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The Young Dancemakers Company at Symphony Space

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Co-authored by Ellen Dobbyn-Backmore

Now in its 18th season, the Young Dancemakers Company is continuing to provide a unique and invaluable opportunity for high school students to choreograph and perform their own original works at different venues around New York City. As the company director, Alice Teirstein said, "This experience encourages them to be independent individuals, gives them confidence in themselves as human beings and many have gone on to dance."

The experience is not limited to trained dancers only, however, the auditions are open to all students enrolled in New York City's public high schools. The most important element is potential. Teirstein confirmed, "I look for potential. We're not looking only for the high kickers and kids who are technically trained. We're looking for kids who really want to create something. They want to experiment and they have open minds and are willing to dig within themselves for what they want to say."

The program is an outgrowth of Teirstein's work as the director of the dance department at the Bronx's private Fieldston School. As Teirstein explained, "in 1995 I got the idea that I would really like to open up this idea of students creating their own choreography that we had at Fieldston and replicate it for kids throughout the New York City area who were going to public schools and didn't have the same opportunity as our kids at Fieldston. I mentioned this to a particular foundation, they liked the idea, they gave me seed money and we got started."

This is the kind of thing that can really change the life of a young person. One of the standouts in the program offered this summer was Ebony Vasquez who explained why she enjoyed participating in the program: "It taught me a lot about choreography because, as a teenager, I listen to music and I want to dance to whatever is in style. It taught me a lot about musical styles and choices and stories and movement. You get to explore yourself as an artist and say what it is you want to say to the audience in the best way possible."

The pleasures of these performances are many. For the audience, largely comprised of elementary school students from various summer programs throughout the city, there is the chance to see a dance performance created by students not much older than themselves. It's no stretch to see that they might perceive an opportunity for themselves to become dancers or choreographers in the future. For the participants there is the opportunity to stretch their wings and learn the importance of teamwork as they teach their dances to other students and take part in their choreography as well. They share the roles of leadership and teamwork while learning to express themselves through dance. This is a first in the lives of most of these young people. In order to learn to be leaders there must be opportunities for youngster to test themselves in a challenging setting. The Young Dancemakers Company delivers that chance.

Space unfortunately does not permit mentions of each participant but a few deserve to be noted. Kayla Cambridge choreographed a remarkable piece that she called The Kitchen Drawer in which she explored the idea of just what the silverware might be getting up to in the kitchen drawer. It was delightful for its startling originality and highly original choreography. Nikeiri Portalatin, with her bright, stage-filling personality, did her best to corral the wayward silverware as they resisted her sorting. As might be expected, the knives were real cut-ups.

B'ili Scott's Justice Dream explored a theme that resonated strongly with the young audience. The dancers came out in maroon hoodie sweatshirts in a piece that paid homage to Trayvon Martin. At the end, they removed their hoodies to reveal their individual identities and underscore their right not to be profiled.

Patricia Wang's Flow, danced by a trio in blue costumes, was accompanied by water sounds and effectively evoked aquatic movement. She developed her own vocabulary of movement to capture the sensation of flowing with and then against the current.

Ciara Bowen's Belonging was an effective and affecting piece that captured the difficulties of being an outsider within a group. It was a perfectly appropriate subject for a teenager and was handled deftly, without histrionics or melodrama.

The finale of the evening was provided by choreographer Doug Elkins who taught the students excerpts from his work, Scott Queen of Marys. This challenging and high energy piece gave the students a showcase for their non-stop summer work and was much loved by the audience.

The Young Dancemakers Company is a wonderful program for New York City's high school students. It has a great history and hopefully a great future. Directed by former Bessie Award winner, Alice Teirstein, it is truly a gem among city-offered programs for young people. Teirstein deserves all of our thanks for putting in the time that it takes to get something like this off the ground.


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From This Author Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn

Andrew is a lifelong traveler and cook. Born into a military family, he became used to moving frequently and having to learn new things. He (read more...)