Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mosaic Nominated for 2013 Sunshine Award for the Performing Arts

SUNSHINE Awards Organization
Announces Nominees for New York City Program

New Jersey, October 24, 2013.  The SUNSHINE Awards Organization today announced in New Jersey the nominees for the 2013 SUNSHINE Awards Program scheduled for Saturday November 2, 2013 in New York City.  The SUNSHINE Awards Program was founded 25 years ago to recognize and honor talented exponents of the performing arts, sports and education of the various Caribbean countries.  Over the years, the canopy of the program was extended to include South America, Central America and Africa. 

Mosaic Dance Theater Company is among the five nominees to be honored at the New York City milestone event and will perform Raks al-Sai'id, a dance of Upper Egypt, at the awards ceremony.

The milestone, black tie event will be staged at the AXA Equitable Center, 787 Seventh Avenue (corner of 51st Street) in New York City. The program will begin with a cocktail reception at 6:00pm followed by the presentation of awards and live performances at 8:00pm. The 25th Annual SUNSHINE Awards Program in New York City is sponsored in part by United Airlines “the preferred airline of the SUNSHINE Awards”, the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort of Tobago, National Staffing Associates and All Star Motors/Essex County Touring.

Tickets can be obtained online at or by calling 201-836-0799. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Love Affair with The Arabian Nights -- Part Two: Riding "The Ebony Horse" by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio

Erin, Nina, Samara, Kendra, Mary Susan

In adapting one of Scheherazade’s tales from the Arabian Nights for the Mosaic Company, dance must always remain in the forefront.  The action that moves the plot forward becomes the springboard for Mosaic’s re-telling of the tale through dance and movement.

“The Ebony Horse” is one such story with much intrinsic movement: the mechanical inventions presented to King Sabur at the start of the tale; Kamar Al-Akmar’s initial ride on the ebony horse and the subsequent flights; the women in the harem; the “exorcism” of Shams Al-Nahar, and then, of course, there are the transitions from scene to scene.  Once I have the adaptation in a rough preliminary draft, my next step is choosing the music. 

Erin, Nina, Kendra, Mary Susan
The great composers of movie soundtracks have shown us just how important music is in telling a story.  And, certainly, they paid heed to the Tchaikovskys and Rimsky-Korsakovs who composed breathtaking scores for the ballet.  As I write my adaptation, each dramatic point conjures a certain emotional element, thereby needing a certain sound.  Not to be clichéd, but I must say that I’ll know it when I hear it.  A brief meeting with composer Kevin Keller  ( at APAP’s (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference 2013 led to a follow-up correspondence, with Kevin’s introducing me to his beautiful, evocative music, with sounds of world fusion.  His composition “Dvija,” was perfect for “The Ebony Horse.”

Fitting the music to the action and the narrative is the next step, and certainly one of the most important in the pre-rehearsal development.  Does the emotional arc of the music match the story?  Is there appropriate music in the score to match up with the dance breaks in the script?  The solitary process of reading the script aloud to the music for timing requires editing, re-writing, and an occasional musical edit (with the composer’s permission, of course) to make everything fit.  Finally, when I am satisfied, we are ready to begin rehearsal with the cast.

Samara, Nina, Erin, Kendra, Mary Susan
Samara, Mosaic’s Artistic Director for Dance and Choreographer, and I have evolved our way of collaborating over the many projects we’ve created.  If I’ve done my job correctly, then the music and the words are in sync with my directorial vision.  At our work sessions, I review the story with Samara, as well as the particular emotion of the scene, whatever blocking and positioning I have already set, and what needs to happen within the music at specific times.  In the case of  “The Ebony Horse,” we also reviewed preliminary costume sketches (the costume design was inspired by those wonderful illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren) to see how use of costumes could be incorporated into the choreography.  Samara then creates the choreography,  and we proceed to set the show with the cast: Nina Brewton, Kendra Dushac, Mary Susan Sinclair-Kuenning and Guest Artist Erin Pellecchia portray the harem girls (and very busy) dance ensemble; Samara as Princess Shams Al-Nahar; Guest Artist Michael Baugh as Prince Kamar Al-Akmar, and myself as the storyteller.  Along the way from first rehearsal to final dress rehearsal, there are many changes, but the words and the music guide us.  (Rehearsal photos throughout this article show our talented dance ensemble hard at work. Photos by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio.)

Kendra, Nina, Mary Susan, Erin, Samara
 Scheherazade enthralled her husband King Shahriar for 1000 nights, thereby saving her own life and winning the king’s love and trust.  Her legacy has been a major force in my artistic career, and has given me many opportunities to share my personal sense of wonder of these tales with our audiences.  Which tale will be the next project?  I can’t say just now, but I can guarantee I am already thinking about the possibilities.

