Tag Archives: Jane Weiner

Your Body: Salt

Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance in Salt. Photo by Simon Gentry

Update:  Jane Weiner’s Salt cracks me up every time, then hits me hard on the head with its message, which has really nothing to do with salt, that mysterious substance that keeps us alive while trying to kill us.  At one point, it was a currency. To dive deep into salt’s lore read Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A  World History.  Remember to get your yearly check up, because they don’t call high blood pressure the silent killer for nothing.  Keep up with Weiner and Hope Stone dance as well.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

In her pithy story dance Salt, choreographer Jane Weiner spins a funny tale of a bewitched village that falls under an evil spell when all the salt disappears and suddenly the villagers start dropping like flies. Weiner’s dance draws a parallel between all the unsuspected things that sustain us like dance, art…. and salt. I found out the hard way when a series of fainting spells sent me to my own version of Dr. House. “Do you ever use the salt shaker?” asked my internist. As someone with low blood pressure, to stay conscious I needed to stop my avoidence of salt. And trade water in for a sports drink whenever I felt dizzy.

Dancers rarely worry about getting enough salt. Trained to avoid bloating and apt to skip high-calorie salt-saturated processed foods, most dancers view salt as an enemy. What few realize is how essential a role salt—and salt intake or loss—plays in basic body functions, like muscle contractions. Dietitian Marie Elena Scioscia, who works with dance students at The Ailey School, notes that some dancers’ extremities get cold easily. While there can be many causes, sometimes low blood pressure can be the culprit, since dancers tend to be very fit, lean and eat healthil. These dancers will be able to tolerate, and may even need, a little more salt in their diet.

When we sweat—and dancers are prone to sweating as an occupational hazard—we loose precious sodium. Sodium gets a bad rap, mainly because the over-consumption of salt has been linked to some 74.5 million people who suffer from high blood pressure. But omitting salt altogether creates equally serious problems. Salt regulates our body’s fluid balance. The body needs salt to maintain blood pressure. Without enough salt, we become dehydrated and easily lose focus. Since dancers lead active lives where they frequently sweat during the day, just how much salt does a dancer need to stay healthy and moving?

Since 600 BC, salt has been used to preserve food, making just about everything taste better. “You never want to totally eliminate sodium,” says Scioscia. “Salt helps the body move nutrients in and out of the blood vessels and regulates your electrolyte balance.” It’s that balance—or the loss of it—that can lay a dancer low. Electrolytes—sodium, potassium, and magnesium ions among others—help cells in your body maintain their voltage and carry electrical messages to the rest of the body. “Electrolytes regulate nerve and muscle function, blood PH, blood pressure, and the rebuilding of damaged tissues,” says Scioscia. “Since body fluids like sweat contain a high concentration of sodium chloride, a sudden fluid loss through sweat can throw a dancer’s electrolytes, and so their body, out of balance.”

Some dancers are prone to this kind of problem. BalletMet’s Jackson Sarver has often triumphed as the lead in Dracula, David Nixon’s physically grueling ballet. A heavy sweater, Sarver finds he needs an extra sodium and potassium boost via an athletic drink like Gatorade to keep himself properly hydrated during the ballet. “There’s a joke in the company that if you dance with me you, will end up with more of my sweat than your own,” he quips.

Plain water does not—in fact, cannot—sustain Sarver’s electrolyte balance. He learned the dangers of fluid loss, particularly the muscle fatigue that can come from electrolyte imbalance, as a high school cross country and track and field athlete. Sarver’s coaches and dance teachers explained that water further diluted sodium levels, leading to a compromised performance. Athletic drinks like Gatorade and its rivals blend water, sugar, salt, potassium and other essential elements lost through sweating.

Dancers can avoid processed foods and still get enough sodium and other minerals to modulate their blood pressure. There’s sodium in just about everything, including yogurt and broccoli. Even an apple contains 1mg of sodium. Most Americans consume about 6,000 milligrams of salt daily, about twice as much as they need. “If you keep to about 3,000 milligrams daily, you will be doing fantastic,” says Scioscia “Most dancers can replace the salt they lose through sweat with a daily diet of fruits, vegetables and lean protein, all of which contain trace amounts of sodium.”

Although high blood pressure may be a rare finding in dancers, it’s important to remember it can be hereditary and unrelated to weight. Get your blood pressure taken at your annual checkup, particularly if you come from a family with high blood pressure history. Dancers, though fit, still need to be concerned with salt over-consumption. “Too much sodium in your daily diet also causes the body to excrete calcium,” says Scioscia. “That affects bone health. I am most concerned about young dancers’ bones.” This is one reason that Scioscia does not recommend salt tablets. “

For Sarver, his body chemistry links directly to his dancing. Understanding it, and accommodating to it, has made him a stronger performer. “I’m fascinated by how the body works, it’s an incredible machine,” he says. “I can tell a big difference in my body when my electrolyte balance is in order.”

