Dance

Dance NOW! Miami Reaches Into 1980s Musical Grab Bag for ‘Pop’

Written By Guillermo Perez
May 13, 2024 at 12:35 PM

Jenny Hegarty and Dariel Milan in Diego Salterini’s “Pop” for Dance NOW! Miami. The company performs two shows on Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18 at the Broward Center and at the Aventura Cultural Arts Center. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Abreu)

The soundtracks of the past—each generation perpetually longing, loving, reliving fulfillment and loss to different tunes — switch on the stage lights in everyone’s mind. And, through that music, choreographers can lead us into spaces, once shared or to be discovered, that from the realm of the heart they bring before our eyes.

In “Pop,” Dance Now! Miami co-artistic director Diego Salterini whisks us to the 1980s to consider the decade as if we were going over last night’s entry in our diary. His premiere joins re-stagings of company co-director Hannah Baumgarten’s “Tethered” and New World School of the Arts founding dean of dance Daniel Lewis’ “Open Book.“ Performances are Friday, May 17 and Saturday, 18, respectively at Broward Center for the Performing Arts and Aventura Arts and Cultural Center.

Luke Stockton in Diego Salterini’s “Pop” for Dance NOW! Miami. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Abreu)

Last millennium’s march toward the end of the 20th century: It was the brightest of times, it was the bleakest of times – although many might say the same about their own green leaves-and-blossoms days, thorns duly noted. For Salterini, the 1980s were noteworthy, with rhythms that shook the dance floor, events that shook the world. And the tunes of the era beckoned to him like a ticket to return there.

“I’d been toying with the idea of using popular music for my contemporary dance pieces,” says Salterini.  “I usually lean towards what’s more obscure or emotionally heavy.  But let’s be real, my memories of growing up are full of Madonna, Tears for Fears, Prince.”

Those songsters drove a beat into Salterini that still reverberates in his body and his soul. As a teenager in Rome and then a young professional dancer, the Italian native says American pop music was always part of the entertainment. “And MTV was big. So, in my piece there are all sorts of stylized video projections.”

Dance NOW! Miami in Daniel Lewis’ “Open Book,” from left, Amanda Davis, Jean Da Silva, David Jewett, Julia Faris, Austin Duclos, and Rae Wilcoxson. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Lewis)

For these, designer Bruce F. Brown came up with a rising backdrop of vividly hued bubbles, to make you as wishful as do rainbows and giddy as does Champagne. The costumes by Haydee and Maria Morales have swaths of Italian-ice colors, refreshing for steamy scenes.  

Knowing the personal must find communal tenor through art, Salterini went into action. “I reached out to my Gen X buddies and asked for their top songs,” he says. “I then made a Venn diagram of our choices—and I can’t lie, we had to cut out a lot of options or our show would’ve been 10 hours long.”

He turned to trusted collaborator Davidson Jaconello for the right period playlist.  “We went back and forth reimagining these songs,” explains Salterini, “until we landed on a soundtrack that takes you on a journey. People my age will love this trip down memory lane, and younger generations I hope will come along for the ride.”

Madonna, Grace Jones, and Billy Idol made the cut to keep Salterini’s purpose on a roll. “Even if meant for head bopping, ‘Pop’ still talks about teenage angst, first love, identity, the AIDS crisis and youth power,” he says. “All the while we hear The Terminator’s ‘I’ll be back!’ and (Ronald) Reagan’s ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’”

Salterini emphasizes his personal style provides overall cohesion being “contemporary with modern and ballet vocabulary. Although Davidson’s soundtrack gives a perfect structure for narrative, not all the choreography is directly related to the meaning of each song.”

In the Billy Idol section, for instance, “Eyes Without a Face” does not reference AIDS. But the choreographer says, “It gave me the opportunity to touch on the subject, while offering a strong athletic section.” A mirror of the times, this reflects the surge and bounce of the Idol video, representing a larger media phenomenon which Salterini happened to be in the middle of while working in Italian television. Yet this also lets him raise a memorial to those who have fallen from AIDS.

“Pop” lasts nearly 40 minutes and features five women and four men. At a recent run-through in the company’s Little Haiti Cultural Complex studio, the cast simmered until boil point to the Grace Jones version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” following Eros on a night stalk. And Madonna added her own hot breath in “Justify My Love,” the dancers spelling out desires with the S-curves of their bodies.  A more light-hearted—dreamy—communal atmosphere prevailed as a youthful, perhaps innocent enthusiasm circulated in formations ready to take on the world.

For 22-year-old dancer Jean Da Silva, who joined DNM this season, “Pop” leads to family and fantasy. “When I shared these songs and videos with my dad, he teared up,” he says of their bonding over a past liveliness that spread to their native Uruguay. “But I’m also an old soul,” admits the dancer, who while training at Joffrey Ballet School in New York preferred to groove in clubs with a throwback jam—a prelude to his current evocation of a distant era.

From left, Natalia Uribe Flores, Austin Duclos, Rae Wilcoxson, and David Jewett, in Dance Now! Miami’s “Tethered.” (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

By honoring all the figures in his art brought down by AIDS, he says, “I feel as if I’m letting them dance once more.” And that brings elation, especially “when the whole cast is together, and we shoot for the sky.”

Co-director Baumgarten comments, “Diego is holding down the show’s second half by taking people through laughs and sorrow and sex.”

This makes for a satisfying program, she says, “creating a rhythm for the viewer. Danny Lewis’s piece is more classical-modern (Mahler, Wagner, and Rossini in the mix). And I’m bringing back contemporary ballet—one of my favorite idioms—in ‘Tethered,’ where audiences can recognize the structure and technical base.”

This balancing act springs straight from the two directors’ credo. “As long as we have been blending our voices,” says Baumgarten, “Diego and I still want to have the capacity to develop our ideas individually from inception to fruition. The more we invest in that, the more we bring to the table.”

Jenny Hegarty and Dariel Milan in Diego Salterini’s “Pop” for Dance NOW! Miami. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Abreu)

“Tethered” offers human fundamentals to an original Davidson Jaconello-Felix Rosch composition. Though not historically referential, autobiography colors the piece.

“I grew up playing tetherball,” says Baumgarten. “The effect of a ball tied to a pole can be rather maddening.  It escapes control, leading to frustration and sometimes your head being slapped. But I tried to allow this to manifest in a constructive way. One person connects to another for fun, a tug of war. Then two others exchange energies, breath. The couples connect for more ways to find one’s own identity and the necessity— the power — of the group. Will they ultimately decide to sever the cord or dive into a world where connection is home?”

She recognizes family members, mentors, and students among her tethered relationships. And that sort of union even plays out in DNM’s highly charged shows. “Diego and I are quite tethered,” she admits. “We interconnected our artistic lives and in that have found a balance in our private lives as well. Those of us who enter into the deeply personal process of making art with another are few. This may be the most intimate, soul-baring experience. But we love it.”

WHAT: Dance NOW! Miami Program III, featuring the world premiere of “Pop”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18

WHERE: Broward Center for the Performing Arts Amaturo Theater, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; Aventura Arts and Cultural Center, 3385 N.E. 188th St., Aventura.

COST: In Broward, $50 reserved seating, $20 for students with valid ID at box office only; in Aventura, $45 reserved, $20 students with valid ID at box office.

INFORMATION: 305-975-8489 and dancenowmiami.org/events/pop

 ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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