Woodside local stars in ‘The Nutcracker’

“Dancing as much as I can for as long as I can”

By Alicia Venter

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Woodside local, Giulia Faria (right) stars in “The Nutcracker.”

Giulia Faria began dancing at age 3. Twenty years later, the Woodside local has propelled that passion towards her professional career, and will be starring in the New York City Ballet’s seasonal performance of “The Nutcracker.”

Faria has been performing “The Nutcracker” since she was 10, playing multiple roles in the 1892, two-act ballet performance. This year, she is taking on the soloist roles of Coffee (or the Arabian Princess) the Mouse Queen, Spanish Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers.

“I’ve actually never danced the Arabian Princess before and it’s a very different type of role. It’s very slow and controlled and I’m more of a dynamic dancer,” Faria said. “This year is especially challenging for me because I’m stepping into a role that I’ve never done before and learning how to move in a different quality”

Faria’s dancing began at Callina Moaytis School of Classical Ballet, a since-closed school in Astoria.

Giulia Faria performing.

Taking ballet classes every Saturday until age 10, she joined the School of New York Theatre the following year. She was still in high school when she joined the New York Theatre Ballet, a 15 year old apprentice standing among established professionals.

“Overall, it just matured a little quicker than most 15-year-olds because of the environment I was in,” Faria said. “I don’t think I would have changed for anything. I feel like it made me a better dancer and a better professional overall.”

She eventually transitioned to home school in order to balance her responsibilities in the studio and the classroom.

“It was a little tricky, because I didn’t want to go to school — I wanted to dance,” she said with a laugh.”

Faria holds two homes close to her heart: her company and her Queens community. Both she described as intrinsically part of her — with no foreseeable future of leaving either.

One of Faria’s favorite places is Sri Praphai, located at 64-13 39th Ave in Woodside, which she describes as the best Thai restaurant in New York. She regularly attends Yoga Agora in Astoria and studied nutrition at LaGuardia Community College.

“I went to school in Queens. Now, as an adult, I don’t think I would even want to live in another borough,” she said.“It’s so versatile. You can crave whatever kind of food you want at 3:00 a.m. and you’ll definitely find something. There’s a really special place in my heart for Queens.”

The New York City Ballet company has maintained her passion for dance, and it is a group she says “feels like home.” For that, she plans to stay with the company for the foreseeable future, and to keep “dancing as much as I can for as long as I can.”

“I don’t necessarily mind where I am dancing or where the career takes me, as long as I’m dancing. That’s what matters,” Faria said. “As long as I feel really passionate about what I’m doing and what I’m dancing. That’s mainly my goal — to feel fulfilled wherever I am.”

Performances begin Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Brookfield Place, 230 Vesey Street in Manhattan. For more information or to purchase tickets to see the New York City Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker,” visit https://nytb.org.

Queens College professor premieres “Action Songs/Protest Dances”

Telling stories of racial injustice through dance

By Stephanie Meditz

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After a two-year creative process conducted via Zoom, Kupferberg Center for the Arts will host the world premiere of Edisa Weeks’ “Action Songs/Protest Dances.”

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is a live performance that combines original music by Martha Redbone, Spirit McIntyre and Taina Asili with modern dance to tell stories of past and present racial injustice in America.

Three songs incorporate Queens College Professor Edisa Weeks’ research on civil rights activist James Forman, especially his book, “The Making of Black Revolutionaries.”

Edisa Weeks is a Brooklyn-based choreographer, educator and director of DELIRIOUS Dance

The Queens College Rosenthal Library is home to an archive of Forman’s personal documents, including his FBI files, collection of political pamphlets and original drafts of his books.

Weeks was interested in researching Forman’s archive because of his critique of capitalism as an exploitative system.

“As a choreographer, I really believe in a researched performance process where it’s looking at history, looking at what has gone before and to bring it forward into the present. And so, for me, it’s been really satisfying to be able to do that with this project,” she said.

“What are things that James Forman cared about and how many of those issues like reparations are we still needing to address in America? And what are things that we actually have achieved?” she continued. “For me, as a Black woman, it would’ve been impossible for me to teach at Queens College 60 years ago, but now that’s something that’s actually possible because of the work and efforts that people like James Forman did.”

