ShaLeigh Comerford teaches at ADF’s Samuel H. Scripps Studios

Masterclass: Physical Inquiry of Balletic Forms

Artistic Director ShaLeigh Comerford was invited to offered a three-week workshop at ADF. The masterclass is based in a variety of modalities and body practices, designed to expand one’s understanding and efficient use of the body through classical and neo classical forms. The classes are designed to be suitable for professional dancers as well as all who are curious for new ways to unlock their natural technique. The work in class engages students in a process that facilitates changes in the way we experience and relate to our bodies moving through an awareness of our form in space. We work with deep connections in the pelvis, freeing the upper body and spine to move with ease and expression while developing clear relationships of our body to the space around us. Modalities include applications from Eric Franklin, Lisa Harris, Irene Dowd, Anouk van Dijk, Christine Wright, William Forsythe and Andrea Olsen.

For booking information please send us a message via our Contact page.

This beautiful group of movers enjoyed the last day of the session with an impromptu photoshoot with ShaLeigh!

ABOUT: The year-round programs at ADF’s Samuel H. Scripps Studios are dedicated to providing a sound scientific and aesthetic base for all ages and all levels of dance training, from beginning to professional. Our studios serve as a center for creative activity in Durham, North Carolina in which students learn in a welcoming and non-competitive environment from faculty who are experts in their fields. Our programs offer a variety of classes for the dancer and non-dancer alike, designed to strengthen the body, increase flexibility of movement, and foster an appreciation of dance. For more information, visit their website here

Raising Awareness through Performance: when they become us

ShaLeigh Dance Works joins JONH BLANCO & the ACKLAND ART MUSEUM to present when they become us

A collaborative socially engaged performance event co-organized by Jonh Blanco, ShaLeigh Dance Works, and the Ackland Art Museum as part of Scared Wasteland, the 2019 graduating MFA group exhibition. when they become us, is an invitation to artists, audience, community and dancers to become participants in creating authentic group movement that examines the concepts of undocumented, migrating, transitional, irregular, displaced, refugee, illegal and unlawful vessel/bodies.

ABOUT: Sacred Wasteland presents work by the nine studio artists of the 2019 Master of Fine Arts graduating class and celebrates the blending of traditional and non-traditional approaches, as well as the thoughtful repurposing of materials to reveal layers of each artist’s idiosyncratic curiosities. Each of the candidates mines the rich and complicated realities of our world using objects, techniques, and subjects that might typically be discarded or overlooked in their original contexts. In many cases, the artists’ personal narratives are directly intertwined with their material choices, and their constructions and aesthetic interventions illuminate the public value of private artifacts. Their work inspires important questions about humanity’s proficiency at isolating, elevating, destroying, and memorializing people and resources over the course of a single lifespan. As these artists investigate the perception of cultural and material wastelands, they imbue what they find there with all the care and attention we reserve for the sacred.

Participating artists include Jonh Blanco, Sarah Elizabeth Cornejo, John DeKemper II, Peter Hoffman, Michael Keaveney, Jasper Lee, Laura Little, Reuben Mabry, and Chieko Murasugi.

During the 2nd Friday ArtWalk on May 10, Sacred Wasteland artist Jonh Blanco, ShaLeigh Dance Works, and the Ackland presented when they become us, a collaborative, socially-engaged performance event. 

Sacred Wasteland is curated by William Paul Thomas. Thomas is a 2013 alumnus of the MFA program in Studio Art at UNC-Chapel Hill and is the artist in residence at Duke University’s Rubenstein Art Center from January until March 2019.

This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of Seymour and Carol Cole Levin. 

We thank the community of artists, activists, Ackland Art Museum, Jonh Blanco, and William Paul Thomas for their support in this project!

For more information, click here.

