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Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble's 'Asa Nisi Masa' Premieres Tonight


The film will stream again followed by a q&a on YouTube on September 26.

Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble's 'Asa Nisi Masa' Premieres Tonight

"Asa Nisi Masa" is a new dance and music film from the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble that takes its title from the childhood incantation spoken in Federico Fellini's film "8 1/2." The phrase Asa Nisi Masa conjures a beautiful memory for the main character in the film of a time filled with compassion and love.

"Asa Nisi Masa," with choreography, editing and costumes by Michele Brangwen and music composed by Danielle Reich, Thomas Helton and Tim Hagans, also features movement and music created spontaneously in the moment by all performers. Dancers Robin Gilbert, Cristian Laverde König and Michele Brangwen; saxophonists Robin Verheyen and Jon Irabagon; trumpeter Tim Hagans; bassist Thomas Helton and vocalist Danielle Reich, interact with each other live on a rooftop in NYC.

The idea behind the film was to create a kind of dance and music incantation and send it out into the world. "Asa Nisi Masa" is the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble's first time working together in person as a fully vaccinated ensemble. For previous projects during the pandemic they had rehearsed only via Zoom and filmed each artist separately for safety.

The final section of the film is Brangwen's secular take on the idea of the Tibetan prayer flag. Brangwen writes: "The idea behind the prayer flag is not that the person who hangs it is asking the wind to carry a request for something, but rather seeking to send goodness out into all spaces. I feel we are now in a time where we need to send as much goodness and healing energy out into our fractured world as possible. Part of the costume that each performer wears becomes a flag at the end. I wanted to try and make the flag feel very personal."

Brangwen explains: "Nothing in the film's central section of improvisations was preplanned or mapped out, and we only did one take, so gusts of wind sometimes hit the mics, helicopters buzz by, and performers sometimes edge out of the frame, but for me that only added to the immediacy and honesty of the moment. What emerged were these incredible moments like dancer Cristian Laverde König, with trumpeter Tim Hagans and saxophonist Robin Verheyen, seeming to take every note of the musicians' effusive call into his body and in the end, trading riffs with them as if his body were a third horn. Dancer Robin Gilbert and the same two musicians tell a mysterious story that seems full of pathos and longing, culminating in Ms. Gilbert drawing the two musicians into her in an engulfing embrace. To me, this is magic."

Some people feel Fellini was sending a hidden message in the phrase Asa Nisi Masa, using an Italian form of pig Latin which adds a "sa" and a "si" to words in order to disguise them. If you take the roots of each word in the phrase Asa Nisi Masa, the letters form the word Anima, which is the Italian word for soul. Brangwen writes: "This act of creating dance and music together is part of our soul, so what better thing could we send out into the world. This is what we have to offer and we send it with love."

The livestreams of "Asa Nisi Masa" will include a real time introduction by choreographer and filmmaker Michele Brangwen and composer and trumpeter Tim Hagans, and a post-premiere section where the artists respond on camera to audience comments and questions tonight, September 19th via Facebook. The film will stream again followed by a q&a on YouTube on September 26. The events are free.

The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble is a contemporary dance company featuring all new choreography, live original music, and the integration of all our musicians into the visual imagery, so that dancers and musicians break the boundaries of traditional ensemble interaction. In 20 years, every performance has included live music and the musicians as integral parts of the visual stage imagery. We believe that the artist's role in society is to communicate, to challenge, to open a dialogue that can both unite us and inspire meaningful change. We function like a jazz band, and along with sections of choreographed movements and written music, we use improvisation that comes out of the form, concept, and emotional life of the work. The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble is based in New York City & Houston.

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