This week, ArtsWave is delighted to introduce Guest Blogger Jennifer “JaiAllDay” Washington. Founder of Cincinnati’s Conscience, JaiAllDay is an entrepreneur, journalist, and champion for Greater Cincinnati. We love how she shines a spotlight on everyday citizens in our community and works to create partnerships between the business, education, and non-profit sectors. Many of us were inspired by the way the World Choir Games brought people together. Here’s Jai’s poetic take on the Games!
There is no better time to be a citizen of Cincinnati…
As a ‘Nati Native’ and longtime resident, I have noticed an undeniable energy in the air that neighbors are willing to share with anyone who cares. With the recent restoration of the city’s core, there is a hope and happy that hasn’t been a part of the scene (many of you know what I mean) for some time. It is a true testimony to this city’s tenacity as well as a well-thought-out strategy resulting in true community; a feather in the cap of those working hard to reestablish our city on the map. By creating and implementing ‘obtainable objectives’, we have provided ourselves (and our city) the opportunity to be the change we want to see while sharing that vision with everybody. There was no better example of this than at this year’s 2012 World Choir Games.
The World Choir Games is the choral equivalent of the gathering of the United Nations. With much anticipation, organizers worked diligently to create an atmosphere that was not only inviting but exciting. The streets were cleaned, fresh paint placed throughout, but true expectations could only be talked about. The city enlisted the help of many local organizations interested in sharing our newly adopted declaration: “We are a city of the future; filled with diversity and sustainability; a place that is not afraid to accept true accountability. Responsible for the success or failure of this recent renaissance, we are willing to work hard together; no matter what the cost.”
As the time drew near, one thing was clear; many were willing to answer the call; the city rallied together; united, no one dropped the ball. Well-established organizations partnered with newly-founded entities to create art-initiated factions that were true reflection of our community. Conversations ignited feelings of true global connection and the results helped to contribute to my hometown’s resurrection. I met people from South Africa, China, New Zealand, and many more; the stories shared made me want to travel; maybe even explore. I witnessed a change in the city’s overall attitude; I equate it to witnessing a hungry child finally receiving their food.
One thing I found particularly interesting is how much I learned about cities closer to home; one particular encounter put me in a positively powerful zone. I had the pleasure of interviewing a choral group that originated from Erie, PA; I was not only impressed by their talent but with their quiet humility. For me the message was clear and one I will hold dear; I am grateful they were able to talk with me while they visited here. I would like to thank the city, the World Choir Games, as well as all attendees; based on feedback from many; my community couldn’t be more pleased. I look forward to similar opportunities and know that the future is bright; thank you to the citizens of Cincinnati; understand you are the underlying light.
Big hugs and Nati love! -Jai All Day
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My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus is busy.
Depending on which day of the week it is, Director Steve Roenker is at one of six schools and recreation centers across the region – from Blue Ash to Covington – teaching kids to ride unicycles, juggle, walk on stilts, and roll around in a German wheel. On Saturday mornings, students from all of those schools who are working on advanced skills get together for four hours of intense practice. Serving more than 300 youth every year, My Nose Turns Red offers kids the chance to do something really different, while learning skills that they can use almost anywhere.
Summer circus programs are offered for children as young as four, and some kids perform with My Nose Turns Red for many years. As they gain confidence with the different circus skills, they can choose to become apprentice coaches and learn the skills to coach younger students and plan performance routines. Coaching gives the teens an opportunity to learn leadership skills, be a positive role model, and even earn a little money.
Anna Kaiser, age 17, and Jackson Savage, age 16, currently serve as Assistant Coaches. They both agree that it is tough work: “The most difficult thing about being a coach is managing a room full of kids who sometimes just want to play,” says Anna. She thinks that the leadership experience will eventually help her to lead co-workers. Jackson agrees, “Just knowing how to handle kids, not even in large groups, is an enormously useful skill in itself. And you never know, perhaps someday I really will have half my bicycle stolen (as so many people have joked) and I will not be left helpless, thanks to My Nose Turns Red teaching me how to ride a unicycle.”
Jackson’s mother, Mary Pat Buck, sees her son learning other valuable lessons, too. “ He’s learning the value of "try, try again". Learning is a process. The achievement of a goal, whether it is a new circus trick or something more academic, doesn't magically appear. It is earned.” Cate O’Hara, Anna’s mother, notes, “I originally signed my kids up for circus just because it is fun. However, along with the fun comes teamwork, leadership, balance (literal and figurative), strength, humor, creativity, and resiliency.”
Jean St. John, the company's Managing Director, notes that the younger kids are eager to follow in their footsteps. In a recent rehearsal when Steve asked who wanted to learn to be assistant coaches, kids piped up immediately with “I want to be Anna!” and “I want to be Jackson!”
Anna and Jackson have both enjoyed learning a new set of skills on the German wheel and the opportunity to learn from circus professionals from all over the world. Steve connected with a renowned German wheel teacher living in Chicago, Wolfgang Bientzle, and that relationship helped My Nose Turns Red bring instructors from Japan and Israel to Cincinnati to work with advanced students. Jackson says, “Meeting a performer, learning from them, and getting to know them is infinitely better than simply watching them do seemingly impossible tricks.”