“The Ebony Horse” will be making its world premiere on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at the JCC Maurice Levin Theatre, 760 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ, as part of “The Art of Sense and Soul, “ presented by JSDD’s WAE Center’ Global Beat Series.  The concert is presented free of charge to all. Here’s a link for more information:
"The Ebony Horse" will be presented at Mosaic's special 10th anniversary concert scheduled for November 22, 23, 24, 2013 at Martha Graham Studios in New York City.  Details to be announced.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Love Affair with The Arabian Nights -- Part One: How It All Began by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio

During the many question and answer sessions in which Mosaic company members have participated, inevitably someone asks:  How did you get involved in Middle Eastern dance?  Each of us in the Company has our own reasons.  My path into this beautiful dance form began at the library, of all places.  I was a voracious reader as a child, and was drawn to the beautifully illustrated books of fairy tales and folk tales of different lands.  The librarians in the children’s department never let me down – each visit I would ask for their suggestions, and they would deliver.  On one visit, probably when I was in the third grade,  I was recommended the big, beautiful Tales from the Arabian Nights with illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren ( I read the book everyday until the due date, and then I renewed the book and read it again until it was due.  With great reluctance, I returned the book when my renewals had run out.  But after the book’s required “resting time,” I checked it out again, and the cycle continued.

The good librarians soon became wise to my repeated antics, and would put the book aside for me until I could return to check it out once more.  These were wonderful years full of the discoveries that reading brings, but time passed.  I grew older, and, eager to be given access to the infinite selections in the adult library on the main floor, I no longer visited the children’s library on the second floor.  But, I never forgot the magic of Tenggren’s illustrations or of Scheherazade’s enthralling stories, and sought out the more adult retelling of the stories, even the 19th century translation of explorer Sir Richard Burton.

Let’s zoom ahead to when disposable income became available.  Before the Internet and easy book searches through such businesses as, working with a reputable book hunter was the only option to track down an out-of-print title not found in a local used bookstore.  Children’s picture books were hot commodities, and rarely to be had at secondhand bookstores.  So, after finding a book hunter, I was thrilled to plunk down a hefty portion of my paycheck to purchase my own (“excellent condition”) copy of that magical Golden Book edition full of Tenggren’s art.

Let’s zoom ahead once again.  I had just completed a successful tour to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, of my one-person performance of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and was looking to begin a new one-person project, done in story theater – a style of storytelling using mime, dance, narration, and playing several characters. This style (based upon improvisation techniques developed by Paul Sills for his Story Theatre) was introduced to me by Robyn Baker Flatt during my years at the Dallas Theater Center (Texas) and I loved it. 

Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves  (Michael Hess, Maurice
Chedid, Richard Khuzami, Morgiana Celeste Varricchio.
Photo by Bob Greenwald.)
In choosing this next project, I wanted to combine Middle Eastern dance and music, characters I could sink my teeth into, and a story I would not grow tired of.  The only logical choice, therefore, was Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves, my most favorite story of all time, which even includes a climactic dance scene.  My director Donald Brenner and I worked tirelessly over a very hot summer in Fazil’s un-air-conditioned studios, and created a literate retelling of the tale, performed in story theater style with mime, movement, and Middle Eastern dance, with yours truly playing twelve different characters including the forty thieves.  (Three donkeys were part of the original coterie of characters, but were written out of the final version.)  Our efforts were rewarded with a touring contract with Lincoln Center, which enabled us to add three musicians for live accompaniment (Richard Khuzami, Maurice Chedid and Michael Hess). After our season with Lincoln Center, we toured Ali Baba to schools in the NY/NJ metro area and beyond for 10 years.

The Fisherman and The Djinni (Nina Brewton, Zahra Gamal,
General Judd, Cara WEst, Dena Stevens. Photo by Kristin
Reimer of Photomuse.)
In the meantime, Mosaic Dance Theater Company came to be.  Now working with a company rather than just as a solo artist, I had the opportunity to create a full cast retelling of an Arabian Nights’ tale, but which one?  As a solo artist, character actor, and dancer, I could do anything I chose.  For a dance company, however, the choice had to be adaptable for dance.  Again, I went back to my favorites, and adapted the consecutive tales of The Fisherman and the Djinni and The King of the Ebony Isles.  Fisherman had a cast of ten (five speaking roles, and five non-speaking roles), was directed in story-theater style, and featured choreography by Samara. The 80-minute piece was presented in 2006 in NJ and NYC.  
Ubar, The Lost City of Brass
(Mish-Mish B'int Amira, Samara,
Morgiana Celeste Varricchio,
Nina Brewton.  Photo byGary Heller.)