A Special Event and New Collaboration

ShaLeigh Comerford joined CURRENT ArtSpace and Studio for post-show gathering after Shamel Pitts’s Black Velvet: Architectures and Archetypes and Bobbi Jene Smith’s A Study on Effort

New works by former Batsheva dancers no doubt captivated and challenged audiences, and ignited critical conversations about aesthetics, the body, race, gender, affect, and more. In order to support these conversations, to give them space and time to happen, Comerford joined the post-show gathering at The Franklin Hotel bar on Thursday, April 25th, following the performance with Carolina Performing Art’s Associate Director of Engagement Amanda Graham and Mellon DisTIL Post Doctoral Fellow Alexandra Ripp. The whole company was moved to their core by both performances. It was an honor to experience these bold new works at home and to celebrate Executive and Artistic Director Emil Kang’s remarkable talent for finding next generation’s leading edge.

Comerford and Pitts are currently launching a new collaboration for ShaLeigh Dance Work’s 2020 season. Comerford remembers Pitts well from her time in Israel with the Batsheva Company, but it wasn’t until his visit to Durham in 2017 that the two had a chance to really connect. Pitts happened to be in town to create a duet with Saar Harari at the American Dance Festival where Comerford was taking class. He soon returned to Brooklyn with his work BLACK VELVET: Architectures and Archetypes. The piece, which played to sold-out houses in NYC and around the world, is the second installment of the Black Series and a follow-up to his autobiographical solo Black Box. The multimedia-infused BLACK VELVET, choreographed by Pitts, is a product a of two-year collaboration with his performing partner Mirelle Martins and lighting designer Lucca del Carlo. The work will be performed on May 9-12 at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Fisher/ Fishman Space. You won’t want to miss it! And if you get a chance to meet these powerful artists, the inspiration travels both on and off stage!

Black Velvet: Architectures and Archetypes
Dancer Shamel Pitts (formerly of Batsheva Dance Company) and Brazilian performance artist Mirelle Martins’ Black Velvet is “a heart-piercing exploration of gender, race, identity, love and friendship” (Time Out Israel).

A Study on Effort
Created by veteran of Batsheva Dance Company Bobbi Jene Smith, this hour-long dialogue between dancer Ariel Freedman and violinist Keir GoGwilt is an emotional collaboration and a visceral experience. (Please note: Bobbi Jene Smith is unable to perform on April 24 and 25. Her role will be danced by Ariel Freedman.)

ABOUT: The mission of Carolina Performing Arts is to curate and present exceptional arts experiences that inspire and provoke the UNC community and beyond and celebrate the intrinsic value of the creative process. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit their website here

ShaLeigh Dance Works company members celebrating an AMAZING, and for some, THE FIRST, Gaga class!

SDW at Reality Ministries 2019 Talent Show at DPAC!

This is how we felt the moment before taking the stage at DPAC for this extraordinary performance!

ShaLeigh Dance Works was so honored to create a new work for the talented Suvya Diaheema Carroll who sang live to accompaniment by Angie Hong! SDW company members joined Suvya and Angie while dancing, lifting and showcasing the talents of the gifted Micaiah Okonkwo and Ali Harris!

The talent show is an incredibly memorable evening that highlights the wonderful talents of our community and the unique gifts of many people. It was a pure joy to be a part of for the second year in a row! We already can’t wait for next year!

ABOUT: Reality Ministries is a community-based non-profit that offers a variety of opportunities for participants to work, play, learn and grow together. Their mission is to create opportunities for adults with and without developmental disabilities to experience belonging, kinship and the life-changing Reality of Christ’s love. For more information, visit their website here.

SHAGA! w/ DJ PlayPlay at Moogfest 2019 sells out again!

We offered 90 minutes of guided movement with a first time ever live set by DJ PlayPlay! Happy to share that it SOLD OUT yet again for the second year in a row! Photos to come! Huge shout out to all that came out and to Global Breath Studios for hosting! We had a fabulous weekend with PlayPlay all-round as we launched into rehearsals for our next collaboration! Details to come, so stay tuned!

