This year's Valentine's Day was celebrated a little differently: with a six-hour video shoot. I got to spend the day with my son, videographers Elliott and Yavor, and three bright-eyed young artists. These three dancers are CommUNITY Art's youngest and longest supporters. On the chilly Sunday, we all met at the most beautiful Central West End home of Alejandra Niera and Rudy Ploder. CommUNITY Arts was thankful that Ale and Rudy offered their gorgeous ballroom for us to film in. The third floor of their historic home was the perfect atmosphere to create, and the several floors of stairways were a great way to warm up the dancers (haha). The ballroom was filled with natural light, slick hardwood floors to twirl on, archways to frame the shots, and two disco balls to bring a little glam. If I remember correctly, Olivia, Maddison, and Hannah have supported us through dancing in our Young Artists Workshop starting in 2017.
CommUNITY Art's very first major fundraiser, The Young Artists Dance Workshop, was an overwhelming success. The workshop gathered dozens of dance families across Saint Louis City and County to gather and move for the healing of Rain Stippec (Rain's shooting was the catalyst to our organization, read her story here.) This makes me think I should do a blog post about the history and evolution of the Young Artists Workshop, stay tuned!
But back to our Valentine's Day shoot. This work has been a long time in the making. The dancers auditioned in August of 2020, learned the choreography in September, and have been rehearsing together for several months to bring this piece alive. Olivia, Maddison, and Hannah are amazingly talented dancers and surprisingly professional beyond their years. Despite having to let the choreography rest because of COVID precautions, the girls took it on themselves to practice and keep the movement fresh, all while trying to navigate online learning and keep up with their own competitive studio training. I can't wait to see what these fine young ladies grow to become.
Hannah is a vibrant dancer who has a background with dance, gymnastics and musical theater. She is multi-talented and willing to do any technique you throw at her. In this piece, she is featured in Contemporary and a solo in Hip-Hop. Even though she is very young, she recently endured a serious hip injury and had to rest through the winter months. She responsibly began physical therapy to make her health a priority because she wants dance to be her career. When you see the film this fall, I bet you will not be able to tell there was an injury at all.
What I can tell you about Maddison is that she is a hard worker, and she will gladly give her all with a smile on her face. She is a fervent tapper but ask her to leap, and you will see a perfect split fly across the stage. At the video shoot, I learned she has amazing control of dancing with her hair. Her hair-ography is flawless. Flipping her long brown ponytail without hesitation. You will find her most days training at Denoyer Dance Studio, filling her night with technique and strength training. Follow this sweet dancer on her instagram
Olivia is not only a talented dancer, but she will stand out of a crowd with her playful personality. Hard training and dance technique sometimes overshadows a dancer's true self. Not Olivia. When she dances, you see strength, artistry, and you get a chance to know her through her movement. She is goofy and playful but has a strong foundation that makes her a unique individual. You will see the authenticity of her movement during her solo in the film.
"Hope" is a collaborative work between local choreographers and the next generation of artists to bring a speck of brightness during the pandemic. In August of 2020, we invited youth from across Saint Louis to virtually audition for the chance to work with Dustin Crumbaugh, Jasmine Spencer, and Megan Melville.
Dustin, company dancer and director of Educational Programming at The Big Muddy Dance Company, set the contemporary section featuring all three dancers. From watching, I would say this was the most difficult choreography for the girls, but they rose to challenge.
Jasmine Spencer, a Saint Louis native, perfectly highlighted Hannah's talents through the hip-hop solo. As an insanely talented performer, Jasmine has performed with local hip-hop company KODE REDD and has danced at the BET awards. Jasmine is also a dedicated choreographer and instructor, focusing not only on technique but also fostering personalities through performance. You will see that Hannah can perform Jasmine's choreography with precision AND a sly smile on her face.
Unfortunately for Megan Melville - but fortunately for us - she was brought back to her hometown Saint Louis, like many other artists due to the pandemic. COVID-19 halted Megan's touring performances around the world but could not stop her creative process. Beyond creating the sassy jazz duet on Olivia and Maddison, Megan rose to the role of rehearsal director. She volunteered many hours, rehearsing the girls to get the movements just right, and directed the filming process once the cameras were rolling.
All in all, each individual film project comes to fruition due to amazing creative collaboration between local artists. With all the hard work, this major project has been a delight to watch unfold overtime. But I would say the most rewarding part of this experience is connecting with the people.