Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Adventures

Photo by Rex Tranter

Here is an article recently published in the Rockford Register Star. The nature of my work has recently involved my family's relocation to this exurb of Chicago. Life has only gotten busier, but we are excited to bring our skills to Illinois. 

Introduction: Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe and her husband Matthew moved from New York City to Rockford in January. Matthew is the new Artistic Director of the Rockford Dance Company and Brittany is a dancer and instructor. She will dance the part of Cinderella later this month. I had the opportunity to see a short preview at RDC’s Hansel & Gretel performance and it was, in a word, breathtaking. After the performance, I met Brittany and introduced her to my 3 year old granddaughter. Brittany knelt down to talk with her for a few moments and made a lasting impression. Two months later my granddaughter randomly tells people she met the Cinderella.
A Ballerina’s Story
When Brittany was young, she had double vision. She was enrolled in dance lessons when she was four years old because she was cross eyed. Brittany’s mother was a therapist and hoped dancing would help her with coordination and improve her vision. Eventually, Brittany had an eye surgery to correct her crossed eyes, but the love of dance was deeply instilled.
Through all of the changes early in her life, Brittany found stability in the training of dance. She was determined to become a ballerina and was accepted into the prestigious professional training program at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Brittany finished her training while performing in the company productions of the Nutcracker, Coppelia, and  A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Although she she was determined to dance, she saw the value of a good education and through hard work and vigilance she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class.
After high school, Brittany moved across the country to Pittsburgh, PA in hopes of landing a full time dancing contract, being accepted to the prestigious Pittsburgh Ballet Theater Graduate Program. Eventually she was hired in Pittsburgh, but she kept her gaze on the horizon searching for artistic fulfillment. She went on to continue her career with Ballet Memphis, Minnesota Dance Theatre (Minneapolis, MN), the James Sewell Ballet (Minneapolis, MN), American Repertory Ballet (Princeton, NJ), Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance (Ashevelle, NC), and Morphoses (New York, NY).
She has performed principal roles in all of these companies. Some of Brittany’s highlights include:Emily in a ballet adaptation of the Thorton Wilder play Our TownSugarplum fairy in theNutcracker, as well as works by Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, and many more. Each role provides insight into a new character or place.
Brittany’s dancing career has offered her an opportunity to see the world. She has performed in Iceland, Germany, Italy, and Colombia. Dancing is more than a career, it is a lifestyle. Through sharing her passion with people in many different countries and cultures she has learned the power that dance has to transform the ordinary to the extraordinary.   Dance provides the opportunity to travel the globe both in the physical realm and by using your imagination.
Brittany has dedicated herself to become the eyes for the next generation. She teaches dance and she is certified to teach the GYROTONIC® expansion system to dancers and people who wish to feel like dancers.
Rockford Dance Company’s Cinderella will be performed at the Coronado Theatre, March 24, 7:00 PM and March 25, 3:00 PM.  For ticket information contact:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Morphoses this week at the Joyce

Just a moment of self promotion: Morphoses opened Bacchae last night at the Joyce to a very important and enthusiastic audience. The wonderful dancers presented on this blog and I would love to share this show with as many people as possible. It is important not only as a re-imagining of a classic greek myth, but also as a remaking of a dance company's model. Lourdes Lopez, artistic director, and Luca Veggetti, resident choreographer, have created a spellbinding show! More information below!

Synopsis and performer biographers:

Tickets here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yusha Loves Everyone's Individuality.

Yusha Marie-Sorzano is originally from Trinidad, she received her primary instruction from New World School of the Arts, The Miami Conservatory, and The Dance Theater of Harlem. She attended the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program and in her junior year was invited to join Ailey II. She has been a member of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and TU Dance under the direction of Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands. Ms. Sorzano has performed works by Ulysses Dove, Mauro Bigonzetti and Ron K Brown as well as with recording artists Wynton Marsalis, Beyonce Knowles, and Rihanna. She was a guest artist on Dancing with the Stars and has most recently starred as the lead dancer in the independent film "You Me and The Circus". When not performing Ms. Sorzano enjoys teaching both nationally and internationally. 