ABOUT: Jess “PlayPlay” Dilday is a DJ, producer, composer, educator and activist residing in Queens, NYC. PlayPlay combines their penchant for percussion and bass with nostalgic hip-hop and classic house samples in both their DJ sets & music production.  PlayPlay’s music is inspired by what they grew up listening to – namely jungle, breakbeat hardcore, industrial, jock jams, classic house & old school hip hop. Using a combination of samples and hardware synthesizers to create everything from unearthly basslines to high-octane acid/industrial sounds, PlayPlay makes energetic music that is both familiar and hard to pin down. In 2018, they debuted their EP release “It’s Only 3am” on Knightwerk Records, and have since released on labels such as Worst Behavior and Cybersonic LA. For more information,  visit their website here

ABOUT: Since 2004, Moogfest has been a forum for the exchange of ideas by artists, futurists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and scientists. By day, Moogfest is a platform for conversation and experimentation, attracting creative and tech enthusiasts for four days of participatory programming in Durham, North Carolina. By night, Moogfest presents cutting-edge performances by early pioneers in electronic music, contemporary pop innovators, and avant-garde experimentalists in venues throughout the city.

Moogfest is a tribute to analog synthesizer pioneer Dr. Robert Moog and the profound influence his inventions have had on how we hear the world over the last 60 years. The exchange between engineer and musician that he fostered is celebrated with a unique festival format where the creative process is understood as collaboration among many people, across time and space, in commerce and culture. For more information, visit their website here

enVISION: Commissioned by Arts Access

SDW was honored to join Arts Access at The Cary Theatre for an inspired afternoon of accessible theater, music and dance featuring performers with mixed-abilities.

We were very proud to present our newest collaboration entitled enVISION, the finale of a three section work commissioned by Arts Access. The work intertwined the dance experiences of two individuals with mixed-abilities and the future of adaptive dance. The piece opened with a duet entitled people like that, choreographed and performed by Lillian Willis in collaboration with Davian Robinson. Willis is Robinson’s movement mentor at UNC where he is currently enrolled as a dance major. Robinson lost his sight as a child and is breaking ground in innovative dance practices for people with low vision.

The second section entitled J’aime ma soeur, is a duet between ShaLeigh Comerford and her long time student Janie Desmond. Comerford and Desmond first began working together in 2005 researching non-ambulatory movement practices and have created an innovative movement relationship and bond that has spanned more than ten years. Their duet first premiered last year at DPAC for Reality Ministries’ annual talent show.

The grand finale enVISION brought together Comerford, Desmond, Robinson, Willis and the dancers of ShaLeigh Dance Works, in a performance that revealed that through collaboration and imagination, anything is possible. The group plans to continue their work together and look forward to many more collaborations to come.
“We feel there is greater potential yet to come with this work and the endless possibilities that are just beginning to be tapped for new movement mentor relationships. As most individuals with mixed abilities are paired with similar abilities, this collaboration really tapped into something new when we paired Janie and Davian to create an improvised duet. They discovered such a special way of relating and listening to each other’s bodies. It was truly remarkable to witness!” says Comerford.

The showcase was hosted by Master of Ceremonies, NC native, and NC Theater’s Artistic Director Eric Woodall. Other Performances included Diantha Lopez (Musician), Doug Kapp (Comedian), Eddie Cisneros and Noah (Musicians).

ABOUT: Arts Access is North Carolina’s only non-profit organization dedicated solely to making the arts accessible to people with disabilities. Founded in 1984 by a group of dedicated volunteers, Arts Access has grown to serve over 2500 North Carolinians annually and to be nationally recognized for its work at the intersection of arts and disability. The mission of Arts Access is to make the arts accessible to both children and adults with disabilities. For more information, visit their website here.

4 Sold Out Shows & 4 Standing Ovations for Bamboo Wind

Triangle Arts Review described it as “sensual, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful.”  Susan Broili Arts called it “Compelling” and “Powerful.”  All 4 performances were sold out and received standing ovations.