The other two songs reflect current social justice issues and were inspired by the chain of racial hate crimes in 2020, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I kept on wondering what is a way that I, as a choreographer, can lend a voice to a lot of the ferment or protest that was happening,” Weeks said. “Or just for America to be a just and truly great nation.”

Weeks’ choreography is inspired by African dances from her childhood and modern dance that she has studied.

The creative process paired each of the three composers with two dancers, and each group drew parallels between current social issues and relevant topics in James Forman’s archive.

Taina Asili wrote a song related to the idea in Forman’s “Black Manifesto” of financial reparations for direct descendants of enslaved people.

Composer Taina Asili wrote a song about financial reparations for descendants of enslaved people.

The song and accompanying choreography both incorporate Afro-Caribbean elements.

“Each song is unique to the dancer and also to the message of the song,” Weeks said.

This project began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Weeks worked with the dancers and composers via Zoom until this September.

“I’ve had a month to work with the dancers and to choreograph, so it’s been a little intense and stressful,” she said. “However, also incredibly generative. I think, partially because we were in such a long gestation period, the dancers really are invested in the songs and the songs are coming from them.”

Weeks hopes that the performance will expose a new generation to James Forman’s ideas and motivate people to strive for justice in their communities.

“I’m hoping people can…experience a work that engages song and lyrics and dance and be inspired,” she said.

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is the inaugural work of the Kupferberg Arts Incubator, an initiative that began in 2020 to give professional artists who teach at Queens College a two-year residency.

“Without the immediate prospect of resuming live events, we decided that we wanted to devote significant resources and energy toward the development of new work, which obviously takes time,” Jon Yanofsky, Kupferberg Center for the Arts director, said.

KCA’s mission is to provide accessible cultural entertainment for both the Queens College community and the entire borough.

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator is geared toward artists of color, artists who live and work in communities of color and artists whose work addresses social inequities.

“We picked Edisa Weeks, a choreographer and professor that Kupferberg had the opportunity to work with on multiple occasions. She led the dance program at Queens College, and we were just all so impressed with the way she connected with students,” Yanofsky said. “She soundly met that criteria.”

“Edisa just has such a unique dynamic point of view and she pulls people along by the strength of her conviction, just her incredibly ebullient spirit and this collaborative nature that is truly authentic,” he continued. “It was really wonderful and refreshing to see the hard work that true collaboration requires…The piece is a composite of all the people involved.”

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator’s next iteration will be in 2024 with Queens College professor Chloe Bass.

Action Songs/Protest Dances will premiere at Kupferberg Center for the Arts on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available for $20.

After each performance, audience members are invited to participate in a discussion with Weeks and the rest of the creative team.

Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante, the true star of local concerts

By Jessica Meditz

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Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante of Flushing attends nearly every community concert or event.

If you live in the area and have attended a free, local concert or parade, chances are you’ve seen Joe Ferrante in action.

Ferrante, 72, who calls himself “Joe the Dancer,” has an appearance you just can’t miss: usually sporting a bright yellow muscle tee and denim shorts along with his long ponytail adorned with colorful hair ties from start to finish.

He can be spotted easily at the front of any public event that has music, truly dancing like nobody’s watching.

A resident of Flushing since 1958, Ferrante travels across the five boroughs and Long Island to attend free concerts.

In true New Yorker fashion, Ferrante does not drive, and uses his own two feet and a MetroCard to get around — with the occasional ride from his many friends.

“I started gathering information about free things to do in New York and found out about all the parks, like Eisenhower Park and Bryant Park,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Why would people pay when there’s so much free stuff to do in New York?’” 

“Now I have people that have computers and send me print outs sometimes or they call me. I keep my ears open,” Ferrante continued. “Every single day I find new things to do.”

One of Ferrante’s personal goals is to attend as many free events as he can.

Before the pandemic wreaked havoc, he attended 321 free events in 2019. This year, he’s already up to 165 events.

Although Ferrante has never taken formal dance lessons, he has been freestyling his moves at shows for as long as he can remember. He also learns from watching other people dance.

A die-hard fan of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Ferrante lived through the time where Motown and doo-wop classics were big, as well as the golden era of classic rock.

In fact, he attended Woodstock in 1969 while he worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.