When did you first begin dancing?
  • o   I started dancing soon after moving to the states from Trinidad at about 9. I am a product of the public school magnet program and took my first ballet class in a tiny studio attached to the cafeteria. It wasn’t very pretty and smelt like tater tots.

What style of dance do you prefer and why?
  • o   I can’t really answer that question. Each style offers something unique. However, I will not deny that at the end of the day there is nothing like an old school jazz combination…..pure satisfaction!

Who have you worked with in the past?
  • o   As far as concert dance I have danced with Ailey II, Complexions, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Morphoses.  In addition, I have done some work commercial work with Beyonce, Rihanna, and was a guest artist on Dancing with the Stars. My career has been a pretty mixed bag. It keeps me on my toes!

Who do you aspire to work with in the future?
  • o   Not sure at present. As long as it inspires me I am on board.

Being a freelance dancer, how do you earn your living, ie: do you have side jobs or skills you utilize for income? 
  • o   I teach modern and contemporary classes as often as possible. It’s pretty awesome to be on the other side of the room. I tend to pick up new ways of approaching the art form when I have to use my words to explain it. It’s also really inspiring when someone gets “it” for the first time.

Have you attended college or another kind of training? What/where?
  • o   I am an alum of The Ailey/Fordham BFA Program.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

  • o   Staying in shape during the in between. 

What do you feel and think when you’re on stage?

  • o   See Billy Elliot’s response in the film, Billy Elliot, when asked what he feels when he dances. I think that sums it up!

How do you keep yourself motivated and maintain creative thinking during your off time? 
  • o   I find that I maintain motivation through unpredictability. I try not to plan too much or get stuck in a routine. Don’t get me wrong; routine is what makes a dancer. I just find it thrilling to not know where I may end up at day’s end.  

What is the most valuable advice you have received from a teacher or mentor?
  • o   Everyone’s body is different. You have to do what works for you. I like to apply this statement to my career as well

What element, theme, or character from the Bacchae do you relate to most? 
  • o   Not sure, though I am continually challenged by Agave.

What is the best/funniest/most challenging experience of the rehearsal process thus far? 
  • o   The best: New faces, sensibilities, and artistry
  • o   The funniest:  That’s a tough one…it changes daily.
  • o   The most challenging: Staying true to the work while still learning the vocabulary. It takes a second to understand how a choreographer works. What their likes and dislikes are. I find it challenging to balance what is asked of me with what I want to say as an artist. We are the vessel for Luca’s language. So it’s important to be clear about what we are trying to convey.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chris Bordenave 'keeps it fluffy' in preparation for the Bacchae

Christopher Bordenave, a native of Los Angeles, CA, began his early dance training under master teachers Lula Washington, Karen McDonald, and Debbie Allen. He has studied and received training on scholarship with American Ballet Theatre, the Ailey School, Springboard Dans Montreal, and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Christopher has danced and performed works by Nacho Duato, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Zhukov Dance Theater, and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. He also holds a BFA from the Alonzo King LINES Ballet/Dominican University BFA program as a member of the Inaugural Class.

To see Chris live, go to Morphoses performance of the Bacchae at the Joyce- October 24-30th, 2011. Or to see Chris in 2-d go here. 

What style of dance do you prefer and why?
  • I am a child of contemporary dance.  Everything happening tomorrow or the next day is where I find myself.

Who have you worked with in the past?
  • I have worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, Nacho Duato, Alonzo King, and Yuri Zhukov both as student and professionally.

Who do you aspire to work with in the future?
  • Geniuses…mad scientists…astronomers.

Being a freelance dancer, how do you earn your living, ie: do you have side jobs or skills you utilize for income?
  • I have been blessed to maintain myself solely as a dancer.

Have you attended college or another kind of training? What/where?
  • Upon graduating from high school in 2006, I attended SUNY Purchase for a semester. I transferred to The Ailey School's Fellowship Program for a year while taking online classes through a community college, and then graduated from LINES Ballet/Dominican University in 2010 with a BFA in dance.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?
  • Saying goodbye.

What do you feel and think when you’re on stage?
  • Every emotion all at once continuously until I'm in the dressing room.

What is the most valuable advice you have received from a teacher or mentor?
  • "Stay fluffy."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Every Step You Take- a review

To readers, I am honored to have been found by an editor at Harper Collins to review Jock Soto's new book. You will see my official review below, but the unofficial review is that I would love to meet this man. He presents himself so positively and in service of the art form. It is truly a must read.

