A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Dance for Your Summer Daze

Ana Mendez, from Tribute: A Summoning (2010).

For these dog days, while Miami’s art world is gearing up for the fall season, it’s all about dance. Not just your average dance on stage, but genre-bending performance and an exploration of the intersection points between dance and art.

On the lower end of the artistic spectrum, Step Up 3D, the third installment of the Step Up series is out in theaters. It’s a shamelessly indulgent dance film, and yes, it’s in 3D. Delicious dance candy, battles galore! I mention this film not only because it’s a great opportunity to turn off your brain for a minute and have a good time, but also because it belongs in a rich vein of cross-genre performance: dance for camera. Stay tuned to for this weekend’s mini-film festival of dance videos including some classic examples from the archives.

In the meantime, big news on the local performance front. Thursday August 19th at Miami Art Museum, the Afterhours program features Talking Head Transmitters, with a broadcast on contemporary dance from their in-museum AM radio station, and Walking Spell, a performance by local performer and choreographer Ana Mendez.

Ana Mendez, from Valley of the Queen (2009).

MAM’s announcement describes Walking Spell as “experimental performance.” Indeed, Mendez’s work, lying somewhere in the space between theater, dance, music and art, is not easy to describe. Consider her the conductor of a series of beautiful games. I use beautiful in the broadest sense because her visually stunning performances can be gritty at times, anguished, and emotionally resonant. The striking sense of presence that characterizes much of her work is due to her construction process – she creates situations and improvisatory scripts rather than strict choreography. As a result, her performers “play” the show, embodying her instructions with their own movement patterns. They seem to experience the performance as deeply as anyone in the audience. The musical background is not canned either – it’s a live soundscape responding to the dancers’ movements or the rules of the game.

Walking Spell will be driven by a deck of cards. Very John Cage. Each card drawn by the dancers prompts a specific sound to be played by the musicians. Every sound then generates a movement from the dancers. Because such a show could not exactly be rehearsed, the attention of the performers will be heightened as they listen for cues and respond to each other. Mendez describes Walking Spell as a meditation – “we intend to lose ourselves.” She will be performing alongside Aja Albertson, with sound created by Richard Vergez and Frederico Nessi and a customized floor built by Richard Martinez. The concept for this show was inspired by Cage’s Water Walk, a 1959 composition for, among other things, grand piano, electric mixer, whistle, tape recorder, five radios, a bathtub and a vase of roses.

John Cage performing “Water Walk” in January 1960, on the popular TV show I’ve Got A Secret.

While Mendez is clearly a talent to watch, one of her greatest strengths is her ability to work collaboratively. She draws generously from the talents of her performers, most of whom are not actually trained dancers, but accomplished artists or musicians in their own right. Tribute: A Summoning, a performance earlier this year based on the life of music producer Joe Meek, was well-developed in every aspect – visually, musically, and performatively – thanks to the contributions of her many collaborators (including both Vergez and Nessi). Each element could easily have stood on its own as a solid and complete artistic effort and so the show, as a whole, was far more than the sum of its parts.

Ana Mendez, from Tribute: A Summoning (2010).

Mendez and Nessi, creative partners for both Tribute and Walking Spell, first collaborated in 2008 for a project called Wire Wire Wire. The strength of their working relationship was later extended when local musicians got involved, and Psychic Youth, Inc. was formed in 2009. PYI’s performances are, like Mendez’s solo projects, structured by a loose set of parameters rather than a rigid set of movements. Psychic Youth Inc.’s recent extravagant three-night happening at the de la Cruz collection earlier this year, TRI, followed an improvisatory script that allowed each performer to fully own his or her movements and position in space. A wild and unpredictable, living, breathing show was born.

Tonight’s event promises to be another memorable addition to Mendez’s already rich performance history. The program runs from 6-9pm. Don’t miss it. For more information, visit

Walking Spell flyer by Richard Vergez.

This post was contributed by Annie Hollingsworth winner of this year’s Miami Writer’s Prize.

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Dance for Your Summer Daze