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Bob Holman — godfather of the slam poetry movement — has dedicated his life to bringing spoken verse into new and unexpected realms. He founded the first record label for spoken-word poetry, Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, and has continually found ways to present poetry on television, first through WNYC-TV’s Emmy Award-winning short film series “Poetry Spots,” and later via the five-part PBS television series “The United States of Poetry.”. Holman’s reverence for the power of words also led him to co-found the Endangered Language Alliance, which is how he crossed paths with visionary San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King. Motivated by the impending disappearance of half of humanity’s languages by the end of this century, King and Holman have collaborated on LINES Ballet’s evening-length ballet “Figures of Speech,” which makes its world premiere May 4-14 in the company’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (LINES Ballet’s Spring Gala is presented May 6.).
Holman has spent much of the past decade documenting poetry recited by native speakers of endangered languages, and many of his recordings are woven through Alexander MacSween’s score and Philip Perkins’ audio design for “Figures of Speech.” Though no stranger to multimedia productions, Holman had never worked in a ballet setting before, “a different kettle of fish,” he says, “I thought I’d seen everything, but the way Alonzo uses the recordings as a major part of the score what are latin dance shoes is amazing, He’s not choreographing to the stories, It’s about language, and letting the body speak, communicating abstract, grand ideas through sheer physicality, It’s a really unusual approach — the idea of using the loss of languages, the basis for these different cultures, as the subject for a dance.”..
Choreographer King has long sought out extraordinary sonic artists as creative partners, from tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and tenor sax titan Pharoah Sanders to powerhouse vocalist Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton, who shared the stage in LINES’ spectacular 2016 ballet “The Propelled Heart.”. In many ways, King planted conceptual seeds for “Figures of Speech” a decade ago with his groundbreaking work “People of the Forest,” a collaboration with the music and dance ensemble Nzamba Lela, from the Central African Republic’s deeply endangered rainforest dwellers, the Mbuti people (commonly known as pygmies).
For King, there’s no essential difference between poetry recitation and music, or between creating sound and creating dance, since both involve “rhythm and shape and form, tonality and dynamics and color and construction,” says the choreographer, “Everything that human beings do, when taken to its highest level, becomes a kind of poetry,” King continues, “When I’m choreographing, it’s communication, a language of ideas, a balancing act between the mind and the heart, There’s not a difference, Music is what are latin dance shoes a language, and in dance what’s happening is a conversation.”..
The conversation that takes place in “Figures of Speech” hits close to home. Though the endangered languages include far-flung tongues such as Ladino, Basque and Ainu (from Japan), there’s also Nisenan, a dormant indigenous language of central California, and coastal Ohlone, which is (optimistically) described as “reawakening.”. Holman’s work has long focused on returning poetry to its oral roots. The founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, he got interested in endangered languages while researching the West African roots of hip-hop. In working with King to identify languages that would work for choreography, he thought about the history of California. (“There was no way we couldn’t pay tribute to languages of the San Francisco area,” Holman says.).
But in some cases, languages that seemed ripe with potential didn’t click for King, Holman thought for sure that Sami verse from Scandinavia would work, with its chanted poems that incorporate sounds evoking animal cries, But King passed on those poems and ended up using verse in the Hawaiian dialect of Ni’ihau, which Holman felt carried cultural associations too indelible for King’s ballet, He quickly discovered he was mistaken, Holman says, “The chants are so identifiable, but he’s used Hawaiian to what are latin dance shoes extraordinary effect in the ballet — almost a phoenixlike arising of the dancers after a volcano. There’s nothing hula-esque, no cultural reference, It’s about what language does in itself and how crucial it is for identity, It’s so intellectually stimulating, and the sheer beauty of the construct was not what I was anticipated at all.”..
King’s gift as a choreographer is to hear the essence of the sound and feel the soul of the signifier behind the meaning of the signified. Dig deep enough, and King’s creative impulse often seems to flow from his earliest musical epiphany, when Gregorian chants swept over him while he served as an altar boy in late-1950s Columbus, Ohio. “When I’m hearing these languages, it’s like a prayer,” King says. “When you hear the voice, it’s not only the language, it’s the speaker. The sincerity is unmistakable. When you hear wisdom from the heart, that’s a tone. I’m drawn to those, because I’m hearing music.”.
— LINESBallet (@LinesBallet) April 25, 2017, ALONZO KING LINES BALLET, Presenting world premiere of “Figures of Speech”, When: May 4-14, Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., San Francisco, Tickets: $35-$85; 415-978-2787, www.linesballet.org, OTHER PERFORMANCES, May offers a verdant array of area dance productions, Here are five what are latin dance shoes I recommend, RIOULT Dance NY, “Bach Dances”: Cal Performances brings Pascal Rioult to Berkeley with a program set to the glorious and meticulous music of Bach. 2 p.m, May 6 and 7 p.m, May 7, Zellerbach Playhouse, UC Berkeley, $78; 510-642-9988, www.calperformances.org..