Thursday, June 12, 2014

Art Evolution

Emotions Dance Company will perform the World Premiere of Art Evolution, a collaborative arts experience on Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14, 2014, at 8 p.m. at The John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center’s Mandell Theatre (812 E. Rollins St. Orlando).

Art Evolution is inspired by the famous works of well-known artists. Audiences will experience live contemporary dance by Emotions Dance Company, including a piece created by special guest choreographer, Genevieve Bernard of Voci, visual art by Orlando’s celebrated sketch artist, Thomas Thorspecken, and spoken word poetry by Jesse Bradley.

 For this show I did a painting for each dance piece which placed the dancers inside classic paintings. The first dance was inspired by Andy Warhol's "Marilyn". Jesse's poem pointed out how Marilyn was consumed by the American public just like Andy's other subjects like Campbell soup cans. The three dancers wore neon bright outfits with tutu skirts. Tiffany Searle poured on the extra sass that really sold the high energy flirtatious flavor of the dance. There was a minor wardrobe malfunction, but it actually added to the flavor of the dance.

The next dance called "The Understudies" was inspired by Edgar Degas' "L'Etoile". Larissa Humiston the choreographer, and Emotions Dance founder explained, "It is about the girls in the wings that never get to perform." Sketching dance rehearsals has always been one of my favorite subjects. I've noticed that as a senior company dancer performs, there is often another dancer in the wings mimicking the dance moves with minimal gestures. I now realize that she must be the understudy.

The next dance is inspired by Edvard Munch's "The Scream".
Larissa explained that, " I am coming at it as though it is an impending war. The mother can see the tanks moving in, and is trying to protect her daughter." It was inspiring for me as a visual artist to get the inner thoughts about the choreography even as the dance was being created. Taylor Shepherd performed as the mother and Isabelle Lepp, the youngest member of the company performed as the daughter. This is the most dramatic piece in the show and it paired together two dancers whose every gesture and expression can be clearly read.

"New Soul"choreographed by Megen Gerth,  was inspired by Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." This was a graceful, lyrical dance that celebrates beauty and grace. 

"Tag" was choreographed by Genevieve Bernard of Voci Dance. Genevieve explained her thoughts, "So, I went with Keith Haring, who for me, was a big inspiration when I was young. I was a fan kid and met him in NYC at a Swatch signing when I was in 9th grade. Anyway, I was going between using a specific piece as inspiration or him, and I kind of did both. At times the dancers in the piece represent him, all of the running and cross overs across the stage are my homages to the subway drawings he would do on black paper. When advertisements where expired in the subway, they covered them with black paper. He would draw with white chalk on them. The dancers running and drawing and running again represents him, having to draw and get his message out and often having to do it quickly so as to not get caught. I also have the dancers "drawing" on the walls, the floor, he also seemed to have the need to just draw and do it ...wherever, I interspersed moments of "stop and draw" with the dancing and running. Some of the actual movements the dancers do trace the shape of a heart.." When I was going to the School of Visual Arts in NYC, I used to see Keith Haring's chalk drawings in the subway stations. I therefor drew the 23rd Street subway station that I passed through every day I went to art school. In the dance, Taylor Shepherd began drawing of the wall, floor and then in the air itself. It was a magnificent and graceful gesture that showed no limits when the artist is fully involved, lost in the moment and riding the creative flow.

"Behind the Smile" was choreographed by Larissa Humiston and performed by Taylor Shepherd.  This piece was inspired by Leonardo DaVinci's "Mona Lisa". Larissa explained, "There is something in that smile, yearning, sadness, jealousy, sass, sexuality? I am coming at it with that angle for that solo." The dancer, Taylor Shepherd commands attention. When she gracefully leaves the stoic Mona Lisa pose, her every gesture felt confident and appealing. She radiated that smile that hinted at playfulness and inner emotions that can only be expressed through dance. For this series of sketches, I studied rehearsal videos to catch the subtle graceful poses in mid action. Taylor always offered clear lines of action that were a pleasure to draw. Studying the video reference, I began to animate several of her moves just for the fun of studying and understanding her movement.

"Sibling Rivalry" was inspired by Grant Wood's "American Gothic". Larissa Humiston choreographed the dance which was performed by Megan Girth and Isabella Lepp. Isabella, an apprentice at Emotions Dance, has just been accepted by the Alvin Alley Summer Dance program in NYC. This playful dance number was a favorite of the ten year old girl who was at the dress rehearsal. The two dancers playfully nudged and pushed each other as they broke free of the stoic Gothic pose. They kept trying to upstage each other to win the audiences attention.

"Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali was the inspiration for Larissa's "Time Lapse". She explained, "This one is about life, the slow and mundane existence, moving as though suspended in time, the everyday rigamarole, and then of course, the sped up and frantic life. Each one affects the others for a minute, but then they ultimately return to their regular timing." Taylor moved in graceful slow motion for most of the performance. I wondered how she could remain so focused, so balanced for the entire duration. The strength needed must be staggering. Any yoga master would approve. Hannah Rusk moved as the accelerated counter point and thus I drew her movement more often. Karen James took the middle road perhaps representing a look at bland normalcy. 

Michelangelo's "David" was the inspiration for "Strength and Beauty" performed by Megan Girth. Larissa explained, "This solo is about strength and beauty, power, yet not in a bad way. Regal in a way I guess. David is really about beauty, strength, and pride. Just looking at the human body and marveling in its winders. The slow and controlled movement shows these concepts.the David solo just just about strength and beauty, power yet not in a bad way. regal in a way I guess." Megan moved with slow deliberation often reminding me of a proud Greek athlete. She moved like she was at the very first Olympics, proud and sure of her victory. I've actually sculpted David using digital tools and visited him in Florence, so it was a pleasure to revisit the pose.

The final piece is one of my favorites, and it is the first painting I executed after Larissa explained the project to me. The dance is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night." This is a full company dance in which half the dancers wore black sequins representing the night sky and the other dancers wore white sequins representing the stars. Each needs the other to complete the whole. They flow together in torrents and streams embracing one another. The lyrics from a contemporary pop tune keep reminding me of this dance, "The stars make love to the universe..." A majestic lift near the end of the dance reminded me of the crescent moon and Taylor reaching up towards the night sky reminded me of the flowing curves of Van Gogh's cypress trees.

Mark your calendar! Don't miss this show. The first performance is tomorrow, Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14, 2014, at 8 p.m. at The Lowndes Shakespeare Center’s Mandell Theatre (812 E. Rollins St. Orlando). Tickets are $20 at the door. All of my original paintings will be on display and there are $2  gift cards that feature the dancers in action. Stop in and say hello.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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