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The Spirit of Modern Dance

"The highly trained company members moved with a mix of grace and tension, one moment reminiscent of ballet, and the next stark and satisfyingly unsettling. Force and fluidity were crucial to telling their deeply moving stories. Their technique is not to be questioned but unlike more traditional forms of dance, each movement is not extended to showcase the full range of flexibility of the dancers. Instead, process and expression takes precedent, and the audience is left with a much rawer, and often times more communicative experience, that only modern dance of this caliber can provide."

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Duets for Valentine's Day

March 22, 2017

 On February 12, Jacksonville Dance Theatre (JDT) performed their third annual Duets for Valentine’s Day concert inspired by a Chicago-based company’s alternative to dinner and movie. JDT set out to explore an “exciting variety of relationships…that investigate a full spectrum of human interaction from joy and connection to detachment and grief,” Rebecca Levy, co-founder and artistic director, said in the program’s welcome. The result was as promised: a dance experience that was a connection to the divine.

           The performance began before audience members stepped foot into the Karpeles Manuscript Museum—the unconventional venue for the concert. Live music, played by a trio atop the step of the museum’s entrance set the tone for two flirtatious and sassy dancers, Winter Bosanko and Anthony Sampson. The sweet courtship the two portrayed had moments of improvisation nestled into the choreography. Couples, friends, families, and mothers and daughters leaned into the steps to watch.

           “It makes you want to buy a red dress, doesn’t it?” one woman whispered while under the trance of Bosanko and her gorgeous, floor-grazing costume.

           Once inside the museum’s main hall, it was clear that the lack of proscenium stage meant that the whole room would be utilized. Audience members were encouraged to stand or turn their chairs to take in the performance. The first number, choreographed by Samuel Hills III and performed by Hills and Amalia Rivera was set to "Runaway" (Live) by Matt Corby and entitled Letting Go. Hills and Rivera had palatable chemistry and portrayed the touchingly real dynamic of a couple filled with anger and frustration. Hills’ choreography utilized the unique performance space to make it feel as if their conflict was taking place in a home, rather than a manuscript museum. The duo learned their dance in three weeks with the second half finalized only two days before the performance, Rivera disclosed. The audience was none the wiser.

           A second, truly spectacular piece featured in the first act was Dance Me to the End of Love choreographed by JoAnna M. Ursal in collaboration with her dancers Dawn Morrow and Kirsten Sholes Sullivan. The piece was set to several soundscapes including "Adnan (Prayer Call)" by Al- Nafees, "The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin", "(Nguashi N’tinbo Cover)" by Jim Chuchu, and "Pale Blue Dot" by Carl Sagan.

           “The dance/sound connection elicits a deep emotional response,” Levy said of the piece.

           Undeniably one of the strongest and most engaging pieces, Dance Me told the story of not just two people, but all of humanity. It explored themes of detachment, solidarity, and speculation for what our collective future holds. The interaction between Morrow and Sullivan, who wore a red cut-out dress and red gauze fabric over a white shirt and black pants, respectively, exuded a tension that seemed to exist in perfect harmony with the chaotic world to which they took the audience. Everything from their spacing to their breath enhanced their performance, a study on humans’ complicity to remain isolated in our own personal and cultural rituals until the universe forces us to interact.

           “The movement came first, then finding the right soundscape,” Ursal explained, “there had to be a marriage between the words and the movement.”

           After a brief intermission, the audience reconvened and was immediately drawn into and stunned by the first piece of the second act: Dwelling in Abandoned Places, choreographed by Dmitri Peskov to an excerpt of "The Sinking of the Titanic" by Gavin Bryars. Dancers Chelsea Hilding and Jennifer Walker delivered the performance of the night, all the while Walker had no clue what story the piece was telling. Peskov told only Hilding the narrative of the dance and her emotional connection to her character was clear from the moment she stepped on stage, twitching and writhing. Hilding’s superb acting brought to life a character that was disconnected, disjointed, and deranged, yet inspiringly resilient. Her struggle was one of panic and unsureness whether it would be better to be noticed or simply retract inwardly. In some moments, she seemed utterly confused that she was unseen and others she appeared grateful for it. Walker commented that Peskov choreographed the piece as if they were two solos and then combined them to form a duet. Her movements were slower and more controlled.

           “I was witnessing and holding space for Chelsea to go through her journey,” Walker said; a journey that the audience surely will not forget.

           Following the second act, JDT company members gathered for a Q&A with the audience. The dancers revealed that they had to re-stage the pieces just days before the show to accommodate the space that the museum offered. Audience members offered exclusively complimentary remarks to the company who were more than happy to answer questions about their creative processes and journey with the project.

           When the evening came to a close, attendees walked out of the museum under late moonlight whispering appreciatively about the night’s show.

Dance, Love, Life

February 17, 2018

On February 3rd at 8 PM, an audience filed into WJCT’s studios for Jacksonville Dance Theatre’s (JDT) concert “Dance, Love, Life.” The WJCT studios was a fitting venue for the concert. It was cozy and intimate with the front row consisting of deep couches with rows of chairs filling the studio behind them. The stage was floor level with the audience which only brought the audience closer to the sanctity of the performance. Semi-circled screens filled in the background of the stage providing full-wall lighting. The audience was nestled into the dancers who willed the studio with magic.


