Author Archives: brangwendance

COFFEE-HUGGER 2: FRENCH PRESS, Tribute to Eric Rohmer


My concept behind the Coffee-Hugger series is to create short films based on the making of coffee. The idea is for the films to be amusing, personal and almost voyeuristic in nature, which is quite a departure from my usual work. “Coffee-Hugger 2: French Press” is the second in the series and the solo coffee maker is joined by another character, trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans. This short also tributes the films of Eric Rohmer, which are for me the essence of summer. If watching “Coffee-Hugger 2” inspires you to have a cup of coffee and watch a Rohmer film, then I have succeeded.

I am completely enamored of the films of Eric Rohmer and have been guilty of trying to disappear inside of them for years. No matter how many times I watch “Pauline at the Beach,” even though I realize that intellectually and artistically, the tale the filmmaker has told has come to its perfect ending, I am compelled to yell at the screen as Pauline closes the gate “No, don’t leave…why are you leaving?” and I turn to whomever I am watching it with and say “why are they leaving, I don’t understand why they are leaving?” Usually my viewing partner is Tm Hagans and luckily he loves Rohmer’s films and has patience with my asking him a question year after year for which there is no answer. So real is the film life for me that I can not bear for story to end, or really understand why anyone would leave life in that country house by the sea with its brimming hydrangeas, tranquil chair-creaking conversations about love, and bowels of coffee sipped in the garden.

When watching Rohmer’s “Le Rayon Vert,” I can not help but cry with Delphine when she encounters what she has been longing for throughout the entire film. The film takes its title from le rayon vert, which is a rare phenomenon in nature whereby the last ray of sunlight that the naked eye can perceive, the green ray, is visible briefly during the setting of the sun on a completely clear day. In the Jules Verne novel of the same name, the sighting of the green ray will result in the viewer knowing their true feelings and those of the people around them. This concept is discussed by characters in Rohmer’s film, overheard by Delphine, and incorporated beautifully into the narrative of the story. “Le Rayon Vert” is for me one of his greatest and truest films. I referenced it in an evening-length work I created in 2005 called Desesperadaos, a suite of tangos ranging from the gypsy to the avant-garde with music by Thomas Helton. The poetry in between the dances makes reference to the search for the green ray and the final movement was called “Tango Rayon Vert.” Rohmer’s spectacular film was subtitled “Summer” in English when released in North America, rather than “The Green Ray” which would be the literal translation of the French title. If you are looking to rent or purchase the film, it is listed under the title “Summer.”

For those readers who may be curious, and perhaps not familiar with Rohmer’s work, I have described some of the references below.

  1. The beautiful and plaintive melody played by trumpeter Tim Hagans is the song from “Pauline at the Beach” that all the main characters dance to at one time or another during the film. The music is uncredited in the film and I have never been able to find it anywhere else based on the album cover that appears briefly on camera…the title on the cover appears to correspond to a completely different piece of music. So it is quite a mysterious and magical fragment of music.
  1. The lovely hand written date cards, which Rohmer filmed and inserted to communicate the passage of time in many of his films, is tributed in the beginning of “Coffee-Hugger 2.” I chose August 5th because that is the day that Delphine meets someone very special in “Le Rayon Vert.” If you watch Rohmer’s date cards, there is a slight camera shake, which somehow adds to the sweetness of them, as if to let the viewer know that there is a living and breathing person that wants to tell them the story.
  1. Rohmer’s films are almost always filled with shots of people on vacation at the beach. If there isn’t the sea and sand and waves, it is almost not a Rohmer film. In addition to footage of people at the beach, “Coffee-Hugger 2” has some shots directly down into the water, tributing the beautiful shots in “La Collectionnuese” where the characters stare down at the seaweed and gentle waves as they ponder their relationships to each other.

There are also many tiny references, such as the hydrangeas which Pauline can not help cupping when she passes by, and the white bowls that hold the coffee. I welcome your communications on Eric Rohmer and his films. “Coffee-Hugger 2” is meant to inspire and share the discourse and love of the work of this amazing director.





….. a pulse, a heartbeat, something breathing, that is part of us and we of it.