A few years later, in 2009, we brought another tale into Mosaic’s repertory.  This time, the choice was Ubar, The Lost City of Brass, a strange tale based on history, which has always fascinated me.  Again, we had a full cast, again the story was adapted with dance in mind.  Subsequent seasons brought new tales, also presented in story theater fashion – two solo works (Mohammed the Muallim and Abu Nuwas and His Wife), and one full cast work (The Paradise of Children,  the story of Pandora’s box).  2013 -- time to return to Scheherazade’s vast compendium of stories.  Enter The Ebony Horse.

End of Part One

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's All About the Process by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio

How do you walk a word? On April 11 and May 30, 2013, Mosaic Dance Theater Company’s outreach trio, Samara Adell, Adriana Rosa and I (Morgiana Celeste Varricchio) introduced members of JSDD’s WAE Center to a new way “to get below the outer layers of everyday consciousness” (Paul Baker) in order to create works of art, an “inner process” of tapping the creative core that lies in each of us.

Back in my “salad days” as an apprentice at the Dallas Theater Center (DTC) in Dallas, Texas, all first-year candidates in the MFA program were required to take the course titled “Integration of Abilities.”  Paul Baker, the brilliant director/theater artist, visionary, and Managing Director of DTC, developed this methodology as a means of discovering one’s creative center.  Through a succession of exercises designed to explore a variety of “elements” (line, rhythm, color, texture, shape, sound, silhouette, space, direction), theater artists of all disciplines would learn a common vocabulary with which to communicate ideas to one another.  Mr. Baker’s vision was revealed to us, eager young artists that we were, in weekly sessions over a nine-month period.  This creative adventure became ingrained in me, and has become my way of approaching new creative projects, or trying to solve creative problems.
Angel walks his line with Morgiana 

So, in discussing plans for a 2013-collaboration between Mosaic and JSDD’s WAE Center, I proposed workshops based upon Mr. Baker’s “Integration of Abilities,” but designed for the special needs of the WAE Center members.

For those of you unfamiliar with this past collaborator, JSDD’s (Jewish Services for Developmental Disabilities) WAE (Wellness, Arts, Enrichment) Center is an alternative learning center, helping individuals with disabilities find the “spark within” through a variety of programs in the arts. 

My proposal fell in line with the WAE Center’s goals, so the Mosaic team went to work.  We decided to use Mosaic’s dance work “Red Desert,” as the source material.  Our two 2-hour-long sessions were attended by two separate groups of WAE Center members as well as WAE Center staff members and artist facilitators.  After a brief warm-up, followed by a round of introductions and explanations of what our workshop goals were, Samara told the participants the story behind her interpretive choreography for “Red Desert” (read that description on our repertory page: Participants then had the opportunity to watch a video of “Red Desert,” taken at a theater performance.  Now it was their turn to work. 

Samara  and Vicky demonstrate Vicky's movement
 for "beauty" as Jessica looks on 
Their first task was to describe their impressions of what they saw, then share with the group how the words made them feel.  Next, everyone was asked to show one movement to express their personal interpretation of “Red Desert” from some of the words they had written down.  And then came the hard part – drawing the movement, using the whole muscular effort of that movement to produce the drawing on paper.  And, of course, since the source material was dance, participants were instructed to “walk the line” of the drawing they completed. 

This is not an easy exercise, nor does it promise a quick result.  And, our two-hour workshops were similar to sticking a toe into the ocean to learn all of its secrets, but it was a start.  The “Integration of Abilities” is a process, and it is the losing of oneself in the process that, in the early stages, is more important than the final product.  There’s a breathless wonder in discovering that it’s OK and exciting to move out of your comfort zone when in the creative mode.  Don’t rely on your personal bag of tricks -- go beyond what your mind is telling you, and go with the feeling of the movement. 

Jessica shows her drawing to Samara,
Adriana and Morgiana
As Mosaic goes back to the rehearsal studio to prepare for our concert on October 20, presented by the WAE Center, the WAE Center artists will go back to the art studio, to build on the words, the drawings, and the movements they created in these workshops, and develop them into their own work of art, be it visual art, written word, spoken word, movement, music, or something else entirely, but each one springs from an initial response to their viewing of “Red Desert.” The artworks will be on exhibit as part of the collaboration between Mosaic and the WAE Center – “The Art of Sense and Soul.”

(Photos by Dean Nevolis and Renee Folzenlogen) 

(“The Art of Sense and Soul,” free to the general public, will be held on October 20, 2013 at the JCC Maurice Levin Theater, 760 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ.
The day’s events will include:
  • ·      a gallery exhibit by WAE Center artists from 12-6 PM
  • ·      a workshop with Mosaic using personal experiences for artistic inspiration at 2 PM
  • ·      a concert of dance and music from the Near East by Mosaic Dance Theater Company at 3 PM, including a performance of “Red Desert”
  • ·      a Q&A with the artists following the concert.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What a weekend!