Connecting young people to new friends from other schools and experts from around the world, My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus provides a unique service to the Cincinnati region. Catch their 2012 Youth Circus Extravaganza on April 28th and 29th at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater.
Great cities offer a wide variety of art – from modern dance to classical theater, opera to puppetry. The more arts experiences available in a region, the more people participate, and the greater the benefits for everyone who lives there. Generating all of that art requires lots of resources. A thriving arts scene needs artists – especially artists who are committed to living in the communities where they work.
For eighteen years, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has built the region’s artistic community by producing Shakespeare and the classics with a resident ensemble of actors. Recruited from all across the country, the professional actors who join the ensemble sign on for an entire season of work, performing in five to ten shows in a single year. Audiences get to know the performers and enjoy seeing them play a wide variety of roles – the actor playing the romantic lead in Romeo & Juliet may be the funny butler in next month’s The Importance of Being Earnest, or the mysterious villain in Dangerous Liaisons. Actors often stay for two to four years with the company and some have been with the organization for over a decade. Working together for long periods, the actors develop a greater camaraderie, understanding of each other’s strengths, and level of trust - like a great baseball team.
When not onstage at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, resident ensemble members are often seen on other local stages including Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Know Theatre of Cincinnati, and the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, among others. Producing Artistic Director Brian Phillips coordinates with these theatres to share everything from scene shop equipment to lighting designers. “The collaborative spirit of the Cincinnati theatre community allows audiences to see a wide variety of plays, playwrights, musicals, and experimental performances,” says Brian, “By working together and sharing resources, we produce more theatre more efficiently, so that more people can enjoy it.”
“Ensemble Theatre is proud that Brian Phillips came to Cincinnati to be an intern with our company and he has stayed to help sustain and grow the Shakespeare Company,” says D. Lynn Meyers, Producing Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. “ETC was founded on the principle of giving local professionals a wonderful place to live and work and Brian has embraced that with his hiring of a resident company.”
The growing pool of professional actors in the community benefits other arts organizations as well. Over the past ten years, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company actors have performed with Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company actors also serve as teaching artists in schools throughout the region, record commercials and voice-overs for local businesses, and create podcasts, blogs, and viral videos enjoyed by people all over the country. By providing a home base for these artists, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company provides a critical fuel for the region’s creative engine – skilled artists with a passion for their community.
CSC Artistic Associate Jeremy Dubin has been performing with the company for over twelve years, but he still gets the same question: Why are you here? Why don’t you live in New York or L.A.?
Jeremy responds, “New York and L.A. both have actors in abundance. The result is that actors there (with the exception of a very small percentage) become anonymous cogs in a vast machine that views them as expendable. Here in Cincinnati, I have a voice and a role to play within the arts community and the community at large. I have been able to develop personal relationships and an ongoing artistic conversation with our patrons. I am able to feel that what I do is a benefit to the community, and the community, in turn, has provided me with an opportunity to keep doing what I love.”
Art brings people together to share experiences and ideas. Collaborations between different kinds of artists can create truly memorable moments of connection for audiences and artists alike. One such opportunity has been traveling the country and is making a stop in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Soundsuit performers and crowd at Cincinnati Art Museum
Described by Fast Company as "one part Abominable Snowman and one part Mardi-Gras Indian", Chicago-born artist Nick Cave fuses fashion, sculpture, and body art in his amazing Soundsuits. These monumental mixed-media semi-human forms are named for the sounds they make when worn. Committed to sustainability, Cave constructs many of the suits from cast-off materials including hot pads, buttons, and scavenged old toys. Other suits are built using human hair and dyed in fantastic neon colors.
Nick Cave sees each Soundsuit as two separate works of art—a static sculpture when displayed in a gallery, and a kinetic one when worn on the human body. For the exhibit at Cincinnati Art Museum, Nick Cave: Meet Me At the Center of the Earth, over 40 Soundsuits are on display. 13 of the Soundsuits are available for performers to utilize to choreograph unique dances.
Emily Holtrop, Cincinnati Art Museum’s Director of Learning and Interpretation, knew immediately who she wanted to choreograph a dance for Cincinnati. She called Heather Britt, Regional Director for Rhythm & Motion at Cincinnati Ballet and lecturer in Theatre and Dance at NKU. An independent choreographer, Heather has created dances for a variety of local and national groups including Cincinnati Ballet, Uptown Arts, NKU, and the ArtsWave Splash Dance from 2010.
Heather says she took one look at the suits and thought “Wow. Those suits are amazing. I’m in.” She set about recruiting dancers from among her NKU students and fellow Rhythm & Motion teachers. It was a quick process—the Soundsuits arrived about a week before the first performance. Heather had a very short time to choreograph a dance with the Soundsuits.
In watching YouTube videos of other works that had been created for the Soundsuits, she noticed that most dances treated each person as an individual in the choreography. “The dancers didn’t touch or see each other. I wondered what would happen if these unidentifiable people met each other on the dance floor, and so I tried to create opportunities for the dancers to interact.”
