ShaLeigh Dance Works announces new partnership with the Reality Center

After three years of providing performances for the infamous and loved Reality Ministries Talent Show, we enjoyed offering community members two, week-long residencies of movement classes as a part of Summerfest. The four-day Summer Day Camps were open to anyone involved with Reality during the year and provided people of all abilities memorable, un-rushed, communal experiences. We were excited to offer ShaGA specially designed with diverse abilities and needs in mind.

ShaGa is a somatic movement practice that has developed over the course of 15 years. It is a synthesis of ShaLeigh Comerford’s lifelong movement research that first began with the discovery of Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing and her passion to create healing movement programs for special populations. Her thesis entitled The Power of Identity through Movement created embodiment curricula for individuals with physical disabilities, mental illness, and survivors of trauma. In collaboration with SDW Company dancers, we have designed programming that is accessible and experiential for individuals of all abilities. Using evocative ideas and imagery rooted in creative, somatic movement games, our program provides an improvisational playground that connects the body and the imagination.

Company members Abby Bradetich and Steven James leading class at Summerfest.

After a successful first offering of this new program, ShaLeigh Dance Works and the Reality Center are excited to announce their new partnership that will provide two weekly movement classes for teens and adults with developmental disabilities as a part of their Day Program this year!

ShaLeigh with her long-time student Janie Desmond and Marc Brew, the Artistic Director of Axis Dance Company.

ShaLeigh founded the first Mixed-ability dance program in her home town of Roanoke, VA in collaboration with The Roanoke Ballet Theatre in 2003 and decided to launch it again at The Durham Arts Council in 2004 after identifying the need for accessible dance programs. Her engagement work has continued to offer multiple performance opportunities each year that bring mixed-ability movers to professional stages in the Triangle. This summer, she was an invited speaker for a panel discussion with Axis Dance Company and Arts Access on making dance inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities.

ABOUT:The Reality Center is a community-based non-profit that offers a variety of opportunities for participants to work, play, learn, and grow together. Our mission is to create opportunities for teens and adults with and without developmental disabilities to experience belonging and kinship. The Reality Center is a place with no margins where everyone is accepted, valued, and celebrated.

SHALEIGH DANCE WORKS performs at Alia El-Bermani: Like Sound Through Water

Anchorlight in Raleigh, NC presented a solo exhibition of new work by Alia El-Bermani. Through painting, drawing, and paper sculpture El-Bermani shared her current study of loss and resiliency. She allowed the grief experienced over the recent loss of her mother to flow into a more universal search for quiet meaning.  The closing night of the exhibition, we were honored to perform a movement installation inspired by Alia’s work.

Photo by Slater Mapp

It was truly a unique experience to engage with each piece of art through a collaborative and intimate creation process with the artist herself. Alia walked us through each piece and shared the stage of grief that was expressed.

Photo by Slater Mapp

The dancers were given the task to embody the sensation of each emotion as the source of raw movement. Their task was to be experiential rather than decorative. Instead of telling the story of the painting, each dancer entered into it as a room, a time, and a place.

Alia and I scored the piece according to our chill bumps. We found resonant moments when the choreography could reveal a felt sense – where the subjective qualities described could transform into raw, direct experiencing of the body’s feeling within these specific experiences and memories. We wanted to allow expression to the emotions that were already inherently in the work and to make them visible in a way that was experienceable.

Photo by Slater Mapp

We reached to uncover the multiple, experiential layers within the metaphors and symbolism throughout the body of work. Unexpected symbols and meanings revealed themselves to Alia as she was creating these mixed media drawings, paintings and paper sculpture installation. We were as interested in it’s clear visual language as much as the layers and metaphors underneath, and saw the two as interchangeable.

Photo by Slater Mapp

At the final dress rehearsal, I experimented with exchanging one sense organ for another: the eyes for the ears such as when the movers began to speak without sound. I wanted to reveal the depth of these lived sensations behind Alia’s story. There could possibly be few moments more poignant to loss than to see without sound, to know something is there but you can’t translate it. We unlocked a space that isolates this moment of a pure desire to receive something that feels so out of reach.