Our rescheduled performances of TRADITION, MYTH, & FANTASY II (Mosaic & Jehan at MMAC Theater) happened this past Saturday & Sunday, Feb 16 & 17, 2013.  The show was a great success, with many compliments for all.  But, while we had clear (but bone-chilling) weather, the black cloud of superstorm Sandy, which shut us down for our original October date, still hovered.  Guest Artist Erin Pellecchia, dancing as one of the four Goddesses/Troubles in Mosaic's NY premiere of "The Paradise of Children," had the extreme misfortune of severely pulling a calf muscle at Friday night's tech rehearsal, to the point where she was on crutches and barely able to walk, let alone dance.  Everyone was devastated -- especially Erin, who had never missed a performance in her life!  We made sure that Erin was taken home safely, and then, Director Morgiana Celeste Varricchio and Choreographer Samara had the phone lines smoking with the many late-night phone calls and texts to find a solution.  In the end it was decided to re-stage "Paradise" for three dancers rather than trying to bring in a last-minute replacement.  With only one hour on Saturday to pull it all together, rehearsing in a hallway at MMAC, Samara and Morgiana re-staged what was necessary, and stage-smart Mosaic dancers Nina Brewton, Kendra Dushac and Mary Susan Sinclair-Kuenning executed the changes brilliantly.  The audience was completely unaware until an announcement was made at the end of the piece.  Thanks to all for rallying to save the day; special thanks to Nina, Kendra, and Mary Susan for their tremendous focus and concentration to keep all the changes in their heads; but most importantly, heartfelt get-well wishes to Erin for a speedy recovery.

The Four Goddesses of "The Paradise of Children"
L to R:  Erin, Kendra, Nina, Mary Susan.
Photo by Manza Mussa from September NJ premiere.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

January Journeys

January is thirty-one days long, but somehow it always seems longer.  Probably because the holiday decorations come down, and there is nothing to distract us from the shortened daylight hours, the cold winter weather, and the fact that government filings, whether they be corporate or individual, are due momentarily.  But, maybe because the month seems longer than normal, we are fooled into getting more things done.  No, this is not the start of a metaphysical discussion on the properties of time, but merely a lead-in to say that Mosaic kept busy during January! 

l to r: Mary Susan, Nina, Samara,
Morgiana, Kendra

l to r: Kendra, Morgiana, Samara,
Mary Susan, Nina
The month began with a pro-bono performance at Cedarbrook Nursing Home in Allentown, PA.   As a not-for-profit public benefit organization (sic. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity), Mosaic’s mission underscores the importance of the greater good.  So, on select occasions, the Company will present a program at no charge, as part of our outreach goals for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), for “causes” we feel strongly about.  So, off we went to the Lehigh Valley on a clear and dry January 4.  Cedarbrook, a Lehigh County-run organization is quite large, so there was the added benefit of an auditorium with a stage.  Mosaic presented an hour-long travelogue of dance and story for the residents of the complex and their guests, performing favorites from the repertory representing Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Oman.  An interactive music lesson and Q&A brought a personal touch to the afternoon.  (Photos from Dance of the Awallim by Bob Greenwald.)

One week later, the whirlwind conference of the touring show-biz world opened at the New York Hilton – APAP Conference 2013, which ran from January 11-15.  APAP is the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and its membership is open to many categories within the performing arts world.  Mosaic falls into the “Artist” slot.  This was an exciting year for our attendance at the conference, as Mosaic was to be a first-time exhibitor in the Expo Hall.  (A photo of our booth shown here.)  It’s a unique experience. And Mosaic attendees (Morgiana Celeste Varricchio and Bob Greenwald) took advantage of as many professional development sessions, artist showcases, and general conference activities as possible.  To sum up the experience, Mosaic established its own presence, connected with individuals who knew of us, and attracted the interest of those who were looking for what we offer.  Very positive, I’d say!  Let’s go, Conference 2014!

On January 24, (and we are thankful that once again the January sun smiled on us) we braved the pre-dawn deep freeze and departed NYC at 5:30 AM for Blue Bell, PA, for a 9:00 AM performance of Caravan to Cairo, our school assembly program, part of the Young Audiences of NJ & Southeastern PA (YANJ/PA).  Mosaic has been on YANJ/PA’s roster since 2008, and performing for school children is always rewarding – most especially during the Q&A.  Questions ranging from “I liked your show very much!” to “Where do you all come from?” to “Why do you dance?” keep us on our toes.  With arts courses being cut from normal school studies to keep school budgets manageable, YANJ/PA works hand-in-hand with educators to make sure that the mandate for arts programs is met with value and quality.

A great start to a brand new year!