They started with one whole day of “playtime”, allowing the dancers and Heather to discover what each person could do in their Soundsuit by moving at different speeds, jumping in the air, even rolling across the floor. That night Heather went home and created the dance. After a weekend of rehearsals, it was time for the Soundsuit Invasion at Cincinnati Art Museum. “I felt like no one could help having a blast whil exploring,the suits are so joyful in nature” says Heather. “We felt like kids!”
Cincinnati Art Museum Director of Marketing and Communications Regina Russo remarked that the late-January event brought together people of all ages and backgrounds, including many who had never attended an opening event at the museum before. Heather says her NKU students benefited from the experience. It made a strong impression on the Rhythm & Motion staff, and encouraged them to take time to return and explore the rest of the Art Museum on their own.
Heather Britt and Soundsuit performers
Emily Holtrop comments that one of the most fascinating things about the suits is the way they erase identity. “We had dancers of all ages and body types, some with classical ballet training to those with more hip hop-- But once you put a suit on, you change shape. Unless you knew which suit someone was wearing, you couldn’t recognize them.”
Heather notes that the Rhythm & Motion dance class is a great equalizer in the same way—“The class includes people of all ages. When you’re in your workout clothes, you don’t know if the person next to you is a doctor or a waitress. And no one cares. It becomes irrelevant.”
Nick Cave created his Soundsuits to bring people together, to encourage community and therefore understanding and change. By connecting his art, local dance students, and the broader community, Cincinnati Art Museum is inspiring people to see each other in a new way.
You can see the Soundsuits Invasion dance live at the Cincinnati Art Museum at Art After Dark on March 30th at 7 PM; on April 17th at Family First Saturday at 2:30 PM; and on Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati on April 20th at Noon.
This year, Cincinnati Ballet debuts Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker, a fresh interpretation of the beloved holiday classic featuring new sets, costumes, designs, and new choreography by Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan. Hundreds of artists, staff members, volunteers, and donors have worked together to make this new ballet for the entire community.
Missie Santomo, Cincinnati Ballet’s Managing Director, is particularly grateful for partnerships with other local arts groups -- Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s costume department built costumes throughout the summer, and Madcap Puppet Theatre created a new Nutcracker head, Mouse King, and Dragon. Collaborative relationships like this between organizations are just one of the reasons our region enjoys a thriving arts scene.
At the heart of The New Nutcracker are the dancers. In addition to the Cincinnati Ballet’s professional company, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker features young aspiring dancers from Cincinnati Ballet Otto M. Budig Academy, the CincyDance! program, and other dance schools throughout the region. The more than 500 dancers currently enrolled at the Academy represent over 50 communities in 16 counties. Now in its fifteenth year, CincyDance! enables underserved and at-risk students to receive in-school, long-term dance instruction from dedicated, professionally-trained Cincinnati Ballet faculty. In 2011-2012, CincyDance! will reach at least 1,000 economically-disadvantaged students at nineteen schools. For some especially gifted students, it even opens a door to become accomplished ballet dancers. The New Nutcracker cast includes 12 CincyDance! students. What happens when dancers from all over the region come together to become toy soldiers, mice, gingerbread children, and more? According to their parents, lots of new friendships blossom during Nutcracker rehearsals—both between their children and the parents themselves.
Angela Roush, mother of 10 year-old dancer Emma, writes that her daughter has made many friends in the cast. “None of these children live around us but we do things outside of ballet with our children. We have gone to see a couple of ballets together, invited each other over for playdates, birthday parties, etc. I am also close to several of these girls’ parents. We talk on the phone and e-mail often, as well as do dinner together. It is very nice to have close friends around while you are at the Cincinnati Ballet-- especially during Nutcracker season when you are down at the studios quite often for extended periods of time.”
Parent Julie Denlinger agrees. “It’s fun to compare stories about driving, recitals, and how much the kids love dancing. It really makes it easier to see I am not the only parent with a crazy schedule!” Many parents discover joy in becoming even more involved. Ingrid Fridenmaker writes, “Through the connections and friendships I've made, I have become part of a team of parent coordinators. Our role is to act as "go-between" for the Company and the parents of the children in the cast. My husband has actually been able to be on stage during many Nutcracker performances as a "Guard Dad" and this year's New Nutcracker, as a "Ginger Dad."
When asked, their children all agree that they’ve made friends through dancing and being in The New Nutcracker that they would not have met otherwise, and that these friendships are important to them. Megan Fridenmaker, age 14, writes “These friendships mean the world to me… My friends and I are constantly e-mailing each other, talking about anything from dance to school to TV shows. The thing I like best about being in the Nutcracker would either be being on stage or being with my friends. The feeling of being on stage, in front of hundreds of people, is the most amazing feeling you will ever experience. However, being with my friends is always so much fun. I wouldn't trade either experience for anything in the world.” A holiday tradition that connects people from across the region and builds friendships and memories that last a lifetime, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker is Cincinnati Ballet’s gift to the whole community.
Nutcracker rehearsal photos provided by Cincinnati Ballet.