Tag Archives: dance

Embodied Faith: experience spirituality in a new way

I’m excited about this. You knew I would be. Annalise Hume begins a four-session “Embodied Faith” workshop on Monday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. I’m inviting all my friends and movement buddies to attend — by zoom or in person. Here’s how Annalise describes what we’ll do.

Our bodies hold memories and store our stories. By paying attention to how we feel or want to move, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and God. Each week we will experience a passage of scripture or theological theme through a combination of prayer, movement, play, and journaling. If you yearn for a fresh way to experience God this year, come and play. No previous dance, yoga, or movement experience necessary.

ANYBODY can do this. “While the sessions are movement based, our brain-body connection is so strong that you are welcome to do the entire class in your imagination without moving at all. All abilities and disabilities are welcome.”
These four sessions are sponsored by Princeton United Methodist Church and any reader of Princeton Comment will be my guest. The sessions are every other Monday from 7:30-8:45pm by ZOOM or in person in the church’s Fellowship Hall at 7 Vandeventer in Princeton. Register here:


Wassail Memories

My family in 1954. I’m on the right.

Wassail – the drink and the song – evokes pungent memories. At Christmas my Senior Girl Scout troop went caroling to the Baltimore County jail. Singing our way, “Here we come a wassailing.. Love and joy come to you…” through the cell blocks, we tried not to be daunted by what we didn’t want to see.

Yet wassail, as a festive drink, is a jubilant memory. My parents made it by the gallon jugs for our four-hour Christmas open house.  Creating the base required simmering spices and sugar; later they added squeezed-by-hand juice and cider. I still have my father’s aluminum citrus squeezer.

Our house was small, so the nearly 100 guests came in waves – medical school colleagues from 1 to 3, friends of my sister and me from 2 to 4, and everybody else from 3 to 5.

Because the hot wassail was such a spicily unusual drink, the teen boys judged it “spiked” and claimed the bowl, ignoring the (delicately flavored with very good whisky) eggnog. Everyone looked forward to our Smithfield ham (an annual gift from a former med student) and cocktail shrimp (in the early ‘50s shrimp was not yet standard party fare).  

At these parties I learned to love to entertain.

When my parents brought wassail to me at college, I learned how much parents will do to help their children. They brought not just one jug of wassail, but enough for more than a hundred people. With the modern dance group at Duke University, I had produced the first-ever multi-art Yule Fest. We danced to Christmas carols, accompanied by a medieval combo plus recitations by drama students. After the applause, dancers came down the aisles of the ‘theater in the round’ with glass cups of hot wassail for all.

Here is the Figge family wassail recipe in the small quantity (with medium and largest quantities in parentheses). My father’s notes say the largest quantity will be enough for 50 people (if you also have 3 gallons of eggnog!)

Boil 2 cups sugar (8 cups or 5 lbs.) in 2-cups water (8 cups or about 1½ gallons water) for 10 minutes. Add

6 cloves (24 or48)

1 stick cinnamon (4 or 8)

6 allspice or ¼ t ground (or 24- 48 allspice

1 T grated lemon rind (or 4 or 8 T)

1 T grated orange rind (or 4 or-8 T)

1 T chopped ginger (use your judgment for larger amounts)

Cover, stand 2 hours. Put in gallon jug, preferably glass. (At this point you can store the base, outside if it’s cold).

On the day of the party, strain it into a large kettle and add

 1 1/2 cups orange juice (6 or 12 c) preferably fresh squeezed

3/4 cups lemon juice (3 or 6) preferably fresh squeezed

2 cups sweet cider (or 8 or 16)

Before you reheat and serve this, dilute with 2 quarts cider or water, by taste.

Sassy Latina? Maybe not always.


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“I am inspired by lessons from the Caribbean that underscore creativity, resilience and the capacity for both resistance and celebration in the midst of difficulty,” says Alicia Diaz, a professional dancer who grew up in Princeton. She will participate in an unusual lecture demonstration this Friday afternoon  at Princeton University. Entitled “Diasporic Body Grammar: an encounter of movements and words,” it will be December 2, 2 to 5:30 p.m. in the Wilson College Black Box Theater.

Asked, in an interview, whether she struggles with stereotypes, Diaz brought forward the stereotype of the “sassy Latina.” “Here ethnicity, gender, and sexuality come together to be consumed and dismissed at the same time. I struggle with rejecting the stereotype and its negative implications while also acknowledging and owning its potential power.” 

Diaz, assistant professor of dance at the University of Richmond, will perform with her partner, Matthew Thornton. Here is a video of her work. Also participating will be a Brazilian artist, Antonio Nobrega. For information, contact Pedro Meira Monteiro pmeira@PRINCETON.EDU



Review: Puerto Rican Soundscapes

Princeton Comment is delighted to welcome Oscar J. Montero, professor emeritus at Lehman College. He reviewed the improvisations staged by Alicia Diaz (a Princeton native) and Hector Coco Barez on May 14 at Hunter College.  

alicia 2

Princeton Comment is delighted to welcome Oscar J. Montero, professor emeritus at Lehman College. He reviewed the improvisations staged by Alicia Diaz (a Princeton native) and Hector Coco Barez on May 14 at Hunter College.