Culminating from over a year-long development phase that began in June of 2017, Coke Ariail and ShaLeigh Dance Works unveiled the world premiere of Bamboo Wind this past January 2019. The ambitious collaborative effort commissioned 20 local artists in the fields of music, lighting design, poetry, photography, sculpture, theatre, costume design, and dance for a multi-media performance installation. Each artist worked collaboratively to develop a series of mixed-media room-size environments that took over an entire wing of the Fruit’s warehouse complex for a three thousand square foot hanging bamboo forest. The environment included a stage floor where the installation concluded with an evening length dance-theatre work. “We saw an opportunity to foster collaborations across varied artistic fields and cultural divides through this project,” Comerford said. “We hope to create expanded future opportunities for the general public to participate in experiencing original works of art while also strengthening the creative capacity of artists and honoring the diversity of our community.”

The title is based on a seven-canto poem written by Coke Ariail which served as the thematic impetus for the major multi-art installation and performance. Arial also created fourteen original bamboo sculptures that were integrated into the installation and set design. Three photographic essays inspired by the poem were projected on screens within the labyrinth. The phenomenal team of local photographers commissioned included Catharine Carter, Lynne Feiss Necrason and Wojtek Wojdynski.

Multi-instrument performer, teacher and composer Robbie Link was commissioned to develop an original score performed live for the work. The evening was presented in seven sections comprised of text, solos, duets and ensemble work. The dancers were joined by two talented and accomplished actors: Dorothy Brown and Michael Foley. SDW Company member Emilie Raleigh was commissioned to design and create original costumes that interacted with the movement of the dancers. Nationally recognized lighting designer Jeremy Kumin shared his remarkable theatrical designs throughout the installation as well as on stage.

Bamboo Wind was made possible by the generous support of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and an Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council with support from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.

On the making of Bamboo Wind

This, by far, has been our most ambitious project to date: 20 collaborators, 10 different mediums, an outside stimulus and bumping up against different aesthetic approaches, expectations and interpretations.  As challenging as the journey has been, the rewards have been deep and remarkably abundant.

I was approached by Coke Ariail in June of 2017 with the proposition of creating an evening-length, dance-theatre work revolving around a seven canto poem he had written entitled Bamboo Wind. Immediately I heard the voice of my mentor Tere O’Conner, “If you can say it, why is it a dance?” Thus began the struggle of how to interface with the poem rather than take a narrative approach. How to be in dialogue with the spoken words through our movement. Throughout the piece, there are moments where our movement is actually at battle with the words. And in other moments, you will see the dancer’s tap into a personal memory of the sensations described by the canto. In other words, we allowed our relationship to the various cantos to become another presence or being in the dance. That was the moment the dance began to land.

This journey has led to many rehearsals where instead of moving, we talked. We questioned. And we rioted until we found a solution. It has created such a deep closeness amongst the dancers and has pulled a clarity about our focus as a company: What we believe in. What we don’t. Who we are inside this container of “us.”  What we choose to do about it and how we choose to collectively tackle challenges together ensuring that all voices are heard.

Collaboration itself is significant for the divides of style, art form, culture, backgrounds and ethnicity. This project pushed us against our boundaries until we found a new path through it. As an Artistic Director (a.k.a. mama bear) not having control of all of the elements while working with a brand new group of collaborators was enormously daunting. But the challenge has ultimately transformed our approach into greater depths. I am certain that the work the audience is about to see would never have come into being if it were not for these obstacles summoning something new and deeply authentic from us. And the work itself which involves much more than dance, will not simply represent SDW but the collective of artists that collided together to create it.