Every Step You Take
Jock Soto with Leslie Marshall
New York: Harper Collins, 2011
271 pp, $24.99
ISBN- 978-0-06-173238-6
Review by Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe

Jock Soto's memoir, written with Leslie Marshall, comes out today. Entitled, "Every Step You Take," the book is a charming homage to an inspiring male dancer who dedicated more than two decades dancing at the New York City Ballet.

Jock Soto is part Navajo Indian, and part Puerto Rican. His first encounter to dance was in the form of Indian Hoop dances. After seeing Edward Villella on the Ed Sullivan show, Mr. Soto was determined to learn more about formal western dance genres. His family is an inspiration in the sacrifices and support they offered to enable his study of dance. Mr. Soto’s pursuit of training led him to the School of American Ballet, New York City Ballet's official school, and a separation from his parents at a young age.

Much of the book is Jock's tribute to his deceased mother. Perhaps this is the meaning behind the title. Perhaps he still feels a connection to her as he serves dance. His family was a part of his dance despite distance. Although positive in his reflections, his separation from his roots is an underlying theme. Simultaneously, he acknowledges his need for space and a connection to who he is.

Personally, he recounts growing up in the gay community in the 80s. Mr. Soto reflects on his growth as an individual through each of the relationships; doubly as he witnessed the AIDS epidemic tearing apart his community. Working hard and playing hard, Mr. Soto ran in the circles of many prominent art figures, including a close relationship with Andy Warhol.

Mr. Soto’s career was an embodiment of the American dream; he was quickly and easily promoted to a leading dancer at NYCB. He shares his is appreciation of his many ballerinas including: Lourdes Lopez, Heather Watts, Wendy Whelan, Stephanie Saland, and Miranda Weese. As he recounts these relationships, he shares numerous human moments from behind the scenes. Mr. Soto worked in a magical time when the work of George Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein, and Jerome Robbins was well established and inspired. The New York dance scene was supportive and at the nexus of the form.

Throughout the book, Jock presents himself humbly. When People magazine voted him one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World", he shrugged it off stating his merit was merely to fill a performing arts quota. But he doesn't take himself lightly; he remains focused on his mission as a dancer. Mr. Soto recounts the fleeting moments of a life onstage and the struggle to keep each performance alive. Before each performance, Mr. Soto would say, "it is going to be a different story tonight." Therein lies his dedication to "every little step" he took.

Throughout the book Mr. Soto shares recipes, which correlate to his growth. He keeps his aplomb as he comically recalls using Gorgonzola in a tiramisu, but clearly cooking has become a new creative passion. A vehicle to meld his creativity with entertainment and invest in the people he cares about. He continues to service the field as a teacher at the School of American Ballet.

Jock Soto is an important male figure in the ballet world. As such his memoir, "Every Step You Take," is a refreshing and inspiring account for any artist living their mission. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Brandon Cournay 'chassé ball changes' from Julliard to become a dancer at Kegwin + Company and Morphoses!

Brandon Cournay is originally from Detroit, Michigan. He has danced with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and Kegwin + Company Extended. Brandon has performed the repertoire of Twyla Tharp, Ohad Naharin, Lar Lubovich, and Nacho Duato. Brandon has also performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and has appeared in commercials for Puma and Target. Brandon received his BFA from The Juilliard School. 

You can see him in action at the Joyce Oct 24-30th in Morphoses production of Bacchae. 

Additionally, follow his adventures through his social media links: 

When did you first begin dancing?

  • I have been chassé ball changing since I was ten years old. I signed up to do a musical theatre camp at my school and after that, I was hooked. I became obsessed with my teacher's Capezio jazz sneakers... So, I talked my parents into getting me a pair. You better believe I wore them to school, no shame.

What style of dance do you prefer and why?

  • I prefer anything that is physical, organic, and inspiring.

Who have you worked with in the past?

