Detroit Performs


Dance and Music are Essential to Humanity

On this episode of Detroit Performs: DDCdances is a professional contemporary dance company dedicated to the creation and production of visually striking repertory; Detroit’s historic Orchestra Hall’s beginnings; and the Detroit Public Theatre gets a Broadway nod.

AIRED: May 05, 2020 | 0:27:07

- [DJ] In this episode of "Detroit Performs,"

a professional contemporary dance company,

the beginnings of Detroit's historic orchestra hall,

and a Detroit play gets a Broadway nod.

It's all ahead in this edition of "Detroit Performs."

- [Announcer] Funding for "Detroit Performs"

is provided by the Fred A. and

Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

The Kresge Foundation.

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation.

The Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs.

The National Endowment for the Arts.

The DeRoy Testamentary Foundation.

And by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(energetic music)

- Hello and welcome to "Detroit Performs".

I am your host, DJ Oliver, and today I'm coming to you

from my living room as we stay home

to make sure each other is safe out there

during this coronavirus pandemic.

We here at "Detroit Performs" are thrilled that

you are joining us for the next half hour,

as we aim to please you with some beautiful

arts and culture right here in Metro Detroit.

Hopefully we'll be able to do it in person soon.

But kicking things off in "Detroit Performs'" 10th season

is DDCdances, a professional contemporary dance company

that has been around since 1980.

Take a look as they rehearse the show "Stomping Ground".

(mellow music)

- [Amy] The traditional forms of modern dance

continue to speak to an ever-changing world.

- The essence of dance, for me, is about humanity.

And there's so much in this world today to express.

- DDC is a group of performing artists

that bring modern dance throughout Detroit

and the greater Detroit area,

and also we provide outreach education programs

throughout Michigan.

- DDCdances began in 1980.

We were founded at Wayne State University, actually.

The founding members were Paula Kramer, Anita Sumer,

and Suellen Dar and myself.

We focused on a technique that was developed

and designed by Doris Humphrey and Jose Limon,

pioneers of modern dance.

And really, the genre today still really works,

because it's based on how human beings like to move

in space and time.

So that's what we liked about working in that way,

and so obviously after 40 years it's developed

into something a little bit different,

because those two, Humphrey and Limon,

wanted future generations to develop their technique.

- I started out in ballet growing up,

and in college I first discovered modern dance

and really fell in love with it,

just because of the expressivity, the freedom,

yet its connectedness and roots to ballet

and to a strict technique.

It just really allows for expression

and a lot of creativity in terms of music choices,

choreographic choices, choreographic sites.

- [Barbara] I really like to look not just for technique,

but for performance skills, who they are as people

and what they communicate through their body.

We work a lot through improvisation.

So when I'm making choreography,

it's the idea of a breath and gravity.

It's all natural elements that surround us.

So we work on improv that's based on ideas that

interest me as a choreographer.

There are dances in our upcoming concert that deal with

climate change, that deal with mental health,

that deal with extinction.

So all of these things are important to society today

and we're expressing how we feel

about these issues through movement.

- So there's a lot that goes back and forth.

As a dancer, you're not just simply a dancer.

You're a choreographer, you're innovating with

the artistic director, which is a really beautiful

part of this company.

- She comes in, puts a bench down in black,

and she'll sit down and be forward,

and lights and music go together.

Today we are doing a tech for each of the pieces,

so you'll be watching us create the lighting.

And then once the lighting's created,

then we will run the piece, like a dress rehearsal.

Getting the right lighting design to enhance the dance

and to really be a partner of the dance.

So stage lighting is really very important.

It becomes a marriage between the dance,

dancers, and the space.

Well, the first piece on the program were excerpts

from a whole evening work that we did

at Jam Handy last fall, and it's called "Rock On."

And I've always wanted to create a concert

based on rock music.

So there's some small excerpts from that,

so you'll see dancers performing to

some of the classic rock music

that we all know and love.

One of my young dancers, an emerging artist, Liz LeClaire,

she choreographed a new solo.

I really like to give young emerging artists

an opportunity to show their work.

So her work is actually based on mental health.

It's really interesting,

the way she communicates those ideas.

There's a piece that I choreographed 30 years ago.

It's called "Journey's End,"

and that's based on environmental change.

And 30 years ago we were talking about environmental change,

and this piece is still pertinent today.

It happens to be performed to the music of the Beatles.

The last work is called "Absence."