On April 23 & 24 the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble will premiere GROOVE-FISH, a new work for dancers and two double bassists written by Grammy-nominated composer and bassist Rufus Reid. Mr. Reid will premiere the work with MBDE’s long time collaborator, composer and bassist Thomas Helton. GROOVE-FISH is the second movement in UNSANTO, a series of works that explore changes to the food we eat and how they affect us.

In ancient Norse and Celtic mythologies, the salmon is a mystical fish that possesses incredible wisdom. It is represented as an all-knowing creature that acts as a guide to understanding and truth. In our current world, with our modern ideologies and our pragmatic tendencies, it is still impressive to know that salmon have the ability to return hundreds of miles exactly to the place where they were born in order to spawn, and do so with incredible accuracy.

Often referred to as Frankensalmon, GMO salmon, recently approved by the FDA, is a fat, bloated, genetically modified fish engineered for greater yield and not to reproduce, although this fish still has the ability to do so. Scientists the world over agree that it is not possible to fully contain GMO salmon and prevent them from mating with real salmon, making possible in future the extinction of both salmon and trout. The GMO salmon itself has been tested with higher levels of allergens and hormones, so its safety for consumption has not yet been determined; the testing of GMO products is not done by the FDA but rather by the companies who manufacture them. Two million people complained to the FDA following its approval of GMO salmon. Food & Water Watch just announced that it is suing the FDA on the grounds that they don’t really have the legality to approve a genetically modified living creature.

As I mentioned in my previous essay on SKAMATO, my work on the subject of GMO’s deals with the emotional and human impact rather than the specifics of the science. I feel it is our birthright as humans not to have a part of our natural world destroyed for the sake of profit. When we compromise those elements of our existence, we also compromise our internal life. Imagine a world without trout. One of the most significant works of literature for me is the Hemingway short story “Big Two-Hearted River” where the main character recovers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome by going trout fishing. I don’t need to be a fisherman to benefit by knowing the trout are there, to know that once a human being saved himself by understanding he was part of this amazing world and that it still existed.

Strangely and perhaps interestingly, I identify with real salmon under threat. In my own fragile ecosystem of art and culture, I see our transformative powers as performing artists, and the ability to heal and sustain the human soul, sagging under the weight of commercialism and a kind of adulation of populism and corporate marketing culture. As if art would do well to borrow ideas from its often sociopathic corporate cousin and shift its focus to making money and sustaining itself in the market place at all costs. This negates the entire purpose of art, which is to challenge, to inspire, to incite, to reach us through deep channels of emotion and thought. Art makes people smart. It exists outside the world of commerce for a reason: it exists for the benefit of humanity, not to profit from it.

Dance is perhaps one of the most non-sustainable art forms because of the many hours needed to prepare it. It often has its best impact in intimate concert hall spaces where the audience can be close. It’s also a fragile and difficult habitat for its inhabitants to navigate, requiring many hours to maintain one’s instrument, and a strong mind and focus, yet a vulnerable and open heart.

Rufus Reid’s music for GROOVE-FISH is intricate and changing, with sections that propel the dance forward with buoyancy and accent, and sections of a slow tenderness, but always with an underlying and soulful pleading. The sound of the two basses playing arco together in the ending of each section is intensely moving, as if it is the sound of the natural world breathing slowly and continuously, reminding us it is here. It reaffirms for me that no matter what goes on around us, these strange waters are where we as artists were born to be, and here we will stay.

The idea behind GROOVE-FISH is that beneath the surface of any community, there could be a stunning life force and energy that can nurture people far beyond what we think of as its boundaries. For me the dancers and the two double bassists in GROOVE-FISH represent creatures of a world of poetry, a world deep within our consciousness. These creatures communicate, through movement and music, a groove, a pulse, a heartbeat, something breathing, that is part of us and we of it. Intangible and subtle, and yet an essential part of our human existence.

As Arthur Miller wrote in Time Bends: “We are all connected, even the trees.”

The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble performs with special guest Rufus Reid. Saturday April 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday April 24 at 3 p.m. MATCH, Matchbox 2, 3400 Main Street, Houston TX 77002. Click here for tickets and more info:

The program includes SKAMATO. Read More about Skamato here.

