All posts by Theresa

Building Community with CONTRA-TIEMPO


In a few weeks, LA’s own CONTRA-TIEMPO will premiere their newest work, Agua Furiosa.   It will be the first time they’ve appeared on the CAP season, but it’s far from our first partnership. Since 2008, the company has been an important part of the Education programs here at the Center.  From capacity crowds at our Demonstration Performances to long-term classroom residencies, they’ve helped us fulfill our mission of making the arts accessible and inspirational for young people across our city.

With CONTRA-TIEMPO, Students learn how to work together, as dancers and as classmates
With CONTRA-TIEMPO, students learn how to work together, as dancers and as classmates.

In our ongoing work with CONTRA TIEMPO we strive to give students an opportunity to not only observe a performance as audience members, but also respond to what they’ve experienced, and become active participants in the creative process.  This idea was at the heart of Design for Sharing’s Residency program which launched in 2009.  Working closely with the faculty of the about-to-open UCLA Community School, and Ana Maria Alvarez, CONTRA-TIEMPO’s dynamic Artistic Director, we developed a year-long series of in-class dance, movement, theater, creative writing and visual arts activities led by teaching artists from CONTRA-TIEMPO and Design for Sharing.

For the next five years, hundreds of 4th, 5th and 6th graders explored big ideas of community and identity, resistance and engagement with us.  How do you get a 10-year-old to tackle these huge concepts? With kindness, enthusiasm, high expectations and mutual respect.  Ana Maria and the teaching artists of CONTRA-TIEMPO are an irresistable force, drawing even the shyest kids in, and creating the space for students to share their thoughts and make themselves heard, vocally and physically.


The foundation of this group work is the salsa rueda, a form of salsa danced in a circle with a leader calling out the steps.   The dance seems simple on the surface—the movements aren’t complicated, the caller keeps everyone on track—but a successful rueda demands that the participants, both individually and communally, choose to be fully present with their best selves. It’s a challenge that year after year, classroom after classroom, the students rise to meet.

Ana Maria also challenges students in DFS Performance Workshops, small-group activities that are part open rehearsal, part movement class, part discussion. For the high school students that participate, these programs offer a window into the process of creating art and an opportunity to respond directly to what they’ve just seen. For Ana Maria and the dancers, they offer a fresh perspective and re-energize the creative process.   It’s quite a thing to witness a room full of anxious, self-conscious teenagers being asked to think abstractly, express themselves honestly, and creating a community where everyone feels safe enough to do so.


CONTRA-TIEMPO is dedicated to transforming the world through dance, to the growth and development of more self reflective and engaged young artists. We’ve seen first-hand how successful they are at achieving that mission.

Come see them in action in Kaufman Hall, and experience their unique kind of alchemy, turning strangers into a community, no matter how old, or how young.

You can join us in welcoming CONTRA-TIEMPO back to the Center in a new capacity. Get your tickets for Agua Furiosa here.

DFS: 45 (Years), Half a Million (Kids) and 4.5 (Bucks)

It’s Welcome Week on campus. Freshmen are moving in to their dorms, professors are returning to their offices, and the marching band is rehearsing every afternoon.  In just a few short days, UCLA classes will be back session, and Design for Sharing’s free K-12 programs will be officially underway, too.  

Down here in the Center’s offices in the basement of Royce Hall, we’ve spent the last month getting ready to welcome a brand-new crop of students from public schools across our city. It’s a thrill to watch our inbox fill up with RSVPs for our free Demonstration Performances, and hear what teachers and kids are most excited about. 

 There is a lot of great art to look forward to this year, as always, but this fall we’re also looking back on how far we’ve come. For the last 45 years, Design for Sharing has brought a world of creativity and inspiration to public school students in Los Angeles. More than half a million students have experienced performances in Royce Hall or participated in a hands-on arts activity with DFS.

 Check out this photo, from one of our early years (circa 1973, guessing from the hairdos).


 The striking thing about this shot is the familiarity of it, the timelessness.   It would be easy to recreate this scene out on the quad before a Demonstration Performance, even now.  The very first season of Demonstration Performances featured chamber music, ballet and Shakespeare.  It was just five performances, and brought around 3,000 students to Royce Hall.