Photo by Slater Mapp

Alia El-Bermani’s Artist Statement for Like Sound Through Water

With this exhibition, I set myself up for an impossible task. Representing the enormity of what remains when someone so important passes; Living grief while trying to analyze it, like a scientist or journalist, trying to record yet not impact the event. Impossible. Grief is a fog that has altered my perception. It’s slowed me, physically impeding movement, blurring my vision. It’s just vapor. It’s just thoughts. It’s just so thick. I grew up outside any standard belief system. This gives me both the obligation and freedom to create my own myths for what happens beyond. In our home, science was the closest thing we had to religion. And so to science I turn for comfort, for answers, for structure during what feels like a chasm of chaos. Like sound through water, only the lowest, most soulful frequencies persist. Deep within the ocean there is a floating channel of water that at just the right pressure and just the right temperature, sound travels further than anywhere else on earth. In this layer, whose boundaries act as a waveguide, the speed of sound is at its minimum, capable of traveling thousands of miles. Like the songs of baleen whales, I like to think this is where we hear our ancestors call. This is where I will hear her songs once again.

In memory of my mother: Dr. Eunice I. Bloomquist

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Our deepest thanks to Slater Mapp for his compelling photography that captured the essence of this remarkable installation!

Alia El-Bermani

ABOUT ALIA EL-BERMANI: Artist, teacher and independent curator, Alia El-Bermani was raised in a small town just south of Boston, where she spent most of her childhood enjoying the outdoors and discovering the natural history of the south shore of Massachusetts. She received her BFA in 2000 from Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach CA. This talented figurative painter has had several solo exhibitions as well as her work featured in numerous group exhibitions across the country.  Her paintings and drawings have been showcased in museums such as the Palm Springs Desert Museum in California, Customs House Museum in Tennessee, Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Alaska, West Valley Art Museum in Arizona, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto and the Greenville Museum of Art in North Carolina.  In 2015 her painting Paper Wishes was acquired by the Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (MEAM), in Barcelona, Spain for their permanent collection. She is also a seasoned instructor who has taught at both the college and workshop level.  El-Bermani has been an honored guest lecturer at several universities including East Carolina University, Meredith College, Laguna College of Art and Design and Texas A&M University.  She is a member of the Portrait Society of America as well as a co-founder of the important blog Women Painting Women.  Several articles have been written on her work in such periodicals as American Art Collector, iArtistas, ArtSee, Art Week, The Independent, LA Weekly and the Savvy Painter Podcast.  She currently works out of her studio in Raleigh, NC.

ABOUT ANCHORLIGHT: Anchorlight is a creative space, founded with the intent of fostering artists at varying stages of their development. Anchorlight provides a combination of artist studios, residency opportunities, and exhibition space. Through the establishment of an internal community of artists, designers, and craftspeople, Anchorlight encourages mentorship and the cross-pollination of knowledge and skills. In this way we strive to enhance the cultural environment of the surrounding community and our city as a whole.

SHALEIGH DANCE WORKS in residence with ROSIE HERRERA DANCE THEATRE for the company’s newest evening-length work The In-Between

We were honored to welcome Rosie Herrera, Artistic Director of Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre for a two week residency with SDW from July 2 -12th, 2019.

This residency offered an incredible opportunity for the artistic development of the dancers as well as our newest choreography The In-Between. We workshopped our current material and developed new ways of expression to extend our repertoire of movements, images, ideas, and vignettes. Our newest work began powerfully as something that demanded expression. Rosie helped us dig into its universal themes. She practiced a deep presence with each dancer and every idea. She helped us break open the symbolism in a way that revealed something deeper about the human condition. 

Rosie’s dramaturgical sophistication allowed an intimacy to form with our inquiries and subject matter. She guided us towards moments that would reveal an experience of the layer deeper than our expectations and associations. Through this process, we each discovered a vulnerability and truth that we didn’t know was hidden. She skillfully introduced props as symbolic objects that inherently added the emotion of both laughter and tears simultaneously. We learned so much from her about how to build a deeper connection to working with props. She intuitively was able to expose what was already there in the image of the prop as well as what was in us.  It was as if she set the conditions for our own humanity to emerge. 