“Festivals were a new thing at the time and nobody knew what was going on. That was the first time I did acid, which I did for three days, and I still was good to go to work on Monday,” Ferrante said.

“I didn’t see every band that was there, and there was a lot of stuff going on…you wandered around, you went to the lake,” he continued. “I remember Santana, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and Ten Years After. It was excellent.”

Ferrante attended Woodstock a month before he was drafted to the Army.

He served in Texas from 1969 to 1971, and feels “lucky” that he wasn’t sent straight to Vietnam, like many men were at the time.

“I lucked out because I took typing in high school and went into a company which had over 90 percent college graduates. I got hired because I knew how to type and they said they were losing the guy from New York, so they got another guy from New York,” Ferrante said. “My job was in Congressionals, and I was a fact finder. I would find information about what really happened…you really could hardly help anybody, but once in a while, you actually got to help someone out.”

After he came back from serving in the Army, Ferrante continued to attend concerts and other places where he could dance, such as the Dr. Pepper Music Festival in Central Park, clubs during the disco frenzy and at various locations in the Hamptons, where he and his friends would rent houses for cheap.

Ferrante busting a move in Juniper Valley Park at a concert featuring band Half Step.

Today, his moves range from one best described as the fish swim, where he puts his arms together and swirls them around as if he’s swimming, to skipping around the front of the stage.

“I love to skip because it’s so much fun. I think I started doing the skip a few years ago,” Ferrante said. “It makes you feel young. When you’re standing in one spot and you skip around, you get more refreshed because you’re in a brand new spot.”

Ferrante said that many people have come up to him over the years at shows to compliment his routine and even join him while he dances.

His signature look, along with his moves, symbolize his free-spirited personality.

Ferrante has not had a haircut in about 15 years, and underneath all the rainbow scrunchies on his ponytail is his own hair. He’s been sporting the look for around eight years.

“It was just so dark and dreary, I had to add some color to it,” he said.

Although he’s probably one of the most positive people in the borough, Ferrante didn’t always have the best outlook on life.

In the past, he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and is now almost 20 years sober.

When Ferrante first became sober in 2005, doctors discovered he had esophageal cancer.

He also experienced cirrhosis of the liver as a result of drinking, which left him unable to walk for quite some time.

“I had to use a walker to walk, and eventually graduated to a cane. Now look at me. I’m 16 years cancer-free,” Ferrante said.

He added that after he got sober, he was in a 10-year slump, but eventually realized he had to turn himself around.

“My whole life, I always felt like I should have died many times, and God has given me something to do,” Ferrante said. “He must want me to inspire people.”

As an Italian-American, Ferrante’s Catholic faith is important to him and brings him peace, along with his own spiritual readings and meditation.

He has been retired for the last 19 years and is very happy to live a blissful life with no cell phone or computer.

As he gets closer to his 73rd birthday in October, Ferrante encourages younger folks to be more optimistic and see the good in their day-to-day lives, as you never know when your last day will be.

“When I go to sleep at night, I ask myself ‘Did I do the best I could today?’ And 95 percent of the time, the answer is yes,” he said.

He went on to debunk the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question that’s supposed to determine if someone is an optimist or a pessimist.

The glass is always full,” Ferrante explained. “Even if it’s only half filled with liquid, the other half is still filled with oxygen. So it’s always full.”

Longtime FSSA dance teachers to retire

Ani Udovicki and Olivier Heuts reflect on their teaching journeys

By Jessica Meditz

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Olivier Heuts and Ani Udovicki will retire from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts this year after two decades teaching together.

Ani Udovicki and Olivier Heuts first got acquainted in the early 2000s as they sat in the waiting room to be interviewed for the same teaching position at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.

Little did they know they would retire at the same time and spend over two decades together, teaching high school students the art form so close to their hearts: dance.

Udovicki, known lovingly by her students as “Ms. U,” is the daughter of Yugoslavian and Bolivian parents.

She trained as a ballet dancer while she lived in Europe, and eventually moved to New York City in her early 20s to pursue her dance career.
“My husband is an artist, so he was interested in coming here for the arts. I discovered modern dance when I came to the U.S., but you needed modern dance training to do it,” Udovicki said.

“I questioned where I should go to study modern dance and many said Julliard. I went to Julliard because there you get the sequential training, and out of there I could then join companies in modern dance, which I did until I was pregnant.”