During Puerto Rican Soundscapes, a music colloquium at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Alfonso Fuentes tapped a key on the piano to launch into a compelling improvisational riff. Improvisation, he said, is at the core of his musical work.  Iranian scales led to melodic asides echoing the traditional Puerto Rican plena in recurring counterpoints.  In his performance Fuentes underscored the tensions in his work between improvisation and tradition, that is, between the individual’s creative quest and collective forms that belong to no one but are shared and reshaped from one generation to the next.  The work of dancer Alicia Díaz and musician Héctor Coco Barez brought to the “soundscape”of the colloquium its own improvisations.  The dancer and the musician centered their performance on suggestive counterpoints between body and sound, between movement and music, between the visual and the aural.  

In her comments throughout the performance, Alicia Diaz suggests identities that take shape precisely, and perhaps only, through improvisation and dialogue.   Notions about identity as a fortress to be defended have been contrasted to identities as series of ongoing personal and political negotiations. Especially for dwellers in one form or another of exile, national identity as a place of origin is at best a nostalgic narrative; at worst, the troubling memory of violence and loss.   The vibrant collaboration between Barez and Díaz maps out other places in the complex field of our identities, inviting the audience to see in them not the finality of theplace we can name as our origin but the ongoing creation of shared spaces where our own pleasures and anxieties about who we are and where we come from may be performed.

diaz 2016Díaz’s agile, remarkably precise movements are flowing at times, cut sharp at others.  During the question/answer period, a person in the audience mentioned the pioneering work of José Limón, implicit in Díaz’s highly personal choreography.  Yet while fluent in the vocabulary of modern choreography, Díaz dances bomba, steeped in the traditions of Puerto Rico, and riffs on the resonance of such a loaded quotation in her work.  Bomba’s relationship to a Puerto Rican identity may be said to be seamless.  Its roots are found not just in specific locales and well-known historical circumstances but in Puerto Rican families.  Díaz mentioned the teaching of Tata Cepeda, a member of one such family and one of the contemporary heirs of the legacy of bomba.  Yet a folk dance, performed today in various settings, may approach stereotypes that can flatten identity for easy consumption, a process evident to me, a Cuban, as I see dancers in Havana dressed in Brazilian costumes entertaining a new wave of tourists with our famous rumbas.  The physical replies danced by Díaz to Barez’s music demonstrate the possibilities and the limits of an improvisation informed both by the individual’s quest and by powerful traditions.  Their work suggest to me that when words fail us, and their destiny is to do so, the body and its music can help us reconsider other options, help us perhaps to come back around to words and new narratives that might see us through.  In a moment of political uncertainty and economic turmoil, not only for Puerto Rico but for the world we live in, the value of our traditions and their inflection through our own experiences, indeed our own bodies, informs the urgent quest of these Puerto Rican dancers, musicians and writers, a quest valid in its own right and for what it might offer to others now and down the road.

Oscar J. Montero

Professor emeritus, Lehman College, City University of New York

NY NY May 15, 2016

Alicia Diaz Performs in NYC 5-14


2016 5 aliciaPuerto Rican Soundscapes
“Watching the collaborative performance of dance artist Alicia Diaz and percussionist ‘Coco,’ is an exhilirating experience,” writes Ze’eva Cohen, professor emerita in dance at Princeton University. “Rarely do we witness two accomplished, classically trained artists delving into their cultural roots and identity by way of improvisation.”

Diaz, who grew up in Princeton, presents a performative lecture in the conference “Exploring Puerto Rican Heritage Stateside through Roots, Jazz, and Classical Music” on Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Her part, scheduled to begin at noon, is titled Improvising Identity: Bomba as a Point of Reference Between a Contemporary Dance Artist and a Percussionist  in the Colloquium: Música in the United States: Puerto Rican Roots – Jazz – Classical Music.  It will be in the Ida K. Lang Recital Hall, North Building, Hunter College. Free Registration for the ColloquiumFor updated information http://www.centropr.hunter.cuny.edu or call 212-396-6545.

“It is captivating,” writes Cohen, “to be taken along their journey as they deeply ‘listen’ to each other and connect with issues of roots and identity via physical and mental symbiosis, beyond what is familiar and known. They take their found material and develop it through the improvisation to a layered, rich, and authentic performance that seems and feels fully formed.”



Gritty Details: the Gala Scene

For all of us who might be planning fund-raising events, this article in the 4-18-15 New York Times has insights.

“The events that work best are the ones that offer people an insider’s view of the organization or the people it serves.”

Not as effective, “those focused too much on honoring people within the organization…misses an opportunity to increase the number of people who know about the cause.”

In other words, buy a table and fill it with folks who might be donors.


It was a great evening, the Martha Graham Dance Company’s return to McCarter tonight. Gorgeous dancing, with three works of Martha’s  (Errand into the Maze, Diversion of Angels, Cave of the Heart, and one new work  (the compelling Lamentation Variations, shown above),  and an unusually full house.  Other than Bill Lockwood, who programs the series, nobody could have been more pleased than Marvin Preston. Preston, a turn-around management consultant, responded to a call to turn-around the Graham company in 2001, when it was in the throes of every kind of despair. Preston took the job knowing nothing about dance, stayed six years, and put the company back on his feet.  Needless to say, he knows plenty about dance now. And he had every reason to be pleased and proud tonight.