The performance also include the TRAIL OF FORBIDDEN WORDS, and new music from the


Performers for April 23 & 24 Performances:
RUFUS REID, THOMAS HELTON, double bass and Sousaphone
TIM HAGANS, trumpet
SETH PAYNTER, saxophone
JOE HERTENSTEIN, drums and percussion













Hey Michele, I Don’t Want To Hear About Monsters In My Fridge

SKAMATO2webSKAMATO is a new ska-influenced work with choreography by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans celebrating the non-GMO tomato. SKAMATO is the first movement of UNSANTO, a new work from the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble about changes to the food we eat. See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Performed by Roberta Cortes, Robin Gilbert, Brit Wallis & Michele Brangwen, dancers; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Seth Paynter, saxophone; Thomas Helton, Sousaphone & double bass, and Joe Hertenstein, drums.

I don’t think it’s strange or unwarranted when intelligent people, active and interested in life, respond to a comment from me about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) with a roll of their eyes, or just enough silence for the forthcoming non sequitur to not drop like a conversational stone. There is so much going on in the world that demands more than a fair share of our attention and worry: issues with violence, war, healthcare, education. Now we are expected to address demons in the simple and restorative act of buying groceries and stocking the kitchen.

When I say I’m doing a dance about GMO’s, it seems like an even more obtuse concept. The problem of the prevalence of GMO’s in our food supply is no doubt a scientific and global one, but I feel that at the same time, it’s an intensely personal and poetic affront to who we are as individuals and as a society. Therein lies the conundrum. It’s almost too difficult to contemplate the subject and its ramifications. When the food supply becomes corrupted it not only impacts our physical health, it also has the potential to interfere with our senses, emotions and memories.

If you aren’t sure what the problems are that are caused by GMO’s, let me try to briefly explain. A GMO has a twin monster sibling that goes everywhere it goes. It’s not just a question of GMO crops being cultivated to enable the use of stronger pesticides – like Monsanto’s widely used Roundup which has just been declared carcinogenic – the pesticides are also within the plant itself. Seeds laced with Neonicotinoid, which is a pesticide that permeates the plant as it grows are now commonly used in agriculture. This is what is killing the bees. It has been found in Gerber baby food and is suspected of causing a host of health issues in humans including Autism. Efforts to ban Neonicotinoid in the United States have failed.

Even GMO’s not sent to your supermarket for consumption cause disastrous results in our food supply. Most of corn raised in the US is GMO corn and it goes not to feed people, but acts as a government subsidized source of cattle feed and high fructose corn syrup. The price of corn is so devalued by the GMO seeds that farmers are forced to plant only those seeds and to accept a subsidy. Corn-fed cattle require being fed anti-biotics, which leads to complications when humans consume the meat, and we know what HFCS does to people’s metabolisms.

I have spent quite a bit of time as a choreographer trying to make work that journeys through difficult subject matter. I have set myself the task often of creating a narrative that can generate an emotional arc. When I think about food, I think about its ability to provide not only comfort and sustenance, but a connectedness to the world around us. When I am upset, I like to cook. The smell of vegetables and herbs simmering reminds me of everything good, and I am profoundly interested in how people feel about the food they eat. From childhood, we have memories of food: the tastes, the smells, the associations and the memories they trigger.

So I decided to approach the subject matter of a work about GMO’s from the perspective of joy and humor. When we stand against GMO’s we are defending something that is a powerful force of nature. After all, it may well be our vitality and own life force, our sheer elation at being in a world that has such magnificent things as tomatoes, that will enable us to stop the destruction of the food we eat. I approached SKAMATO with the idea that the hope for the future is in the joy to be found now.

See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Free. The program also includes a performance of RAIN GIRL with choreography & text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, and SURROUND SOUND, new music by Rufus Reid performed by Thomas Helton and James Ilgenfritz, double bass. Performance is followed by a reception in the lobby.

More info at

Mark Morris Dance Center
3 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217Directions to Mark Morris Dance Center

The Inspiration for NO STANDING ANY TIME


“No Standing Any Time” will receive its New York premiere on Friday May 1 at the ShapeShifter Lab. The work features choreography by Michele Brangwen and music by Grammy-nominated trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans, with a section of movement and music created spontaneously in the moment by all 6 performers. This concert is part of the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble’s Spring 2015 Season of Performances. “No Standing Any Time” will be performed by Roberta Cortes, Robin Gilbert, Michele Brangwen, Tim Hagans, Seth Paynter & James Ilgenfritz.