Rosie and ShaLeigh have shared a long held admiration and artistic bond since discovering each other at The American Dance Festival. ShaLeigh first experienced Rosie’s work while attending ADF as a scholarship student in 2009. Rosie presented her Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret which was set on students for the Past/Forward program. Rosie first discovered ShaLeigh as a dancer for Elizabeth Corbett’s Forsythe Project that same year.

This pattern of Rosie presenting and ShaLeigh performing continued every summer until Rosie’s first experience of ShaLeigh’s choreography which would be as an adjudicator for Here and Now: NC Dances giving ShaLeigh Dance Works its ADF premiere in 2015. In 2016, Rosie invited ShaLeigh to perform a solo in the world premiere of Carne Viva at ADF. The two also shared a very special relationship with long-time ADF costumer John Brinkman who passed in 2017. He always wanted the two to work more together and this residency would have made him very proud. ShaLeigh and the company hope that this is just the beginning of an incredibly nourishing mentorship and collaboration.

Rosie’s final note to us, “Give yourself and the dancers time to explore and dig deep. Trust yourself!”

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The residency was made possible in part by The American Dance Festival, Ninth Street Dance, Empower Dance Studio, and Living Arts Collective. All photos by Philippe Alexandre

ABOUT: Rosie Herrera is a Cuban-American dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Rosie Herrera Dance Theater in Miami. She is a graduate from New World School with a BFA in Dance Performance. She has been commissioned by The Miami Light Project, The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Ballet Hispanico, Moving Ground Dance Theater, Houston Met Dance, New World Symphony and the American Dance Festival (ADF) in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016.  Her company has been presented by the Northrop Dance Series, New World Symphony, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Baryshnicov Arts Center, Texas A & M University, Duncan Theater, The Annenburg Center in Philadelphia, Maui Arts and Cultural Center, Dance Place, Gotham Dance at Skirball and Focus Dance at The Joyce NYC as well as by The American Dance Festival at the Joyce NYC in 2016.

Rosie is also a classically trained lyric coloratura soprano and performs with the Performers Music Institute Opera Ensemble as well as works as an independent director and creative consultant throughout Miami. With over a decade of experience in both dance and cabaret, she has collaborated on productions with The South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center, New World School of the Arts, The University of Central Florida, Six Floor Ensemble, Zoetic Stage and the New World Symphony as well as with the interdisciplinary performance ensemble/avant- garde cabaret Circ X. She has also collaborated with filmmakers Adam Reign, Lucas Leyva, George Echevarria and Clyde Scott to create original short films and music videos.

Rosie is a 2016 USArtist Sarah Arison Choreographic Fellow, a 2010 and 2018 MANCC choreographic fellow, a 2014 Bates Dance Festival Artist in residence, a 2016 Bessie Schoenberg Fellow and a 2011 and 2016 Miami Dance Fellow.  She was awarded a Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship for her work with Ballet Hispanico in 2013.

Visit her website here


SDW at TASTE 2019

SHALEIGH DANCE WORKS celebrates their commission by DURHAM MAGAZINE for TASTE 2019‘s 6-Course Southern Feast Dinner

We had an incredible experience creating 6 new dances tailored to a 6 course meal with this taste bud extravaganza which offered an edible exploration of Southern food heritage celebrating global influences. All six courses highlighted the different ethnic elements that define our Southern food palate today. The diverse menu and sources of inspiration for each dance came from a wide variety of chefs including Littler, Vimala, Saltbox, Washington Duke, Goorsha, and The Parlor. Signature cocktails were provided by KingFisher and Durham Distillery along with feasting tables and our commissioned performances that made this an evening to remember. It was an honor to work with these master chefs and for our company to receive a standing ovation.

This event was sponsored by Whole Foods Market.

ABOUT: TASTE celebrates the flourishing food culture that has distinguished the Durham-Chapel Hill corridor as a recognized center of food creativity & culinary excellence. The event highlights the local culinary traditions that are the foundation of this movement, as enhanced by cross cultural, locally grown & artisan influences. Their mission is to heighten awareness of the area’s chefs, restaurants, farmers, food artisans, caterers, brewers, wine vendors & bakers and to make the Triangle even more visible on the national stage as a food, wine & craft brew destination. The event also benefits Meals on Wheels Durham, helping to feed hungry people in our community. For more information, visit their website here

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.