Today, Design for Sharing performances and workshops attract close to 15,000 students a year for a diverse line up of world music, contemporary dance, and innovative theater.

We present artists and art forms that were practically unimagined 45 years ago. We’ve seen trails blazed and envelopes pushed, and we’ve shared it all with eager young minds. We’ve been surprised, an often moved, by how students connect with ideas that are not just new to them, but new to everyone.  And still, there’s a sense of continuity. The smiles, the uncertainty, the excitement and curiosity—we still see all of that at every event we host (and the UCLA students still lounge under the portico arches).

It’s still a little bit magical.

Over the years, we’ve had to evolve, not just artistically but logistically, too.  We’re not just providing free performances any more: we’re subsidizing buses. Transportation seems like such a boring, utilitarian thing when we’re talking about sharing inspiring art, but for most of our schools, it’s actually the least attainable item on their special activity budget.  So, it’s become a larger and larger portion of our budget. We’re aiming to offer 200 free buses this season!

You can help us celebrate our 45th year, and help us expand our legacy of generosity by adding $4.50 to any CAP UCLA ticket purchase. There is an automatic option to make this gift when you buy CAP UCLA performance tickets online, or you can add it to any phone order placed at the UCLA Central Ticket office.

 The cost of a DFS Demonstration Performance in Royce Hall—where kids often take their first seats in a professional performance space, have their first interaction with professional artists and get their first glimpse at a college campus—averages less than $20 per student, including bus transportation to UCLA.

 A lot has changed since our visionary founders started us on this journey back in 1969, but our core mission remains: we continue to make world-class performances available to young audiences; we continue to welcome thousands of students to our beautiful campus each year, and we will always be excited when a bus load of kids get to see something wonderful and new.

 Our next year of sharing the arts begins on September 25, with DakhaBrakha. More than a thousand students will experience this group from the Ukraine. They’ll see instruments and hear sounds and songs they’ve never encountered before.

You can check out the rest of our events here.  We hope you’ll join us–everyone’s welcome.

A Little Versa Style Hits Royce Hall

Today, Versa Style Dance visited the Royce Rehearsal Room for a series of Design for Sharing workshops with fifth and sixth graders. Their work is an infectiously energetic blend of hip-hop, latin and afro-latin styles.  The company aims to elevate social dances–the moves spotted on street corners and quinceneras, on dance floors and school yards–of Los Angeles, counteracting the many misrepresentations and misconceptions of hip-hop and popular dances in the process.


They covered a lot of ground.  There was salsa dance and popping and locking. There was a quick primer on ’90s hiphop and today’s internet-fueled hits likeThe Nene and The Whip (don’t worry, we didn’t know about those either–we’re still trying to learn the dougie).  There was a Soul Train tribute that had everyone dancing in their seats. No matter what they were doing, it was impossible to watch this young company, practically buzzing with enthusiasm, without a smile.

When Versa Style shares their work with student audiences, they also share a message of hard work, pride in your community, dedication to an art form, and the value of education. Many of the dancers are the first in their families to go to college.  Some are the first to finish high school. One of those was Ernesto, who started after-school dance classes with VersaStyle’s cofounder Jackie Lopez when he was just 12.  He graduates from UCLA’s World Arts and Culture department in June with a minor in Arts Education.  Our kids thought that was almost as impressive as his moves.

There were some pretty important take-homes for the 11 and 12 year olds in the audience today.  But for us, and for the company,  this morning was all about joy.  Joy in movement, joy in sharing, joy in inspiring and supporting a new generation of artists. Joy in bringing our whole selves when we do the things we love, on stage and off.

More shots below of the joy in full effect. All photos by Phinn Sriployrung.

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Somi Summer

Last week, we enjoyed a very special moment with one of our upcoming artists in residence, Somi.

The acclaimed East African vocalist & songwriter celebrated the release of her most-recent album Lagos Music Salon, which was inspired by an 18-month sabbatical in  Nigeria. We gathered for an intimate performance, free and open to the public at the W Hotel in Westwood.