There are times when I either awaken in the middle of the night or happen to be up at those mysterious hours, that I hear a soft almost imperceptible sound, and in the instant of hearing that sound, everything that has come before or will come after is displaced by an overpowering feeling of well being.

What are these sounds? I hesitate to say because I think that the mechanism of this good feeling occurring may be universal, but the stimulus is different for different people. Ok, for the sake of trying to explain I will describe two of my sounds. One is the sound of snow falling, the almost inaudible ping of flakes colliding with streets and window ledges. Second is the sound of sprinklers that turn on automatically to produce a nocturnal gush of water, also almost inaudible as the sound of the water joins voices of night birds and crickets already filling the mid night hours. My favorite apartment of my life thus far was in a small complex in the southwest nestled in a bird sanctuary and its watering system turned on at 3 a.m. during the hot and dry summer days. It is these lovely small sounds, oblivious to the trials of us humans, or maybe fully aware and sending a message of profound encouragement.

These sounds are the inspiration for “No Standing Any Time.” The first section of this work is choreographed and through-composed, meaning that all six performers are performing the dance and music as created by Tim Hagans and myself. This for me represents the waking nocturnal world, where both inner peace and unrest can co-exist. I tried to represent this in creating the first part of the work.

This opening section is followed by 3 improvised dancer and musician duets. These duets represent dreams, or the dream world, with all its strangeness and mixed metaphors. In a sense the duets are anxiety dreams, born out of a disquiet that we need the night sounds to heal.

“No Standing Any Time” is also a work that has humor in it. The humor is subtle and almost hidden, but there is a certain lightness to the work…it’s just ridiculous and confusing dreams that may contain more good than our neurotic minds at first perceive. And people running around in the night, acting up in a way they might never do in the day.

Performing this work is exciting for me because after the choreographed dance and written music set the stage in the opening section, then the individual artistic voices of all six performers emerge and ultimately build to a resolve. The central section of this work is therefore dramatically different every time. The ending returns to written music and choreography, but fueled now by this strange night life that perhaps brings us all closer to who we really are than the daytime hours.

See this work in performance at the ShapeShifter Lab on May 1. More information and a link to tickets at

Please visit the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble’s Indiegogo Campaign to fund our Spring 2015 Season of Performances that will include this work:

On the Road With Rufus Reid

Composer and bassist Rufus Reid was just nominated for two Grammy awards for his new CD: Quiet Pride –The Elizabeth Catlett Project for Best Large Ensemble and Best Instrumental Composition. The works on the CD were all inspired by the sculptures of Elizabeth Catlett.

I have the honor of being part of Rufus Reid’s session on multidisciplinary collaboration at the Chamber Music American conference tomorrow in New York City. The session is at 9 a.m. I thought a recollection of an experience that I had when I first met Rufus might make a timely blog entry.

I first met Rufus Reid in the Fall of 2008. I was preparing for a commission I had received to create a work for MBDE to perform with a European jazz orchestra. I was scouting locations to film some of the dance and music we would be creating as part of the project. And then I had the fortune to be able to travel with the jazz orchestra as it went on a tour performing concerts of music by Rufus Reid. The first performance was in a new and spacious concert hall in a major city. Rufus Reid performed on his bass with the big band, which was conducted by Tim Hagans. Rufus also introduced the works on the program. The music was spectacular, lush, rich, varied and deep. The audience was packed and the reception was ecstatic. Rufus spoke to the large audience as if sharing with some one special a description that might enhance their enjoyment of what they were about to hear. He was joyous and genuine. The evening was both high energy and intimate at the same time.

A couple of days later, the tour led us to a stop in a small drab city that I am told is quite beautiful in the snow. When we arrived, however, it was just a chilling Fall day, with gray skies over a preponderance of what looked to me like Soviet architecture: box like buildings in dull colors in a colorless landscape. There was no one to greet the band and the lobby of the theatre was freezing. The concert had been purchased by a small arts presenter through a subsidy. There were no posters, no marketing that I could see, and when it came time for the performance, only a handfull of people in the audience. The concert hall looked almost empty.