  • I am having this really cool journey performing in both commercial and concert dance. Professionally, I've worked with the Chase Bock Experience, Mark Morris Dance Group and I'm currently dancing with Keigwin + Company.
  • While in school, I had the honor of working on creations with Matthew Neenan, Nicolo Fonte, and Larry Keigwin. When we would learn pieces for our repertoire concert choreographers such as, Mark Morris, Lar Lubovich, and Ohad Naharin all came in to help set and coach their pieces that we were performing. It was such an amazing experience to learn and work with the creators of such brilliant works.

Who do you aspire to work with in the future?

  • I'm really inspired my choreographers such as Aszure Barton, Crystal Pite, Peter Chu, Hofesh Shechter.
  • I want to work with anyone that is really pushing the envelope in dance. I'm really interested in working with anyone who is creating something inventive, imaginative, and accessible.

Being a freelance dancer, how do you earn your living, ie: do you have side jobs
or skills you utilize for income?

  • Teaching and choreographing are what I consider my ‘side jobs.’ I really enjoy it though, so I rarely consider it work. Which is cool. I also judge for dance competitions on the weekends.

Have you attended college or another kind of training? What/where?

  • I received my BFA from Juilliard in 2009.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

  • I'd have to say the most challenging aspect of my career is living a balanced lifestyle... in sort of a "work hard/play hard" kind of way. As artists we are constantly on, constantly learning and exploring; sometimes whether we like it or not. Specifically for freelancers self-motivation is vital, our schedule and intentions change daily. It's easy to cram your self- planned day with tons of classes, auditions, and rehearsals to benefit your work and not take anytime for yourself... And vice-versa. It took me a long time to learn that taking a little time for yourself can benefit your work inside the studio tremendously.
  • It took me a long time to learn that guilty feeling of skipping your 10am ballet class to go see the new Twilight movie will soon go away. I stress the time in this scenario because we all know that movie tickets are only $6.00 if you go before noon. Paying for a full priced movie ticket as a freelancer in New York emphasizes the obvious and biggest challenge that plagues us all... Finances.

What do you feel and think when you’re on stage?

  • On stage, I try to sensitize my whole body as much as possible. I like to pretend I'm performing in a theatre that's 360 degrees around and that the audience is seeing me at every possible angle. Even if the choreography has a specific direction, to me there is no front. I want to know and feel what my leg bones, arm muscles, ribs, fingers, eyes...etc. are doing at all times, wherever they are in space. When I bring awareness to my whole body I feel I am able to communicate better as an artist. It's no longer about executing steps physically, but about how I am using my instrument, my entire body to embody and enhance the artistry of the work.

How do you keep yourself motivated and maintain creative thinking during your
off time?

  • I like to see a lot of dance. I think it's important to educate yourself on what you like and what you don't... and more importantly, WHY you like or don't like something.
  • I also listen to music a ton, the little dancer in my head is constantly improving to something up there.

What is the most valuable advice you have received from a teacher or

  • Risa Steinberg, one of my mentors at Juilliard, was talking about evaluating feedback about your work. She said that if someone loves your work... awesome, if someone absolutely hates your work... awesome, but the problem comes when someone leaves the theatre without having an opinion of your work. I thought that was a very interesting statement.

What element, theme, or character from the Bacchae do you relate to most?

  • I relate most to the ever evolving pace and flow of the Bacchae. As well as the inspiration of the work, always looking forward to try something new.

What is the best/funniest/most challenging experience of the rehearsal process
thus far?

  • Best- Creating with such amazingly talented, diverse, and inspiring artists everyday. It’s been an honor to work and learn from such an eclectic group of dancers.
  • Funniest- Karaoke night!
  • Most challenging- Scooting up the stairs. At the Vineyard my thighs were so sore, I could barely walk!

For more information on Morphoses's production of Bacchae go

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Morphoses dancer, Gabrielle Lamb, shares her thoughts.

Photo by Ken Kramer
Gabrielle Lamb
Gabrielle Lamb is a native of Savannah, Georgia, and was trained at the Boston Ballet School. She joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal in 2000 and was promoted to soloist in 2003. Since 2009, she has been living in New York City and performing with Morphoses and Pontus Lidberg Dance. Her repertoire  includes principal roles in works by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Peter Quanz, Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, and Nacho Duato.  She has also created leading roles in new works by Shen Wei, Stijn Celis, Pontus Lidberg, and Mauro Bigonzetti, among others.  

