, underlines the choreographer.
In fact, the shift from remote coping mechanisms to in-person contact determined how Simoneau’s premiere came to fruition at Dimensions. Among five regional dance creators chosen by Atlanta’s South Arts for Momentum, a project to facilitate touring opportunities and networking, Simoneau and DDTM Co-Artistic Director Jennifer Kronenberg met at a cohort meeting in the fall of 2019. Relationship between the then North Carolina-based choreographer – a Guggenheim Fellow and American Dance Festival favorite – and the up-and-coming group from Miami augured an easy cooperation during the three-year initiative .
Then the virus hit. “It was as if the rug had been ripped out from under us,” Kronenberg recalls. Supporting organization and Momentum participants raced to jump over the hurdles of a new reality.
“We started talking about redefining the tour, how to continue the mission of engaging with new communities,” Kronenberg explains. “With such different mandates in each state, we still had to find ways to help each other. At least we have a lifeline in funding to keep dancing during the pandemic.
Moving forward, Kronenberg’s husband and company co-director Carlos Guerra helped Simoneau put together one of his duets on Dimensions using Zoom, confirming their partnership was perfect. Earlier this year, the choreographer was finally able to visit DDTM studios to set up the opening section of “Smaller Orbits” for an ongoing exhibition last March.
“Helen came in like a breath of fresh air, with a calm mindset and an inclusive approach,” says Melissa Verdecia, who dances in “Smallest Orbits” with her husband Lyvan, Chloe Freytag and Daniel White. “She created a magical union in the way we circle around each other in dance – like each unique planet, but sharing a common human strength.”
As another choreographer on the program, Lyvan Verdecia also recreates his percussion duet “Sobre un Hilo” (“On a wire”), which denotes the tightrope of uncertainty he walked on after leaving the Ballet Nacional of Cuba during a Canadian tour in 2014. seek asylum in the United States. He feels that acting now in Simoneau’s work has amplified his knowledge of the creative process of dance.
“At first she drew figures on paper, color-coding each dancer, so we could better see the patterns of movement,” he says, impressed by her methods of exploration and openness to collaboration. . “His different way of doing things helped us think better and understand better.”
The Verdecias agree that Simoneau’s modern dance sensibility applied to ballet technique calls for a flexible yet transformative stance. And the guest choreographer acknowledges that there are challenges in her style, where the moves — say, a turn sur pointe propelling a ballerina downward — bloom with hybrid vigour.
But Simoneau found his DDTM cast “engaged and present, their sociability very productive. Whether for modern dance or ballet, it’s always when the dancers show me their own curiosity, their desires, that I realize what they have best.
This helped her develop the original concept of “Smallest Orbits” into a deeper exploration of the role that the individual plays in a group, a constant concern in her work. Perhaps growing up in a small town and having a large family in Quebec alerted her from an early age to the complexities of interpersonal dynamics.
“As I have followed my path in life,” admits this artist, “I think a lot about belonging – coming into the community.” This is no abstraction for someone who, venturing out of a rural setting, immersed himself in his art form at seventeen by enrolling in the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, its first academic framework in English.
As her choreography for “Smallest Orbits” grew, Simoneau relied on contemporary American composer Michael Wall, whose career has been closely tied to dance accompaniment, to add more of her music to the score. From this longtime collaborator, the piano bars – with the insistence of various thoughts – provide both an overall atmosphere and a searing impetus underfoot.
For company dancer and emerging choreographer Yanis Eric Pikieris (whose father Yaniks choreographed “Adiemus”), watching Simoneau’s work has been eye-opening. “I am amazed at how quickly she is able to put things together. She knows what she wants, but when adjustments are needed, she’s also great at solving problems.
Partly to celebrate DDTM’s spirit of expansion, with its embrace of choreographers such as Simoneau, young Pikieris is bringing his own premiere to the upcoming lineup. “No.5” is his fifth work for the company and is meant to be a bow to his artistic home on the occasion of his fifth anniversary season. From stunning ensembles to spirited duets, his passion for Bach exults using movements from the ‘Keyboard Concertos’ and selections from Peter Gregson’s inventive recompositions of the ‘Cello Suites’.
“I hope this program shows how far we’ve come,” says Pikieris. “We approach very different pieces. But in each of them, each dancer has risen to the occasion.
– Guillermo Perez, ArtburstMiami.com
Dimensions Dance Theater Miami: “Modern Master”. 8 p.m. Saturday, July 16 and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 17 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211st St., Cutler Bay; 786-573-5300; dimensionsdancemia.com. Tickets cost between $25 and $45.