Udovicki has danced professionally for numerous companies, including Belgrade National Theater, The Royal Flemish Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and The New York Baroque Dance Company. She has also worked with modern dance choreographers Ohad Naharin and Neta Pulvermacher.

Heuts said his story is quite similar to Udovicki’s, as he also hails from Europe—the Netherlands, to be exact—but it wasn’t until later in life that he began to pursue dance.

“I actually have a degree in art history from before I switched over to dance. I went to a dance conservatory in Amsterdam, where I studied modern dance,” Heuts said.
“I came to New York and right away got different jobs with modern dance companies, most notably Battery Dance in Lower Manhattan,” he continued. “But those jobs don’t pay full fare, so I did different side gigs to make ends meet.”

Heuts has studied with modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, whom he described as his idol.

He also has years of experience as a Pilates instructor and fitness trainer, and is well known for his healthy lifestyle. Every single day he walks to his work in Long Island City from his home in Manhattan over the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

Tommy Tibball, a 2009 graduate of Frank Sinatra and co-director of TKO Dance Academy in Ozone Park, said that Heuts hasn’t changed a bit since he attended school.

“I’m teaching the freshmen a dance right now for the Spring Dance Concert, and I was running late. I told Mr. Heuts that I was sorry and parking was impossible. And he said in the same dry sense of humor, ‘Well, you should walk. I do it every day, and perfect attendance to add to that,’” Tibball said. “I remember always saying that I wish I could be like him when I’m older, because he literally must be in perfect health. The man hasn’t been sick in like six years.”

Heuts said that even if students don’t remember his barre exercises or across the floor combinations, he’s grateful that they remember him for who he is as a teacher and person.

“As I got older and taught for more years, I realized that it’s more important what I say and do in terms of my personality, rather than the actual things that I taught,” Heuts said. “They probably remember my walking over the bridge, being a vegetarian or making stupid jokes and things like that.”

Udovicki said that the most rewarding part of being a high school dance teacher is not so much what happens day in and day out, but what comes later.
“It’s so endearing to hear from the graduates who write back and come to visit. The things they say reaffirm me and the values I teach,” she said.

“Their pliés and contractions don’t really matter anymore, but the fact that they say they’ve learned so much about life, does,” she said. “I give these speeches sometimes, and they thank me for all that they’ve learned and my role as a teacher.”

Olivia Kenny, a 2019 graduate, had Udovicki as a dance teacher for three of the four years she attended Frank Sinatra, and said her class’ experience was unique because of her motivational words.

“Ms. U was our actual mom at that point because we saw her so much, and it was so good to end it with her as a senior. She would always give her little speeches, talk about history and really educate us in a different way,” Kenny said. “I feel like people at the college level are learning exactly what we learned at 14 and 15-years-old, and it was so amazing to learn from someone so experienced.”

Both teachers said they will forever cherish the feeling of being in the wings during special performances, such as the Spring Dance Concert or the Senior Show.
Udovicki and Heuts have arranged for numerous guest choreographers to come and stage their work on Frank Sinatra students, as well as facilitated performances at the Metropolitan Opera House through American Ballet Theatre.

Although they’re unsure of who will replace them when the school year comes to an end, they believe the school’s administration will seek feedback from them, given their longtime roles.

As for after retirement plans, they will both be quite busy.

“I want to continue teaching, but in other venues,” Udovicki said. “I’d like to teach dance for people with Parkinson’s, and maybe for people in jails. I’d also like to go back and volunteer at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts like I used to do.”

She also plans to spend more time with her family in Serbia, which used to be Yugoslavia.

Heuts and his wife plan to move out of New York City to a nearby suburb.

“If it were just me, I could probably go a few more years teaching, but my wife and I are a team,” he said.

“I feel somewhat happy that at least this was a pretty normal year; it’s a much better ending than what last year would have been.”

Udovicki said she feels privileged to have been able to indulge in the journey of self-discovery that comes with teaching adolescents.

“What I always loved was the art, that it’s a different language and a way of expressing yourself. It is really another way of communicating and making this world better,” she said.

“Politics is all an illusion, and so is dance, but it’s a beautiful thing that can enrich lives… what comes out of it is real.”

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