Ms. Lamb is also a choreographer as well a self-taught video artist and animator.  You can see some of her videos here. 

For more information go to Gabrielle's personal website. 

When did you first begin dancing?

  • I started dancing when I was 4, but hated it because the tights were so annoying
    to put on. So I quit and then restarted the next year.---somehow I got over the
    tights issue.

What style of dance do you prefer and why?

  • I prefer any kind of dance which originates with the intention to communicate and
    connect. The more I learn, the less interested I am in virtuosity for its own sake.
    I want to be able to let go and become someone else onstage, not to spend
    those precious moments worrying about steps.

Who have you worked with in the past?

  • I've been lucky enough to work with a lot of talented choreographers and stagers
    in the past. Some of those are: Natalia Makarova, Sylvie Guillem, Mats Ek,
    Ohad Naharin, Christopher Wheeldon, Shen Wei, Peter Quanz, Stijn Celis,
    Pontus Lidberg….not to mention all the fantastic dancer colleagues who have
    inspired me over the years.

Who do you aspire to work with in the future?

  • Other artists who open new pathways in my mind, no matter what discipline they
    belong to. A dream list might include Crystal Pite, William Kentridge, Robert
    Lepage, Michel Gondry.

Being a freelance dancer, how do you earn your living, ie: do you have side jobs
or skills you utilize for income?

  • I choreograph and teach sometimes. I am also a self-taught filmmaker and
    animator. I worked as the company videographer for Les Grands Ballets
    Canadiens when I was still dancing there, and I've also done work for Morphoses
    and BalletX. I'm preparing for a project with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Have you attended college or another kind of training? What/where?

  • No. I've taken a few classes in film, but generally I prefer teaching myself.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

  • Keeping a sense of the long-term. It's too easy to get crazy about a small injury
    that may be gone in two days---or a temporary lack of work---or the challenges of
    learning new choreography. What seems impossible today often improves
    overnight, so I've had to learn to back off being so rough on myself when I can't
    have what I want straight away.

What do you feel and think when you’re on stage?

  • If I'm in the space I'd like to be in, I feel like time slows down and I can be
    fearless. In the best moments I'm very conscious of the sensations in my body,
    and I imagine being able to communicate those sensations to the audience. It's
    like there's a line of communication that runs underneath the floor of the stage
    and branches out to every seat in the house. If I'm not quite there, then I'm just
    judging and chastising myself and thinking about what just happened or what's
    about to happen 5 seconds from now. And I imagine that on those occasions the
    audience feels somehow less connected as well.

How do you keep yourself motivated and maintain creative thinking during your
off time?

  • I don't have much off-time. I always seem to have some project to work on or
    think about. On the less fun side, there is always email to reply to or scheduling
    to do.

    I do yoga every day, and unless I"m really on vacation, I take ballet class at
    least 5 days a week.

What is the most valuable advice you have received from a teacher or mentor?

  • I was feeling envious of another artist's talent----and despair of ever being able to
    approach her accomplishments. I expressed this to a friend and fellow dancer,
    who wrote to me,"Use her journey as a template for what you want, the beauty of being yourself and expressing it to your full ability"…

    This really made an impression on me---it reminded me to stay on my own path
    and follow it as far as I can, and not to get hung up thinking I'm on the same path
    as any other single person.

What element, theme, or character from the Bacchae do you relate to most?

  • I do an improvisation which is composed of asymmetrical arm movements which
    evolve into symmetry. When I'm asymmetrical, my attention is very fragmented,
    and when I achieve symmetry I become more focused, as though I'm making
    a new connection between already existing ideas in my mind. This for me is an
    interesting physical expression of the way that consciousness and creativity
    work: disconnected streams of thought which with practice can become focused
    and aligned.

What is the best/funniest/most challenging experience of the rehearsal process
thus far?

  • The best part of the experience thus far has been working with a group in which
    every single person has something truly special and different to offer. I've been
    working a long time, and I can say that it's pretty rare to be in a group where I
    can watch and be inspired by everybody. Every day in class and rehearsals I
    see coordination and phrasing that I'd like to steal and try to make work on my
    own body.

For more information on Morphoses's production of Bacchae go to: