Tag Archives: Brit Wallis



….. 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:https://matchouston.org/events/rufus-reid-premieres-groove-fish

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 www.brangwendance.org

Mark Morris Dance Center
3 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217Directions to Mark Morris Dance Center http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/dance-center/visiting-the-dance-center