It's a brand-new premiere for me,

and it deals with the idea of loss,

what has been lost or gone may never exist again.

And the dancers all wrote their own stories.

So that was like a jumping off point for the work.

They all created movement based on the idea

that they had written on their story,

and then we improvised with it and then I take it

and I mold it and I change it and I structure it

to express the full piece and what we want to say

in terms of that particular idea.

Each of the individual dancers in the company

bring their own voice to the movement.

So whatever that means to them,

they create gestures, perhaps,

or entire movement phrases that deal with their story.

- The wonderful thing about it is that often times

there are many interpretations to it.

So it doesn't have to have a certain, like,

one specific meaning,

as is the case in many different forms of modern art.

It's really inspiring to dance with my colleagues.

They all have their strengths,

and we're all unique in our ways,

but we come together and, you know,

are stronger as a group, I think.

- I'm really proud of the company,

because I think we have a variety of ways

to communicate the art form.

Our heart and soul really goes into our productions,

our classes, our workshops,

everything we do with the community

has meant so much to us,

and we are hoping it has meant a lot

to the people that we serve.

- You can learn more about DDCdances,

as well as all the artists that we feature,


Detroit's historic Orchestra Hall was built

in the summer of 1919, and in the first six episodes

of this season of "Detroit Performs,"

we'll be taking you through the life of Orchestra Hall,

from before its construction through

its survival over the years to the present.

Let's start at the beginning.

(haunting music)

- A great city can't be a great city without great culture.

And in any great city, those iconic physical pillars

of the community are a bit of a compass

for those who live here and those who come to visit.

- Orchestra Hall is one of many stages here in Detroit,

but it's probably the gem of all those stages.

- When I first walked in the door of Orchestra Hall

for the very first time,

when our then concert master was playing solo,

as she used to do every Monday on the stage,

it took my breath away.

- It's a fantastic historical, cultural asset.

The orchestra's great, but it's the whole environment.

It's the ambience, it's everything.

- There's been a member of my family

in the Detroit Symphony for half a century.

As a kid, I always felt like I was being transported

kind of to another world when I would come here.

There's a certain magic that's involved

when you know you're in a building

where great people have stood before you.

- When we play the music of Rachmaninoff, for example,

you know, to think that he once sat at a piano

on this stage and gave a recital, it's amazing to me.

And to think that Louie Armstrong performed on this stage.

- [Adrienne] There's a vibration that comes with that,

and it's just such a fulfilling experience

as an audience member and as an artist on stage as well.

- There's a reason that people come to Orchestra Hall,

and it's not just about the music.

It's about the sense of community.

- In some ways, this building is a looking glass

for what this city used to be,

what it became, and what it still could be in the future.

Cultural history, economic history, political history,

our history with race in this country and in this city,

all of that has flowed through this building.

- This hall has come to symbolize survival.

Survival of the culture, of music and the arts in Detroit.

Survival of the orchestra itself.

And survival of the building,

which was, of course, set to be destroyed,

and yet here we are in one of the most

glorious buildings for hearing music.

- [Narrator] The story of Orchestra Hall

is the story of Detroit.

It's been celebrated, and sometimes forgotten.

It's been marveled at, and left to decay.

But in spite of the many challenges

it has faced in 100 years, it still stands today

as a testament to the resilience of a city,

its people, and their hall.

- I think Orchestra Hall is made special

because Detroit is such a unique city.

The citizens make the history and they make the building

and make the moment, and there's just a thing

that this city has that's just,

I've always loved this city.

Even when it was going through its rough times

and it's barren, there's an energy here.

- It is a much-storied orchestra hall.

Each person has a unique experience at Orchestra Hall.

And the more those come to be heard and thought about,

the more that the stories of Orchestra Hall increase.

- I've been fortunate enough to attend concerts

in some of the best halls in America

and in Europe, and there's no place that I would rather

listen to music than Orchestra Hall.

I think it's the acoustics, it's the intimacy of the hall.

- I've heard Wynton Marsalis literally

push the microphone away and wander around the hall,

and just tell the whole audience,

"This is the best space to play."

- It's like, when you step out on the stage,

there's a sound there that's its own character.

And soon as you hit a note, you go, bah.

And I go bah, but the rest of the sound goes, baah, right?

And it resonates through the room.

And then you go, "Oh."

- Orchestra Hall doesn't make a sound.

It's the sound of Orchestra Hall that people speak about,

but it's the silence of Orchestra Hall

in which that sound opens.

