Trio of guest artists return to teach during YoungArts Week + in 2021

Written By Josie Gulliksen
December 31, 2020 at 1:37 AM

La Tanya Hall is a guest artist in Voice during National YoungArts Week +, Jan. 3-9. Photo courtesy of artist.

Yet another annual program is pivoting to the online format for 2021 and also adding a plus sign to their name.

National YoungArts Week is YoungArts’ signature program that offers YoungArts award winners at the finalist level the guidance needed to prepare for the next stage of their artistic development. Typically held in-person in Miami, the 2021 program, National YoungArts Week +, will take place virtually.

During the intensive program from Jan. 3-9, finalists across 10 disciplines participate in online classes and interdisciplinary workshops with internationally recognized leaders in their field. The culminating performances will be presented to the public from Jan. 25-30. Click here to see the public event line-up.

Artburst Miami spoke to a trio of the guest artists leading the 2021 classes and workshops:

Voice finalists will be led by La Tanya Hall an accomplished solo artist who has performed with various orchestras, on Broadway and in jazz clubs. She is in her seventh year as a YoungArts guest artist.

AB: Tell us about the planning process and what adjustments had to be made for 2021

LTH: All of us who work with the YoungArts organization and have a background in education had to pivot to online in March, so we have had time to fine tune what we need to do. We wanted to ensure that the finalists this year are getting as close to an in-person experience as possible.

I personally love a challenge and believe there is a solution to every problem. When all this year’s guest artists came together to brainstorm, we all came into it with a very giving attitude.

The voice discipline requires a lot of collaboration so we structured the classes in such a way that our students could continue to play with musicians. We did however limit the amount of time online to account for Zoom fatigue.

When we happen in-person we would go from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a few breaks here and there but we cannot sustain that online. Therefore, the online format will be six hours a day with much shorter blocks of time they will however still have access to all the incredible guest artists.

AB: Take us through a typical week’s activities

LTH: The students will fine tune their craft online by identifying five tunes they want to perform. We then work with professional pianist Dan Strange who will work to create the accompanying music.  It is nice that Dan can fine tune what we want and that we have the flexibility in how we work with the students.

AB: How do you feel about coming back year after year?

LTH: I will keep coming back as long as they ask me, I believe 1000% in this program. I cannot imagine every saying no. I feel extremely grateful to work with these emerging artists. To help them develop and hone that artistry is a gift.

Desmond Richardson, founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, guest artist for YoungArts Week +. Photo by Brian Thomas

Lending his expertise to guide the dance finalists through the week is Desmond Richardson. An alumnus of YoungArts and a board member, Richardson is the founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. He was also the first African American principal dancer with American Ballet Theater. He been a returning YoungArts Week guest artist over the past decade.

AB: What strategies have you incorporated for this year’s online format?

DR: We tried to come up with different scenarios because there were none. It was very arduous for us to understand how to proceed.

Thankfully, we have a great team at YoungArts, and the students have been incredibly amenable to the process, with this virtual world. I have seen some other students I teach online at other entities really flourish. Obviously, we all want to be present but there is something to be said about having this viewpoint.

As I have said to the YoungArts finalists, this is maybe a time to challenge yourself with the things you need to get to know. For me, teaching online has had its ups and downs. However, it is nice to give them positive reinforcement on their movements and calling them out. In the end though, the students get it done.

AB: What have you incorporated from your company into these classes?

DR: We have a master class in my contemporary ballet movement style that incorporates classicism and uses a rounded spine (we fold and unfold), physicality and visceral movement engaging music and purity of line and everything in between. I am interested in looking at the dancers to see what they are bringing to the table and showing them maybe a movement quality they had not thought about.

AB: How do you encourage the students to put forth their best?

DR: I tell them ‘There’s never been a you’ so I am looking for their uniqueness because it is necessary and valid. As a dancer we are the instrument and breathe life to the movement with our uniqueness. How beautiful to watch 20 or 30 students share their voices with us and show us their unique quality and seeing their personal interpretation. I was taught like that and I am blessed to be able to give it back and to share.

I met so many people during my personal weeklong journey at YoungArts that I still know to this day. We are still connected artistically and businesswise.

Author Kristen Simmons is guest artist in Writing for YoungArts Week 2021. Photo courtesy of artist.

Finalists in writing will work with author Kristen Simmons throughout the week, culminating in a read-along with her. As the author of a three-book series, the first of which is called “The Deceivers,” Simmons is especially excited to work with the students. This is her fourth year as a guest artist.

AB: Tell us about the unique programming you have developed for this week online.

KS: I feel like this 2020 has been an excellent exercise in pivoting, re-focusing, and becoming accessible in a digital world.

One idea I had was to do a read-along, something I have always wanted to do with my series. This way, people can read in sections and we can discuss everything going in the book as well as the writing and publishing process. I love YoungArts because we are able to talk about all those things.

AB: What goals have you set for the week?

KS: The goal is getting a closer look at the works themselves but also offering the students a glimpse into my head for say my editorial choices or why I chose to take the fiction in a specific direction and how I got this published. My hope is to create an interactive path for them. Ultimately, I hope even though we are online, they will be inspired.

AB: What do you love about returning to YoungArts to teach?

KS: Every year, the students are such thoughtful writers and artists. I love to hear their questions because every year they are unique. It is also inspiring for me to hear their work and their process. It is exciting to meet such passionate people who are taking their first steps in this industry. I wish I could be there in person with them this year. I get so much more out of the whole experience than probably they even do.

I love too that each year I get a couple of people that keep in touch with me and share what is going on with them in their path. is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.


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