Yes, I know what you must be thinking. I always love to tell the story of Martha Graham saying it only takes one person in the audience… if you have reached one person you have succeeded. All I could think on the occasion of this concert, however, was that this was Rufus Reid. This was incredible music played by an incredible orchestra. I was incensed as only a neurotic little Italian girl from Queens can be. Does this town not understand that these are musicians who have dedicated their lives to making art and to have this kind of turn out after hours on the bus was an insult. I wondered if Rufus would turn around and get back on the bus. I would be right behind him. The bleakness of the place was wearing. Then I thought, well, he will come out and just run through the show. Instead he came out and treated the audience just as he had done to a packed house in the enormous concert hall a few nights before. He spoke to them with respect and gratitude for their presence, and consideration for their enjoyment. There was no difference in how he talked to this tiny audience and the large audience that numbered close to a thousand at the other venue. Once again, he was joyous and intimate. My indignation fell away to enjoyment of another superb performance by him and the orchestra.

As Dewey Redman explained in an interview, when it comes down to it, we all have some ego that we think is perhaps commensurate with our ability. And just like Dewy Redman explained that experiencing John Coltrane’s lack of ego changed him, this experience with Rufus changed me. To be in a room with an amazing artist with such integrity was transcendent.

The tiny arts presenter served the most delicious coffee and cake I have ever had at intermission, made by members of the organization. Tim explained to me that it was a small mining town and that they had no budget for marketing. But those that came experienced something very special.

The tour continued for six more nights and I remember so well as the last concert started, I felt sad that this was the last time I would hear this band play this program. I savored every moment of it.

Interview With Yunuen Perez Vertti About IN THE HEART OF WOMEN


Photo by Arlene Bowman

On Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET, ARTCAST Season 2 premieres Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN, a new documentary short by filmmaker Yunuen Perez Vertti. Filmed in Vancouver, IN THE HEART OF THE WOMEN is about West Coast Women Artists, a collective of indigenous artists whose goal is to build on artistic skills, share knowledge, and preserve traditional teaching through art. Featuring Arlene Bowman, Haisla Collins, Doris Fox, Lori Fox, Rose-Marie Francis, Veronica Iza, Chrisse Oleman, Jacqueline Quewezance, Jacqueline West, and Georgina Wing-Klema.

I interviewed Yunuen Perez Vertti about her new documentary short, IN THE HEART OF WOMEN.

MB: I have known you and your work as a filmmaker for almost 15 years. What struck me about you when I first met you was your energy and enthusiasm for all art forms, not just film. Dance, music, poetry, visual art…they all seemed to resonate equally with you. I see that multifaceted side of you as strong as ever, which makes it always exciting for me when I have the opportunity to work with you. How did you approach your collaboration with the West Coast Women Artists Collective?

YPV: I do love all art forms, I think of art as a whole tree as opposed to lots of branches. I usually get my inspiration for documentaries from people’s stories and I seem to be attracted to people that make art. When I learned about the West Coast Women Artists Collective, I was curious about their contemporary approach to indigenous art, but when I met them, their personalities and stories where inspiring to me. Since I moved to Vancouver I’ve been trying to infiltrate myself on the arts circle, and learn about the art scene here. I didn’t have much knowledge about indigenous art and I thought it would be interesting to learn about it from the perspective of these women, and their stories where so powerful, it was hard for me not to create a documentary.

MB: The film is very positive and focuses on the nurturing environment that is created by these artists coming together to form a community. One gets a feeling that the film is of the present and the future, and not the past; this to me is one of the qualities that makes this film so strong. Even the quote you begin with speaks to moving forward. There are, however, some serious issues alluded to by some of the women in their interviews. Were there stories you chose not to include in this short, and if so, why?

YPV: Yes, when I started shooting the documentary my focus was on the art and the forming of a collective by these women. However, as the shooting when on, a lot of personal stories came afloat, and it was obvious to me that these women had difficult but important stories to tell. When I started post production it was difficult for me to pick and choose the stories I was going to include. I decided to stay with my original plan, and focus on their art and their coming together. I didn’t want to show incomplete stories; they were very interesting stories, but I felt I had to do more research to present the full story. Like any other indigenous group in the world, in Canada the story is not different, there is a long history behind a lot of the indigenous people’s issues, and unfortunately a lot of pain.