- A lot of halls soak up the sound.

This hall actually helps create and

allows the sound to grow, to linger.

- The hall is kind of an extension of our instrument.

You're never gonna have to push your sound to be heard.

The hall will do most of the work for you.

- You can hear a pin drop in this hall

from the very back seat.

It just fills the room.

- I'll never forget, actually, the first rehearsal I had,

before I became music director,

and hearing this sound come off of this stage.

(sweeping orchestral music)

I was not prepared for it.

I didn't know much about Orchestra Hall,

and I was totally floored by it.

- Lena Horne is the one that made the statement

that she didn't need a microphone, that kind of situation.

But I saw others, there was a lot of people that didn't.

Sometimes the microphone, everything went out.

The sound left, and it continued.

Nobody knew any difference.

- I think we sometimes are amazed at

Orchestra Hall's acoustics and

how they could've accomplished that.

But I think it's just one of those things

where the magic of the people coming together

just made it happen.

- [Narrator] While it's hard to imagine today,

there was a time when Detroit

was a city still searching for an identity.

There was no Motor City or Motown sound.

The automotive industry was in its infancy,

and early supporters of the arts

struggled to convince their community that music

was not only a benefit of life in a thriving city,

but a necessity.

While on record as the nation's fourth-oldest orchestra,

by 1911, the city's symphony seemed already

too weak to survive, and had closed its doors.

- There was a Detroit Symphony Orchestra

before Orchestra Hall.

There had been an iteration of the Detroit Orchestra

very early, far more than 100 years ago,

in the late 19th century.

That iteration died, and the it was reborn in 1914

as what we think of, maybe,

as our modern Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

- In 1914, 10 ladies of Detroit,

gathering in the music room of Miss Francis Sibley,

started an orchestra again.

They each gave I think $100, and they got friends involved,

and they provided a series of concerts.

In that February, and then seasons after that.

- Just having an orchestra after having had it collapse

was a victory for the city, so it existed,

but it is fair to say, certainly,

that it was not until Ossip Gabrilowitsch came here

that we were a force on the, sort of the national scene.

We're talking about one of the world's great pianists

who comes out of the long tradition,

Russian-born conductor.

We won the lottery in some ways

in that Gabrilowitsch comes here

and is intrigued by the city and by the orchestra.

- Gabrilowitsch played and conducted

for the 1918-1919 season, and they were performing

their last concert at the Arcadia Ballroom,

which was just down Woodward Avenue here.

And the manager, Mr. Harry Sifers,

was standing offstage at the end of the concert,

and Gabrilowitsch finally, you know,

the applause was just rapturous,

and yelling and everything else.

And Gabrilowitsch walked off, and Harry Sifer said,

"Maestro, listen to the reaction of this Detroit audience.

"Look at at it.

"Now, you must agree to accept the offer

"of our Board of Directors to become our next conductor."

And Gabrilowitsch said, very simply,

"Well, you know the one condition under which I will return.

"There is no suitable home for music in Detroit.

"So build me a concert hall, or I won't come back."

- [Narrator] In the early summer of 1919,

the symphony's board of directors were at a crossroads.

They had escaped extinction,

and found a world-class conductor to lead them,

but to keep him, they needed a world-class venue to play in,

and had only a matter of months in which to build it.

(energetic music)

- Now let's check out some upcoming events

coming to you virtually from around the D.

(energetic music)

Next up, "Birthday Candles" had its world debut

at Detroit Public Theater, to such rave reviews

that Broadway came calling.

But due to the COVID-19 situation, the show was postponed.

"One Detroit's" Christy McDonald caught up with

Detroit Public Theater as well as the director

of "Birthday Candles" to find out what impact

COVID-19 was having on the theater community

as well as what happens when Broadway opens back up

with "Birthday Candles."

Take a look.

- Have I wasted my life?

- You're 17, Goose.

- In the career of my soul,

how many times have I turned from wonder?

How many moments of grace have I left unnoticed?

How much love have I left unsaid?

- All right, joining me now,

the three producing artistic directors

of the Detroit Public Theater.

Sarah Winkler, Sarah Clare Corporandy,

and Courtney Burkett.

Ladies, it's great to see you.

- It's great. - Thank you for having us.

- So good to see you. - Hello.

You must all be missing your crew, your theater,

your actors, Courtney, what has this been like so far?

- I think we've missed the artists a lot,

but we've really missed the audience.