We are humbled and honored by what we have learned from our remarkable collaborators. Throughout our creative process, we have learned that the rabbit hole of communication that once began with a poem and its narrative, had to deepen into interpretation and then several steps further into a personal response – an interface. From there, we began to truly communicate and create. We found new words to articulate our relationship to the music with our beloved composer Robbie Link. In fact, we may have created a new language that would likely be gibberish to the world outside but grounded us to each other. We found new directives to share the journey with our incredible actors Dorothy Brown and Michael Foley while they found their way through turning a monologue into a dialogue and a fantasy of lust into a personal story of longing and desire.

In the end, we have all learned a great deal from each other. There are many more stories to share and many more collaborators to celebrate. But for now, we are grateful to Coke for creating an opportunity to come together with artists we would have never known, to create a work that would never have been, and to be so challenged that it strengthened our bond, our commitment and our work.

19 days till opening.

Sold Out Gala!

Video by Ernesto Javier Photography

Revolutionaries in the Dark

On December 7th, we gathered at Reality Ballroom for our 2nd annual Revolutionaries in the Dark Gala. We were honored by the number of supporters that joined us and are excited to share that our event sold out! The gala has grown by leaps and bounds this year. We can only imagine how much stronger the next will be! And we already have an incredible start with our amazing Project Manager, Kayla Oelhafen and an incredible team of volunteers! I could not have done this without them and we certainly could not have done it without you! Thank you to all who attended, donated, cheered, reminded me to breath, spread the word and showed up! We have big plans in store for next year, so stay tuned!

Packed Gala

GO

WHAT: ShaLeigh Dance Works’ 2nd Annual “Revolutionaries in the Dark” Gala.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 7).

WHERE: Reality Ballroom, 916 Lamond Ave., Durham, NC.

FEATURES: Guest speakers, performers, raffle, wine tastings, hors d’oeuvres and artist after-party.

TICKETS: Visit https://shaleighdanceworks.com/revolutionaries

By SUSAN BROILI

susanbroiliarts

ShaLeigh Dance Works’ artistic director ShaLeigh Comerford recently offered a glimpse of what’s in store for Gala-goers.

“Internationally acclaimed pianist Alejandro Santoyo is one of the performers,” Comerford said in an email interview.

“His unique approach to music is intended to bring serenity and harmony to his listeners …and [he] rather intentionally designs experiences to soothe souls,” the artistic director added.

Comerford also named Nina Be as the Gala’s honorary guest speaker.

“Nina has been teaching, choreographing and designing wellness programs internationally for over 40 years,” Comerford said. “She is the founder of Live Globally, a non-profit that focuses on education, sustainability and art.”

Working with other like-minded organizations, “Live Globally,” currently supports communities in Nairobi, Kenya and Costa Rica as well as in North Carolina. In Durham, they have developed a mindfulness yoga program to empower individuals and children through movement, fitness, self-expression and creative writing, Comerford added.

When asked about the title of this year’s gala fundraiser, Comerford replied: “We want to celebrate artists that are literally shining a light in dark places by challenging many of society’s deepest assumptions. We are deeply inspired by those providing a voice for others who may not have another way to be heard.”

Her company’s mission includes creating socially conscious work and Comerford employs a unique way to help performers do just that. “We do something called “Shaga,” which is a blend of [Israeli choreographer] Ohad Naharin’s movement language called Gaga and my Empowerment of Identity research,” she said. This training enables dancers to expand their movement potential in order to perform Comerford’s work that demands a versatile and open body and mind, she added.

This is the second year that Comerford’s company has featured consistent membership – as opposed to a pick-cup company in which performers are not always the same.

Company members do not currently receive a salary but are paid performance honorariums, Comerford said.

“They are also donating 11 hours a week to train and rehearse,” she added. “This is such an incredible testament to their commitment … but is not one bit a reflection of their value. This why our Gala and campaign efforts are so deeply important to me. Culturally, we have somehow settled on a gig-economy. This is such a sad social construction for undervaluing artists and just another reason why becoming a pick-up company would essentially give in to supporting this entertainment-only ideology. We do our deepest work off the stage and this is what I want to support.”