Michelle Mathesius: Making Waves, Again

When I saw the New York Times article headline about a protest led by a “dance teacher at LaGuardia Performing Arts High School” I knew Michelle Mathesius was leading the charge. And deftly going to the media to buttress her case.  LaGuardia’s mission is to encourage talented students in the performing arts, but — lately — the very talented ones have been rejected for admission in favor of those with so-so talent and higher academic standards.

This is not the way to create Broadway stars.

If you don’t know Michelle as a dancer, you have heard of her ex husband, Bill, a former judge and Republican prosecutor known for being outspoken.

I wrote about her for the Trenton Times during the glory days of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, when it had money, when she was dancing and choreographing and teaching and organizing and doing all with a flair. She led the movement to celebrate New Jersey’s early dance star, Ruth St. Denis, and she helped create the vo-tech schools of performing arts. La Guardia Performing Arts High School snatched her away and though I went to one of its impressive recitals, we lost touch.

Surely the legions of LaGuardia graduates will come out of the woodwork, out of the rehearsal studios, off the Broadway stages — to join Mathesius in her protest. Dance on, Michelle!



African Soiree Auction: “Ballerinas”

This painting by Rhinold Lamar Ponder is one of the items to be auctioned at the auction for the African Soiree, held at the Princeton Theological Seminary Mackay Center on Saturday, March 1, 5 to 8 p.m. It will benefit the United Front Against Riverblindness (www.riverblindness.org). For tickets,  UFAR@princetonumc.org or call 609-688-9979.

Michele Tuck-Ponder, a member of the mission team from Princeton United Methodist church, will call the live auction of items. In the auction are also a framed needlepoint picture yby Susan Lidstone, specially designed copper bracelet from Randi Forman of Nassau Street-based Forest Jewelers, a needlepoint picture, a quilt that Tuck-Ponder made from African fabric. Aruna Arya, owner of the Palmer Square-based fashion store Zastra , will donate one of her designs. Elsie McKee will contribute items made by a Congo-based charity, Woman, Cradle of Abundance. A professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and a member of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, McKee is in charge of local arrangements and the African market.  

More than one-third of the 60 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk for getting riverblindness. Caused by a parasite and transmitted by the black flies that live near the river, the disease takes two lives – the life of the adult who goes blind, and of the sighted child who must leave school to be the caretaker. The medicine is provided free by Merck & Co., but the distribution is a challenge. Using a community-directed approach that involves villagers who are appointed by their village chief, UFAR is able to treat more than two million persons each year. Annual treatment for each person in required for ten years to eliminate the disease.

UFAR is an African-inspired, Lawrenceville-based nonprofit charitable organization that aims, in partnership with other organizations, to eradicate onchocerciasis, a major public health problem in the Kasongo region of the DRC (riverblindness.org).

Each Moment New: Jane Buttars

tympanumMost musicians bring life to a page of musical notes and try to make it sound fresh and in the moment. Pianist Jane Buttars and cellist David Darling improvise their music — moment by moment. In their first album together, Tympanum, the listener gets to sit in on their exciting moments of creation. Each piece is a journey, imagined and created step by exciting step. Do not expect to listen to their improvisations while you are doing something else. Their focus is so intense that it snatches you and demands your full attention.

Each of the 14 selections takes a different mood journey. Sometimes persistent but unexpected rhythms bubble up to the surface and fairly bid the listener to get out of a chair and MOVE for heaven’s sake. Or gentle swaying lifts your spirits, like a high swing, and then subsides into still calm.

They are not limited to major, minor or modal; they can play for two minutes in the key of silence.

How to compare it? Maybe to say, think of combining the energy of jazz improv plus the adventuresomeness of Poulenc, plus the whimsy of e.e. cummings, But keep in mind that this is a duo of classical musicians.

Grammy Award-winner David Darling formerly played with the Paul Winter Consort and co-founded Music for People, which aims to encourage trained musicians to find joy in improvisation and ordinary people to find music in themselves. (This is my translation of MfPs mission statement.)

JB on CD better Buttars is a classically trained performer and teacher,  a Fulbright Scholar, and a dance and Dalcroze student, with a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano and harpsichord performance.  (Full disclosure: she is my workout partner at the Rabara Pilates studio.) Based in Princeton, she directs Music From the Inside, a program of group improvisation classes and workshops for all levels, beginners to professionals, and she leads Music for People sessions.

I can envision several important uses for Tympanum, beyond listening for delight. These improvisations fairly beg to be danced to — by those who do “contact improv” or those who choreograph. They could work wonderfully as part of a worship service, to introduce or follow a psalm or meditation that fits the particular mood. Creative dance teachers and nursery school teachers– here is a gold mine.  Listen at CDBaby.

Mostly, though, I just want to sit in my rocking chair, look out the window and be taken on one journey of imagination after another, each moment new.