Dance: An Open Mic Night for Dancers

By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie, artburstmiami.com

Open Mic Nights are staples in many cities, whether focusing on song or on comedy. But whoever said that the concept of revealing one’s work before a live audience was only limited to the spoken word?

Last year, the Miami-based modern dance company that choreographers/teachers/dancers Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini founded in 2000, Dance NOW! Miami, and the Little Haiti Cultural Center, which serves as its residence, unleashed the concept of the Miami Open Stage.

Think of it as an Open Mic Night but for dancers.

And on Saturday, Dec. 15, you’re going to get another chance at seeing new works and works-in-progress from local choreographers in a theater environment as Miami Open Stage — Works and Process, a Knight Arts finalist, returns.

“We put out the call to artists, and the first six choreographers that answered got the slots. It is a non-adjudicated event, and that’s why it’s really like an Open Mic,” says Dance NOW’s Baumgarten. “We offer the choreographers two main things: the opportunity to see their work on stage, and to be able to say that their work was presented in this event.”

But there’s even more than that. “I think what it really does is open up the mind to dance for a lot of people, showing them different styles and different genres of dance,” says Anita Darbonne, director of the Little Haiti Cultural Center (LHCC).

For Darbonne, the different styles, genres, and backgrounds of the participating artists constitute a highly rewarding experience. Not only for the choreographers to share their work and the dancers to exhibit their talent, but for the public as well.

“For an audience to come in and really be able to absorb everything that is amazing about culture in itself, that is just wonderful,” says Darbonne, who has forged a close relationship with Dance NOW! Miami. “They were actually the first company that approached me three years ago when I started programming the facility,” remembers Darbonne. “They came in and were able to start some classes and teach kids ballet and modern dance in the community.”

The success of Dance NOW! at the LHCC prompted other companies and artists to move there as well. Not only does the center continue its mission of providing a space that presents, promotes, and supports Afro-Caribbean culture in South Florida, but it has expanded to embrace diverse artistic expressions from different backgrounds, turning the facility into a real arts and culture hub.

“Just remembering from where we were three years ago, it has totally changed,” says Darbonne with excitement. “People are coming from all over and the programs have grown, and with events such as Miami Open Stage and Big Night in Little Haiti, we are getting tourists here now.”

Scheduled to participate in this upcoming Miami Open Stage – Works and Process will be Brigette Cormier, Quilvio Rodríguez, Constance McIntyre, Crystal Lewis, Prince Emmanuel Abiodun Aderle, and Allisen Learnard. Dance NOW! will also be presenting work, and there will be discussions between artists and the audience led by Celeste Fraser Delgado, arts critic, associate professor of English and Humanities at Barry University, and artburstmiami contributor. This conversation, this exchange of ideas, is crucial to the evening in that it gives people a chance to talk about what dance is. Or is not. “This is contemporary dance, and that scares a lot of people,” says Baumgarten, a Juilliard School of Music graduate who met her collaborative partner Salterini at the South Florida dance collective PAN years ago.

“For the audience to have an opportunity to say what they’ve always wanted to say: ‘What the hell does that mean? Why do you have to twitch like that!’ ”adds Baumgarten. “Modern dance has a bad rap. Many people feel it’s only for the initiated. And sometimes, some contemporary art is only for the initiated. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to understand it.”

Miami Open Stage – Works in Progress, Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m., at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59 Terr., Miami. Free parking. Tickets: $10 at the door, or online at www.dancenowmiami.org; 305-975-8489.

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