It's really hard to not have the opportunity

to invite people in and gather and tell these stories

and have these profound experiences

that people have in the theater,

this kind of exploration of our shared humanity

is what we try to really do,

and just to know that we can't do that right now

and we don't know exactly when

we're gonna be able to do that again.

We had a really exciting spring planned

in Detroit Public Theater.

We know that we're gonna come through this

and we will be able to invite people back in,

but it's hard to be without.

- Yeah, and Sarah Clare, I think people are

just looking for any kind of shared experience online,

using technology, listening to people read their poetry,

streaming music, what have you been

kind of gravitating towards?

- I've been reading plays solo,

but it's always great to peek in and see what's out there,

and I think it's a great opportunity for

a lot of artists that don't get a lot of visibility

to all have a platform to share their work.

And so that's been fun to investigate

across the nation and the world, really.

- Yeah, and Sarah, has it been hard to not look ahead

and say "Oh gosh, we could do that down the road,"

or start exploring some new things too?

- It has been, but at the same time,

we've been looking down the road.

So we have a couple of really exciting ideas

for when it is safe to gather again,

that will hopefully take into account a new reality

and a changed reality.

And we're really looking forward to down the road

our play "Birthday Candles" opening on Broadway in the fall.

- And that really was what the celebration

was supposed to be this month, of "Birthday Candles."

You had the world premiere in the spring of 2018,

the Detroit Public Theater did,

and it was supposed to open on Broadway

starring Debra Messing.

Courtney, let me start with you.

Talk to us a little bit about "Birthday Candles"

and everything that kind of ramped up

to what the performance was supposed to be this spring.

- We commissioned Noah Haidle,

he is a very accomplished playwright

who's had multiple plays produced off Broadway

and across the country.

He was living in Detroit,

and he became a fan of Detroit Public Theater early on

and joined our board of directors.

And so we commissioned him to write a play.

We did a workshop and spent a few weeks

with that great company and really developed the play,

and then we did the world premiere

at Detroit Public Theater in our third season.

And Vivienne Benesch came in and directed it,

and it was just a really beautiful production.

- Lift my gaze towards the infinite, not so much.

Instead it's like, will I pass my physics test?

Do people think I'm funny, or do they laugh out of pity?

All the time a quiet voice in my mind whispering,

"You're not good enough, you're not good enough."

- You visit Ernestine at many of her birthdays

throughout her life.

Every single human can find something in this play

that relates to their family or themselves

or some sort of personal, emotional triumph

or tragedy that they've dealt with,

and one of the treasures, I think, for us,

was to watch our audience watch the show

and the thought that that play was born in Detroit

is even more special.

- Stay!


- Sarah, kind of explain for people

the lightning in a bottle, to be able to have

a production like this and to then see it go forward.

- It is beyond anything we had ever dreamed or imagined,

and to have the director who directed our production of it

also be experiencing her Broadway premiere

and to have it be Noah's Broadway premiere

and our composer from Detroit Public Theater's production

is composing the music for Broadway.

To watch all of these beautiful artists

around the same piece have the same experience

is beyond anything.

- I'm not asking you to travel through this world.

I'm just asking you to the prom.

- Courtney, how would you describe

the arts and culture scene in Detroit right now?

And obviously we're in a very strange and bizarre time,

not being able to connect with live performance,

whether it be music, whether it be plays.

- Yeah, it's tremendous.

I mean, I think we have a lot of really incredible artists

who work here and who wanna work here,

and passionate audiences.

I think that there are institutions in this city

that are giants and then there's tiny little companies

and individual artists doing really incredible work.

So we wanna expose the other theater artists

who are here as well.

The city has embraced us, and we are really lucky

to be in the position that we're in

and wanna make sure that that is shared.

- I wish you so many beautiful hours.

Risk your heart, find your place in the universe.

You do that for me.

- I promise.

- And that wraps it up for

this edition of "Detroit Performs."

As always, for more arts and culture,

head to,

where you'll find featured videos, blogs,

and information on coming arts events.

Also check us out on Facebook and Twitter,

and make sure you guys are out there staying safe.

And we'll do our best to bring you

the best of Detroit's art scene.

Until next time, get out there and show the world

how Detroit performs, y'all.

I'm DJ Oliver.

Thanks for watching, guys.

- [Announcer] Funding for "Detroit Performs" is provided by

the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

The Kresge Foundation.

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation.

The Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs.

The National Endowment for the Arts.

The DeRoy Testamentary Foundation.

And by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(energetic music)


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