As the audience filled the studio, returning patrons did so not with the assumption that they would see the dancer's merely dance; they returned to see the dancer’s hearts, souls, and ponderings poured into lovingly crafted vignettes. The stories JDT tells are raw and more relatable to a modern audience than those of ballerina’s renditions of a princess finding her prince. JDT’s stories are those that we all live daily--stories of perseverance, exploration, community, and love among many more.


Like their previous concerts, JDT’s performance bridged seasoned professionals and wide-eyed aspiring dancers. A young girl in the audience eagerly asked her mother questions about the company’s costumes and makeup. Her mother replied that she will have that too when her recital time comes. The little girl squealed with delight, turned her feet into first position and shakily curtsied.


Act one opened with Amalia Rivera dancing a piece entitled “the things they carried” which Kristen Sullivan choreographed in collaboration with Rivera. The audience was eased into the performance. As they mingled in the audience before the show, Rivera was center stage in a white cropped bra and a long slitted black skirt. Her fellow company members taped white streamers from her waist to the floor, tenting the area around her. The streamers flitted as she breathed creating a mesmerizing illusion. A blue spotlight shone on her as the performance began. Rivera danced to her consistent standard of excellence. She brings such strength and confidence to her dancing and takes her time with each movement. Rivera appears to be an introspective dancer and shows a great sense of self-awareness. At times she seemed to be observing herself. Her musicality is impeccable and she is able to maintain her flow and timing even for the counts she danced to no music. During these times, it seems that she uses her breath to guide her movement. An excellent opening act, Rivera set a high standard for her fellow company members to follow.


Following “the things they carried” was a piece choreographed and performed by artistic director Rebecca R. Levy and Winter Bosanko entitled “This is about our families.” The upbeat dance was clearly a favorite of the audience. Levy and Bosanko played off each other creating humor and tension that kept the audience engaged and laughing. About halfway through the number, the dancers passed out doughnuts to the audience, much to their delight. The dancers then proceeded to try and pass off a doughnut to each other, denying it when it was passed to them. The tension was high, and despite the dancers using inflatable doughnuts as props eliciting laughs from the audience, they remained engaged and committed to their story, their aggression ebbing and flowing. “This is about our families” was yet another example of JDT’s ability to reach people of all perspectives through a single dance. A woman in the audience asked her friend if she thought the number was about diet culture, while her friend replied that she thought it was a commentary on family tensions. Modern dance companies are known for providing their audiences with out-of-the-box performances, but this one ended with Levy and Bosanko inside the box--a giant doughnut box, that is.


Another of the night’s most innovative performances came several acts later. It is entitled “In Place.” It was a mesmerizing double image featuring film and dance, in which a live dancer mimicked the dance and movement featured on a film projection playing behind her. The audience had the privilege of peering into what appeared to be a quiet moment of the filmed dancer performing only for herself on the beach and in a wooded area. While we often saw only close up of the filmed dancer’s feet or arms, the live dancer gave the audience a larger picture of these cropped movements seen on film. Both the film and live performance were entirely carefree and joyful. Surely this piece reminded many of us in the audience of why we dance. The piece was choreographed, filmed by Hilary Libman and performed by Libman and Amber Daniels.


The final piece in Act One was entitled “Exquisite Corpse” and was performed by guest artist Jenn Logan, choreographed by Logan and Eryn Schon-Brunner. Logan’s performance was a sophisticated and highly technical piece that showcased her strong lines and gentle fluidity. Both the dancing and choreography complimented Logan’s strength, grace, and lightness.


Act two featured another piece performed by Amalia Rivera and Amber Daniels, choreographed by Breanna King. It was entitled “Driving Force.” The dancers were absolutely a force to be reckoned with. These women executed King’s enticing choreography to a “T.” Both dancers continued to prove that JDT dancers have some of the best musicality in the game, with the ability to remain on count during periods of the dance with no music. Another strong piece, both in choreography and dancing was complemented beautifully with engaging facials and moments of silence.


The final piece was choreographed by Rebecca R. Levy (Artistic Director) and performed by Creative Director Tiffany S. Santeiro. This collaboration of such creative and seasoned performers was everything you could hope it would be. The piece was entitled “Three tasks for 5 minutes each, once a day, 25 days” and played off of many of Santerio’s strengths: technique, strength, emotion, and acting. The audience was privy to witness a very private moment for her character who seemed perplexed by herself and possibly why she did what she did. The piece was intricate, athletic, and artistic.


These dancer’s emotions were so transparent I felt like I was a part of their stories. They danced difficult and demanding pieces with such ease that I was convinced I could join them on stage and dance alongside them. If you have never been to a JDT dance concert, I could not recommend them more. Their next concert is May 12th at the Florida Theatre 8-9:30 PM. You can learn more about the company at

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