Even though invites went out well in advance, it felt like an impromptu cocktail party. Crowded and casually hip, the audience sunk into couches, clustered along the the walls.  The music, too, felt relaxed and improvised, seemingly effortless.  African rhythms that would have been danceable in another, higher-strung context, were soft and seductive.  Somi, barefoot in soft yellow dress, was like the embodiment of the perfect summer night outside. Somehow, the evening seemed like a farewell to summer, one last unhurried moment before autumn descends with all its attendant responsibilities.

More than once, I thought how perfect it would have been if the whole scene were transported outside, Somi’s lovely voice rising into the warm, clear night, starlight drifting down to us.

Get a glimpse at the wonderful evening via the gallery included below. Stay tuned here and on our soon-to-be-unveiled new website for more information on events and activities with our 2014-2015 artists in residence.

As the late-blooming summer starts to fade, we begin to look forward to spending more time with this luminous performer. Somi will be in residence at CAP UCLA in February, 2015 to connect with L.A.-based African artists working across disciplines. Activities will include salons/ateliers, performances, and workshops. Collaborating with a number of campus and community partners, Somi will interact with students, scholars, community members and artists exploring themes of transnationalism and cultural identity.

There’s much in store.

Shots from “Somi: The Lagos Music Salon” Thurs, Sept. 18 at W Hotel Westwood. By Phinn Sriployrung.


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A Swell of Pride: Design for Sharing, Community School and Making Arts Come Alive for Kids

Design for Sharing , CAP UCLA’s free K-12 arts education program, has a long history of making the arts accessible for young audiences. Using the arts to encourage creativity, learning and exploration , DFS offers professional performances and hands-on arts activities to public school students across Los Angeles.  Since our founding in 1969, more than half a million students have experienced the thrill of a live performance in the iconic setting of Royce Hall.

In 2008, we undertook a new project, hoping to give students an opportunity to go beyond the one-time experience of observing an arts event and become active participants in the creative process. Working closely with the faculty of the about-to-open UCLA Community School, we developed the Design for Sharing Residency Program: a 22-week series of in-class dance, movement, theater, creative writing and visual arts activities taught by professional teaching artists from Design for Sharing and local dance company CONTRA-TIEMPO.

This year—the fifth of this successful partnership –we explored the theme “Pieces of Us”, asking 200  4th, 5th and 6th graders to consider the various roles we all play in our communities and what helps us to create our own individual identities.

We began, way back in September, with simple exercises that encourage students to express themselves vocally and physically.  We moved on to salsa rueda, a form of salsa danced in a circle with a leader calling out the steps. Later, students applied those skills to devise their own creative movement representing ideas culled from their weekly writing assignments.

The sixth graders, many in their third year with us, also took on the idea of power.  Using movement activities and writing prompts, they reflected on the power structures they encounter every day, how power can be abused, and how it can be shared.  Some of their insights were included in a group poem:

We have the power to choose!

I have the power to speak and to listen

I choose to follow the golden rule

I choose to be respectful,

To be a kind person

I see smiles around the world

I understand that each person is unique

It matters that I have freedom

I have the power to share my feelings

I have the power to change my thoughts

I have the power to defend myself with words

Everyone deserves their own rights

I choose to be joyful every day

We have the power to choose!

Students created collage self-portraits using varied photos of themselves and words from their poems. The completed self-portraits became the backdrop for their presentation.

A few weeks ago, they had the chance to share these lines, and others at the program’s culminating dance and spoken word presentation.  Our students gathered in a crowded auditorium, packed with younger schoolmates and smiling parents to present the poems, creative movement and salsa rueda they had worked on all year.

In that setting, with creaking folding chairs and smartphone cameras clicking away, it’s easy to focus on the cute factor.  Of course it is cute. Kids dancing and reciting poems are undeniably adorable.  But it is important to remember that we have asked these students to do something that most adults struggle with: to think abstractly, express themselves honestly, and create a community where everyone feels safe enough to do so.

We couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride as we watched our fifth class of Residency program participants dance their last rueda, moving around the circle like clockwork.  The dance seems simple on the surface—the steps aren’t complicated, the caller keeps everyone on track—but a successful rueda demands that the participants, both individually and communally, choose to be fully present.  That’s the foundation of human connection and the prerequisite for creativity.  And it’s a lot harder than it looks.