MB: Do you have plans to expand this short in the future into a full-length documentary?

YPV: I would love to make it a full length documentary, of course time and funding will play a role on making that decision. As of now, I’m planning on shooting at least until they have their first exhibition in February.

MB: Some of the artists were very open and articulate, and some were more reticent. One of the most poignant statements for me came from a woman who did not speak very much on camera, but when she did it was so eloquent. How did you go about getting the artists to speak to you, especially the ones who might have been shy to speak on camera.

YPV: Actually, I was surprised on how quickly they opened up to me. But yes, some of them were more open than others. From our first meeting I understood that there would be some difficulties in getting them to talk to me on camera, so I worked hard to make them feel comfortable talking to me before I put them in front of the camera. Anytime you are doing interviews, you try to make your subjects comfortable. I understood that most of the women from the collective had never had the experience of been interviewed. For some of them, it was an exciting moment, and for some of them, it was clearly a nerve racking moment. I tried to understand their personalities and honor their requests as much as possible to make it easy for them to feel relaxed.

MB: Do you think an understanding of the social context of women from a different culture is essential to our progression as a society in general?

YPV: Definitely, we live in a global world, and now more than ever things that happen in other countries or societies should matter to us, because they affect us directly or indirectly. I believe progress for any society has a direct relationship to women’s progress and development. Frankly, I wish we didn’t have to talk about women’s progress and development anymore, but the reality is that there still a lot of work to be done, around the world, in regards to women.

MB: Do you think it’s difficult for artists in all cultures equally, or do you think some cultures make it more of a taboo? Do you think it is different also for different genders?

YPV: I think being an artist is difficult no matter what culture you are part of, however, I also think that some issues can be directly related to individual cultures. I think this documentary touches on some specific issues related to indigenous people in Canada. Some of those issues may not translate to other cultures. As far as the gender issue, I think unfortunately in the arts, gender is an issue as well. These women, the West Coast Women Artists are one of the first indigenous women collectives in Canada. And even my industry of film is lacking gender diversity, so yes, it is a very different experience for men in the arts, and women in the arts, irrespective of cultures.

MB: I found Veronica Iza’s song to be very moving, and compelling behind the images of the artists’ work. How did you discover the song?

YPV: Veronica shared it with me, when I mentioned I was looking for music to use in the film. As soon as I heard the song, I knew I had to use it.

MB: Can you tell me about the exhibition that they will be having in February?

YPV: The exhibition will be at the Roundhouse exhibit hall in Yaletown, Vancouver, from February 2 to 11, with a reception on February 7. Most of the women from the collective are producing original work, and the diversity of the group will be reflected through the different art forms. I think, for what I know about them now, the process of putting this exhibition together, independently of how successful it is, in terms of attendance and selling of their art, it’s going to be a huge learning experience for them. It will definitely help them to understand a lot more about themselves and the collective as an entity. I’m curious and excited to shoot that process.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN will premiere on Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET on Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on or

Women In Jazz, Dewey Redman & Sitatunga Dreams


ARTCAST SEASON 2, Episode 7: SITATUNGA. A new work from composer Mark Masters that tributes the wild and innovative spirit of legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman. Performed by the Mark Masters Jazz Ensemble featuring Kirsten Edkins, saxophone.

Mark Masters is a Los Angeles-based composer and conductor. He is the artistic director of the American Jazz Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the enrichment and appreciation of jazz music. The organization presents concerts, makes recordings, offers workshops and scholarships to students, and also houses an archive of sheet music and recordings. They have collaborated with musicians such as Dewey Redman, Steve Kuhn, Lee Konitz and Andrew Cyrille.

Sitatunga is a composition by Mark Masters inspired by the innovative and exceptional spirit of saxophonist Dewey Redman. Mark worked with Dewey Redman on a series of concerts that featured Redman’s music arranged by Mark for large ensemble. He also heard him teach many master classes and workshops under the auspices of the American Jazz Institute. I first heard Sitatunga on a Mark Masters Ensemble CD, Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (Carpri 2008), that was recorded just after Dewey Redman passed away. Redman was scheduled to do this project and Oliver Lake stepped in to play saxophone on the recording. It was a recording of the large ensemble arrangements of Redman’s music that they had previously toured, with the addition of this one new composition by Mark Masters that tributed his much admired musical colleague.