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Power to the People

The cast of Theatre Under The Stars' VOTE! A New Musical playing at the Hobby Center September 16-17, 2011. Photo by: Claire McAdams Photography

Update:  Houston is still voting crazed. Take Vote!, a new Theatre Under the Stars musical, penned by two Rice Alum and staring local performers goes down this weekend.  Jane Weiner of Hope Stone has her own voting frenzy going on with a Pepsi Refresh Project for her kid’s program . She wants your vote.

The story did arouse some wise feedback from Catastrophic Theatre artistic director Jason Nodler, who had some good points.  Do we really want the audience  driving programming? There are better ways to get them engaged.  I tried to concentrate on people using a voting process in more innovative ways,  yet Nodler’s worries are founded. We could easily go a little American Idol crazy.  Next up at Catastrophic is Mickle Maher’s There is a Happiness that Morning is, running Sept. 23-Oct. 23 at Catastrophic’s offices on 1540 Sul Ross.

Oh, and guess who got elected at BalletMet? Houston Ballet chief Stanton Welch was selected through the BalleMet onDemand program. His piece Return, set to music by Benedetto Marcello opens on Sept. 23.

Jane Comfort and Company in Beauty; photo Christopher Duggan

Reprinted from Culturemap.

“The people have the power,” screamed Patti Smith in her now iconic song from Dream of Life. It’s official. Art lovers don’t want to just plop in row “J” like a lump anymore. Selecting our seats, where to eat and whether or not to valet park just doesn’t cut it these days. The era of the passive viewer is winding down. First, the audience wanted a party, now they want some authority.

To be specific, they want a vote.

Simon Cowell may have come and gone (to The X Factor), but theAmerican Idol template is everywhere, from Houston Grand Opera’sConcert of Arias to Opera Vista’s Competition/Festival. Most ballet competitions have audience choice awards, which dancers cherish. It means something to have the audience speak up. The performing arts have gone contest happy. All good for the most part and way better than draining your brain on shame-based reality TV shows.The performing arts have gone contest happy. All good for the most part and way better than draining your brain on shame-based reality TV shows.

Let’s look at some innovations that go beyond the Idol format. Apparently, it’s not just the vote that matters but contact with the people you are voting for, as in the artists.

There are tons of fundraisers that get folks engaged through a voting process. Gift of Gift of (GOGO) is the love child of a contest and crowd fundingThe idea is for new collectors to have a chance to support emerging photographers while sipping a martini. Yes, there’s a party. Always a party. Write that part down. It’s a crucial step in leaving lumpland. The ticket price of the party gives you three votes.

GOGO held an open call for entries for photographers to submit work. The vote and party night goes down on August 20 at Spacetaker. The artists come to chat up their work and vie for your votes. The cash haul from the party tickets helps the group purchase the top-voted photographs, which are then gifted to a museum, in this case it’s theMuseum of Fine Arts, Houston. GOGO plans to expand to other museums across the country.

Earlier this spring, the team from Black Hole, Poison Girl and Antidotethrew a $20-a-head SuperNova party where they listened to impassioned pitches from four Montrose non-profits: Tara Kelly from the Mandell Park Association on an idea for a video podcast tour of the park, Lindsay Burleson from BooTown Theater on a bloody puppet show on ice, Maureen McNamara from the Wilson Montessori PTO on a natural play space for Spark Park and Ryan Perry on a mobile astronomy lab.

Even the losers are winners in that they have potentially reached a few new folks. The Spark Park won the pool of $640 but runner-up Emily Hynds of Bootown reports, “It was a blast.” Partygoers feasted on soup, beer and bread.

“Ideally, I’d like to see these happen at other places in other areas of the city. I’d love for it to be known as something we do in Houston, that neighborhoods get together and make these kinds of decisions together,” says Scott Repass, an owner of Black Hole. “It could have a real impact on how we feel about our city and our neighborhoods.”

I like the mix of arts, science and community projects.

News_Nancy_Voting_Filter

David Rafaël Botana, left, and James McGinn in Jonah Bokaer's "Filter. Photo by Anna Lee Campbell "

It’s not always about getting money, sometimes it’s an aesthetic choice. If you liked the lighting in Jonah Bokaer’s newest work, Filter, you can thank the audience, they voted for it in a smartphone app called Mass Mobile. When Bokaer arrived at Ferst Center at Geogia Tech he knew he wanted to develop some form of audience interaction. When Stephen Garrett, a graduate student at Georgia Tech Music Technology Program came forward with his idea of creating a special app, Bokaer was thrilled.

Known for his meticulous dances, Bokaer was fully ready to let go of the lighting. Audiences chose between four options and the timing of each choice. Bokaer was amazed at how well it all worked out. Several trial runs and the fact that he worked closely with his lighting designer, Aaron Copp, helped with that outcome.  University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts has plans to help Bokaer develop his next big project this spring.

During Psophonia Dance Company’s spring show, “Rip in the Atmosphere,” co-founder Sonia Noriega had the audience watch three versions of the same solo, each set to different music. During intermission, the audience voted on which music worked best. During the second half of the show, dancers repeated the piece as a trio with the winning piece of music. “Voting gave me the opportunity to interact with the audience,” says Noriega, who spent the intermission urging people to cast their vote. “People really got into it.”

BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, goes a step further in letting audiences curate the bill that opens the September season through a voting process in BalletMet onDemand. I voted for Dominic Walsh and Houston Ballet chief Stanton Welch, who has a long relationship with the innovative Ohio troupe. Mildred’s Umbrella also lets the audience sit in the curator’s seat this season with their Fresh Ink Reading Series, where the audience votes for which play to produce next season.

Choreographer Jane Comfort takes the voting concept to the deepest place, letting selected audience members judge a Barbie beauty contest smack in the middle of her new work, Beauty, performed by Jane Comfort and Company at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week. The judged get to play judge in Comfort’s biting examination of the impossible standards of beauty set by mainstream media. I voted for Barbie #4 and she won. I felt, well, powerful.

I can’t wait to see what artists want me to vote on next. While the wisdom of the crowd is still being negotiated, I firmly believe that the future of art is in direct and lively communication. If it comes with some soup and beer, even better. Tired of just sitting there, we want to be a part of the action.

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A Day of Dance: 24 at Jacob’s Pillow

Jodi Melnick and David Neumann in July; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

If a tree could take a bow,  it would most likely happen at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  Perhaps it did.  Read on.

My summer travels began and ended at Jacob’s Pillow, the best place I know to dance binge while enjoying the great outdoors. The day began with the natural high I get from seeing Pillow dance banners lining Route 20. This thrills me every time. Why don’t we do this more?

Trisha Brown Dance Company in Set and Reset; photo Julieta Cervantes

Trisha Brown Dance Company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a program spanning several decades, from the freshly minted les Yeux et l’ame to the 1973 witty classic Spanish Dance. It was Brown’s 1993 Set and Reset, with sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson, that reminded me how deeply Brown’s vocabulary is engrained in my postmodern generation. Forming and un-forming, taking shape and letting it dissipate, sculpting space with a profound nuance, these are the characteristics of Brown’s wonderfully idiosyncratic style, all of which were in full evidence in this set of works. Yet, embedded in this sea of flow is a compelling palette of exquisite detail. It’s truly extraordinary that such richly textured movement can have such a fleeting feel.  Shape sans permanence, that’s Brown’s gift to us.

Jodi Melnick in Fanfare; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

What a set of dreamy movers in the pairing of David Neumann and Jodi Melnick , who teamed up at the suggestion of Pillow artistic and executive director Ella Baff.  (Neumann was last seen in Houston dancing the bittersweet A Day of It , his collaboration with Jane Weiner.)  I could watch these two move all day long, they’re that interesting.  Neumann possesses a slippery quality, looking as if a prat fall might occur at any minute, while Melnick’s calculated delicacy evokes a quiet authority.  Her breathtakingly subtle Fanfare combined an intricate gestural language with Burt Barr’s visuals of an electric metal fan.

David Neumann in Tough the Tough (redux); photo Cherylynn Tsushima

Neumann plays mankind, or “Steve,” with a droll wit in Tough the Tough (Redux), which featured an oddly upbeat existentialist text by Will Eno. The magnificent bowing tree comes in during Melnick and Neumann’s gorgeous duet July, where their understated grace seemed to stand in perfect balance to the nobility of the pine tree on full splendid view through the open back doors of the Doris Duke Theater.  In an “only at the Pillow” move,  Melnick and Neumann motioned to the tree at the end.

Maura Keefe, Lisa Neidermeyer, Debra Levine, Jennifer Edwards, Nancy Wozny; Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima

In between performances,  I hopped on a Pillow Talk  “Dancing Online” panel moderated by Scholar Maura Keefe,  sharing the stage with Virtual Pillow project manager Lisa Niedermeyer, and Huffington Post writers Debra Levine and Jennifer Edwards . The consensus is that people are watching and reading dance online, but we need more evidence of it to make a stronger case that we have a solid audience.  So hit those share buttons people, but don’t forget to actually read the piece first. Be less passive, and comment, should you feel the need. Writers alone can’t up the value of web based dance writing,  or dance writing in general.  We need engaged readers, and lots of them.

zoe | juniper in A Crack in Everything; photo Christopher Duggan

Catching up on most of what I missed in the archives took up the in between hours. I caught Jonah BokaerZoe|Juniper, and Big Dance Theater, all of whom have Houston connections in the upcoming season. Zoe | Juniper will be at DiverseWorks on Jan. 19-21, Bokaer will be an artist-in-residence at University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and Big Dance Theater’s Paul Lazar directs Suzanne Bocanegra in When a Priest Marries a Witch on Nov. 1, also at the Mitchell Center.

Artist faculty of The School at Jacob's Pillow created work on the dancers, who then performed for the public duringthe free Inside/Out series every Saturday throughout the Festival.

No Pillow experience is complete without a visit to the Inside/Out stage. Nestled between a cherubic four-year old and my brother, each of us enthralled by the mountain view setting and earnest performances from the Jazz /Musical Theater students from all over the globe, it occurred to me that dance is something you can learn to love at any age. What better place to do it than the Pillow?

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

Trisha Brown Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow

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