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New works from Beacon Dance: Your weekend arts forecast

Bill DeYoung



Beacon '19: French and Alexander Jones.

There are quite a few professional dancers in St. Petersburg, says Helen Hansen French, who is herself one. But since the city has no professional dance company, performers, choreographers and the other creative spokes in the wheel of Terpsichore must be proactive.

“You have to create your own opportunities,” French says.

In 2015, she and fellow dancer Lauren Ree Slone – both St. Pete natives and both professionally trained and traveled – created Beacon Dance. “We realized,” explains French, “that the professional world here didn’t have a lot of support or structure. And we wanted to change that.”

Beacon is a “platform,” she stresses, not an official brick, mortar and sprung-floored company. “We also realized that the dance world is really shifting,” she says. “Companies just don’t have the financial means to sustain themselves.”

Although Beacon provides community dance classes, and will soon begin a collaborative artist-in-residence program, “basically, it’s a project-based opportunity for people to go to work and dance.”

The center of the Beacon Universe is the annual performance at the Palladium Theater. Beacon ’19, taking place Friday (April 5), is a collaborative effort that brings different disciplines together for a program of contemporary dance. “A live experience of physical connection,” French and Slone have sub-titled the show.

Helen Hansen French and Lauren Slone at Beacon ’18. Photo by Erin Slone Tindol.

Among the five pieces on the program, three are premieres. The most ambitious, “Doors,” is performed by French and longtime Beacon collaborator Alex Jones (founder of the local dance collective projectALCHEMY, and dancer-in-residence at thestudio@620). It’s a St. Pete-centric collaboration with writer Sheila Cowley, sound designer Matt Cowley, lighting artist Joseph Oshry, painter Ana María Vasque and master sculptor Mark Aeling.

“We’re exploring the idea of the border wall disconnection,” say French. “It’s actually pretty relevant, when you think about it.”

Also performing in Beacon ’19: Heidi Brewer, Fernando Chonqui, Michael Foley, Abigail Hinson, Sadie Lehmker, Cynthia St. Clair (another hometown artist, now a resident of Colorado, dancing at the Palladium for the first time in 20 years), Lauren Ree Slone, Heidi Brewer, Carleigh Gee, Kellie Harmon, Bliss Kohlmyer, Shila Tirabassi Lagrua, Samantha Miller and Jessica Obiedzinski.

“Lauren and I see Beacon as something that continues to grow,” French adds. “We’re looking at the long game, not just ‘next year, what are we doing?’

“We’re looking 10 years ahead – what’s really needed here in St. Petersburg? Because it might not look anything like what’s needed in New York City, or somewhere in Texas or out in California.”

Tickets and info here.

And now, this

Saturday and Sunday at thestudio@620, actor Midge Mamatas stars in the one-woman show Georgia O’Keeffe, Pioneer. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets and info here.

American Stage is saying goodbye to the dark comedy The Roommate with this weekend’s performances (Mamma Mia, the annual “in the park” show, opens next week); while the drama Crumbs From the Table of Joy continues to draw big crowds to freeFall Theatre (it runs through April 14).  More on the outstanding Crumbs cast in this space tomorrow.

An exhibition of turn-of-the-century (the one before this most recent one) photographs by Edward S. Curtis opens Saturday at the James Museum of Wildlife Art. Curtis photographed the everyday life of 70 Native American tribes. Here’s our story from earlier this week.

Byron Stripling

Trumpeter Byron Stripling returns for a three-show cookout with The Florida Orchestra this weekend. Jeff Tyzik is also back, conducting Ragtime, Blues and All That Jazz Friday at the Straz Center in Tampa, Saturday here in town at The Mahaffey, and Sunday at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall. This show features the sizzling tunes of Ellington, Calloway, Satchmo and more, and features the orchestra with Struipling and a combo: Miche Braden, vocalist; Leo Manzari, tap dancer and vocalist; Robert Breithaupt, drums. Remember, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Details here.



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