When a musician plays, they either communicate through their instrument or they don’t. Age, color, and gender are all factors that have no bearing on the artistic statement. It so happens, however, that women in jazz are still a minority. When one experiences a saxophonist who plays like Kirsten Edkins, it’s exciting. It’s exciting because even though times are changing, a woman playing the saxophone is still not a common image on the bandstand. When a player as accomplished as Kirsten bites into a solo, the energy would be thrilling if she were any gender.

I first heard Dewey Redman, not performing, but speaking in an interview on NPR. He was telling a story about meeting John Coltrane for the first time. He explained that he had been working professionally and had a reputation as a musician. He said he had what he felt was an appropriate amount of ego. I appreciated very much what he meant by this. As an artist, it’s good to have humility, but one also has to guard against too much. You may have to really fight to make your creative statement. When Redman went to meet John Coltrane in his hotel room, he was so amazed by Coltrane’s complete lack of ego. He said that it forever changed him. For me, listening to Dewey Redman speak, I wanted to know his art. It started with the person and getting a feeling for how special, how open, how honest he was in his demeanor. I know that Mark Masters felt the same way about Dewey Redman.

A Sitatunga is a type of animal. It is a marsh buck…strong, elusive, unusual. Mark Masters had a dream after Dewey Redman passed that Dewey had turned into this magnificent animal and was running through the plains. We should all be so lucky to have such dreams. Maybe a few listens to Sitatunga will conjure them next time we sleep.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 7: Sitatunga will premiere on Sunday December 21 at 8 p.m. ET on Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on or

Choices Informed By Everything Up To That Moment


QUANTUM BASS, PART 2 is the second of two ARTCAST episodes created from performances by the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble at the Quantum Bass Center in Houston. The Quantum Bass Center is a place where acoustic basses are sold and repaired, and master classes are offered. You can read more about the Quantum Bass Center and our choice of this unique and intimate space as a performance venue in a previous blog post: Still Dancers Displaying Their Exquisite Shapes

All the dance and music in this episode are created spontaneously in the moment by the performers. The contexts for each improvisation were provided by different members of the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, and they range from the very simple idea of an open duet melding two voices of the performers’ choice, to a dynamic cross-fade of movement and music in Lindsey McGill’s Squeaky Dream.

In my work, I create and rehearse choreography. I find a myriad of benefits in the dance that is carefully created over time – following one’s vision for the work –and rehearsed. I also, however, work with improvisation in performance, which is a complete relinquishing of the aforementioned process. The first is crafted in advance and tightly controlled and the latter is a releasing of control. I am perhaps unusual in that I embrace both ways of working equally. I often meld the two by creating hybrid works that have set choreography and also a section of improvisation. I also try to have the company perform at least one show a year that is completely improvised. This requires a unique kind of preparation.

The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble holds two kinds of rehearsals with our dancers and musicians: ones dedicated to working on choreographed material set to written or improvised music; and ones which we refer to as “improv” rehearsals. People often ask me, “how can you rehearse improvisation?” In other words, if it truly is created spontaneously in performance and different every time, how can you rehearse that? In an “improv” rehearsal, we are not creating or rehearsing movement and music that will be performed at a later time, we are actually practicing performing in the moment. We are also honing the tools a performer would use in improvisation; the dancers work on truly listening and the musicians work on truly watching, and we all work on being able to communicate with each other. The choices in improvisation are individual, but the result is good when it brings forth to the audience a collective statement.

For me, improvisation is the most exciting when it is just that…in other words if we use it in performance, it should be new and different every time. The idea is not to create something spontaneously in rehearsal and then reproduce it again later. The idea is to create it fresh and in the moment, working off your ideas and each other. It’s the not knowing that pushes one to a heightened connection to the performance moment. We become very connected to each other, the audience, and the space. As Tim Hagans so often says when teaching workshops on improvisation, the choices are informed by everything else he has experienced in his life up to that moment.

