Thursday, January 7, 2016
Cindy Michelle Heen, a dancer I've sketched before, was kind enough to invite me to a rehearsal of Dawn Branch Work's production of Eden. The show is a soulful reflection on the challenging journey toward self-actualization and spiritual connection in this story of Eve as she leaves the Garden of Eden and attempts to assimilate with the world outside. With a cast of performers aged 8 to adult, Eden features both professional and emerging artists. Branch says, “The idea of creating a work to give honor to the Lord is exciting. It’s clean, wholesome and necessary for outreach. If we can introduce God to one viewer, then I’m pleased. It’s evangelism through the Arts.”
Cindy and Celinah Umaray who performs as Eve talked to me briefly before warming up. Celinah who came from NYC, was incredible slender. She looked like she couldn't be older than 16 but she is actual 19. She is the only dancer, I've ever met who wants people to know she is older than she looks. When Eve exits Eden she is confronted with the challenges of modern life. In that way the dances theme unites the old traditions story with a modern aesthetic. Although the show has a religious theme, it is also secular, offering inspiring dance that is universally understandable. The other dance I sketched was Eva who worked so hard she flushed red. Dawn stood at the front of the dance studio watching ever line the dancers created.
Cindy confided in me that once I saw Celinah dance, I would see why she was cast as Eve. Indeed, as she stretched at the barre, I was amazed by her flexibility and the fluid lines she produced with every movement. She would arch her back, and lift a leg straight up over her head while entwining arm for support. I tried to sketch the stretch several times, but it was such an extreme pose, that it didn't look humanly possible in a sketch. She never danced full out but even her warm up routine was incredibly graceful and fluid. Her grey hoodie and ponytail overlapped and added a flourish to every move. In the corner of the dance studio, dancers listened to the music for the show and I assume watched video tapes from a prior rehearsal. As the choreography is nailed down, it becomes important to see how every dancer helps to fill the canvas of the stage.
Branch explained, "I love the idea of having an empty canvas of space and utilizing the dancers to fill it up with color and shapes and theme. The dancers are so open to trying different styles." Branch goes on to explain that her choreographic style is a fusion of ballet and modern dance along with elements of hip hop. "It's a beautiful and creatively challenging combination of movement that demands enormous technical strength; dancers execute rapid and innovative choreographic transitions that appear as effortless as breathing," says Branch.I love that her description of empty space sounds just like my process as I find a way to fill a page when I sketch.
Mark your calendar! Eden will be on Sunday, March 6, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM at Orlando Repertory Theater (1001 East Princeton Street Orlando, FL). Tickets are $22.09–$32.64.