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Consider the idea of land in Palestine, and conflict may be the first thing to come to mind. But for Jumana Emil Abboud, the Palestinian landscape evokes other, older, associations – with mythological creatures like water spirits and ghouls. “These stories were told way before 1948,” says the Galilee-born artist, speaking by phone from her home in Jerusalem. She suggests looking back ..

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South Florida Symphony Orchestra and the Martha Graham Dance Create Visions of Community

Photo: Graham 2 Company members in Virginie Mécène’s 'A New Place' photo by Melissa Sherwood.
Written by: Sean Erwin
Article Rating

People often imagine new artwork is the product of the solitary artist genius slaving away in lonely studios. The South Florida Symphony’s 20th anniversary program foregrounds a different vision of the artistic process –the kind of innovation that occurs when artists surrender their single vision in their encounters with other artists and the greater community.

From January 21 through 24,the South Florida Symphony Orchestra (SFSO) will present their 20th anniversary program in Key West, the Broward Center and the Arsht Center together with a 20th century vanguard in dance – the Martha Graham Dance Company.

The program showcases two iconic pieces by 20th century composers – Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring, -- as well as a world debut of a Martha Graham company choreography set to music by South Florida composer, Tom Hormel. Collaboration as art process is central to the historic partnership between Copland and Graham.From their partnership emerged Copland’s 1944 “Appalachian Spring Ballet.”

The SFSO collaboration with the Martha Graham company itself grew from a series of smaller collaborations. Maurizio Nardi, a former principal dancer with Martha Graham, was working as an artistic director for the Key West Modern Dance Intensive,” says SFSO conductor Sabrina Maria Alfonso.“He contacted me about a short 15-minute introduction they had choreographed based on the letters written between Martha Graham and Copland during the composition of “Appalachian Spring.”

This connectionwould lead to the deeper collaboration that resulted in the SFSO’s current anniversary program, which will also showcase a new collaboration between composer and choreographer. Choreographed by Graham 2 Director Virginie Mécène and performed by the 11 Graham 2 Dancers, A New Place will be performed to Hormel’s Legend of Bird Mountain – a piece originally written for the Sun Valley Festival contest in 1990 by the longtime Fort Lauderdale resident.SFSO hosted the world premiere of the symphony during its 2016-2017 season.

In Hormel’s work one of the principal themes of the Copland piece – that of a wedding between a pioneer bride and her farmer husband – is revisited in a South Florida nature-scape in the mating for life of two birds.

For Martha Graham artistic director and former company dancer, Janet Eilber, the common bond between the three pieces is the theme of community: “Community is important to all of these works. In ‘Appalachian Spring,’ the eight characters are typical Americans who form a community. Through the ballet, Copland and Graham wanted to distill the American experience, and since it premiered during World War II they also wanted to send a message of hope for the future.

“The new ballet based on Hormel’s work, Virginie has titled A New Place,” continued Eilber, “and she has placed it in New York City. The lead woman is new to the city, and she is looking for connection and community. Finally, in the second piece of the program, ‘The Rite of Spring,’ it is the community itself that chooses a woman to dance herself to death.”

After its South Florida premiere, the new choreography based on the Hormel composition will become part of the Company’s permanent repertoire, continuing a practice the Martha Graham Companyinitiated in 2013 of commissioning new, 20-to-25 minute works by contemporary, cutting edge choreographers.

When asked how it now felt to look back over her 20-year odyssey as both conductor and founder of SFSO, Alfonso says that starting a symphony from scratch had taken a lot of work, but “it is an incredible feeling to look back over the years since the inception of the symphony. To be able to come to the point where the orchestra is able to perform with Martha Graham and world-renowned artists feels terrific. We are really focused on being a leader in the cultural arm in South Florida.

Sunday, January 21; 7:30 .pm., Glynn R. Archer Performing Arts Center, Pre-concert Chat 7:00 pm: Edward Pitts.$25-$

Tuesday, January 23; 7:30 p.m., Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Au-Rene Theater.Pre-concert Chat 7:00 p.m.: Ian Fraser.$40-$125;;TicketMaster 954-462-0222.Group Sales 954-660-6307.

Wednesday, January 24, 7:30 p.m., Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Knight Concert Hall. Pre-concert Chat 7:00 p.m.: Ian Fraser. Tickets $40-$125. ; 305-949-6722.


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About The writer

Sean Erwin is a writer and assistant professor of Philosophy at Barry University, with a focus on aesthetics and contemporary french philosophy.
Sean Erwin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Barry University and received his Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy from Vanderbilt. He has presented and published on topics in political philosophy, Italian and French philosophy, and technology and performance studies. He currently serves as the senior editor of the Humanities and Technology Review.

Erwin is also a performance critic for Artburst, with performance previews and reviews appearing regularly there and in other South Florida publications. Artburst gives him the platform to critique the aesthetic principles he writes on as a professional philosopher through analysis of the concrete movements embodied by performers.

He is also an accomplished dancer and teacher in the Argentine Tango community. In 2000 he founded and served as editor of the Chicago webzine, Tango Noticias, a specialty dance periodical dedicated to examining Argentine Tango as a set of social practices rooted to the Southern cone’s history, politics, and culture.

Since his move to South Florida, he has both taught philosophy and served as a principal tango instructor for the Miami-based, Shimmy Club, a non-profit program that teaches Argentine Tango to vision-impaired teens. Through his involvement with the program, Erwin has been featured in articles and several news outlets including Univision, Telemundo, NBC News, KPFK Los Angeles, and the Miami Herald. For more information, see


About the Writer

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