Quantum Bass, Part Two, begins with a duet performed by myself and Tim Hagans. This is followed by Squeaky Dream, which is based on a concept by Lindsey McGill, who was featured in Quantum Bass, Part 1. Squeaky Dream flows seamlessly into a duet for Roberta Cortes and Seth Paynter.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 6: Quantum Bass, Part 2 will premiere on Sunday December 14 at 8 p.m. ET on Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on or


Film At The Top, part 3 of Peter Josyph’s serial film, No Standing In St. Petersburg, presents us with some extremely complex issues dealing with the ramifications of being an artist, and in particular the difficulties that women artists experience.

This serial film began in ARTCAST Season 1 with part 1, St. Petersburg, a film within a film. Now in part 3, the actress Elena, who played the young woman in part 1, is being interviewed about her work on this independent film and her experiences with the director, played by Kevin Larkin. The journalist, played by Jon Baer, is also going to photograph her for his article.

Actresses who play leading characters in films are often stunningly beautiful. Producers and directors are looking for incredible faces that the camera will love. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Penelope Cruz, for example, her beautiful face, her tall graceful figure, her voice. And yet Penelope Cruz is also an accomplished actress. The muse of Pedro Almodovar, she wanted to be in his films because of their incredible impact as artistic statements. So is the actress an artist first and then a beautiful woman. Or is the beauty more the focus and the craft and the essence of the woman secondary.

In Film At The Top we have an actress who is serious about acting, serious about theatre. She also displays a wisdom about the potential fleeting status of the actress as the director’s muse. She understands it can be partly based on a fantasy, on an idealized vision of what she represents, and since fantasies are hard to sustain over time, she is realistic about this. Again throughout her interview, she returns us to her main focus: the work, the art, the craft of what she is doing.

In this film we see the 3 male characters represented exhibit a different degree of perhaps — and I say perhaps because as in life, nothing is completely clear – marginalizing her identity as an artist. The journalist recognizes her talent, but that is conflated with his attraction to her. The director is discussed as an eccentric who is also taken with her, but its unclear the degree to which this is personal or professional, or if his unusual behavior stems from his own journey as an artist and his own questions of self-worth. Her boyfriend is quite clearly the most extreme in his perception of her role as an artist. Her exchange with him near the end is for me the most poignant and emotional part of the film as it cuts right to the core of how people’s perceptions can compromise one’s self-worth.

At the very end, we see and hear from the mysterious director Peter, who is really only alluded thus far. This sequence is cut between and over the outgoing credits. It is also another emotional peak in the film for me. I watch Film At The Top with a feminist take, being a woman and an artist myself. I feel for Elena trying to hold onto her center as she deals with how these three men perceive her. But then I ponder at the end that one person’s seemingly objectification could also indeed be their salvation. Like Cassavetes explained so aptly, why should film be clear when life isn’t.

Watch ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 5: FIM AT THE TOP on Sunday December 7 at 8 p.m. ET on

Epsiodes are available for view after broadcast on or

Hemingway & Rain Girl


The premiere of RAIN GIRL, with choreography and text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, was presented at the Village Zendo in New York City by the FONT Festival and Village Zendo Arts. RAIN GIRL was filmed for ARTCAST Season 2 in the Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center and on location in New York.

RAIN GIRL is inspired by Hemingway’s short story Big Two-Hearted River. This story, first published in 1925, seems on the surface to be about a young man who goes fishing alone. It’s very subtly written, but we come to understand that the character is recovering from something traumatic. He is trying to heal himself. We are never told from what, but we can surmise he was in World War I, based on when the story was written. Its abstractness, however, could place it in any time and could conjure almost any situation from which one would need to recover.

When I reread the story recently, the last line made me cry. I think because it gave a poetry and a dignity to the universal need we all have to rejuvenate.

RAIN GIRL was also designed as a feature for dancer Robin Gilbert. Robin loves the rain and so the rain in RAIN GIRL is intended as a positive image and sound. The dance and music, like the Hemingway story, recount a journey back to feeling whole that has already begun.

For me personally, in the both Hemingway’s story and in the dance work, the river is the symbol for the life force. The river is always there, running through you, but sometimes you can’t feel it. What reading Hemingway has so often done for me, throughout my life, is reconnected me with the sheer force and beauty of being alive. I step into something so stunningly powerful and good.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 4: RAIN GIRL will premiere on Sunday November 30 at 8 p.m. ET on You can watch ARTCAST episodes anytime after broadcast on, or on