Subversive Soul Power

BY GUS SOLOMONS JR | Nicholas Leichter is taking a different tack with his new “Spanish Wells,” described in a press release as “Creole with a '60s vibe.” It premieres June 25-29 at Dance Theater Workshop. Brooklyn-based Leichter, whose infectious style blends modern dance with a funky club flavor, has recently been collaborating – notably with the Brooklyn Philharmonic – choreographing epic musical scores like “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff and Igor Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring.” The latter piece will also encore on the DTW program – sans the live orchestra.

“Coming off those collaborations,” Leichter said, “changed the game for me. I didn't want to go back to [my old] way of working, and yet I didn't know how to go forward.” Coming at an emotional time for him – in the wake of the deaths of Khalda Logan, one of his beloved company members, and of his husband Brian McCormick's stepfather – Leichter was in need of an emotional catharsis.


“Spanish Wells”

Dance Theater Workshop

Bessie Schönber Theater

219 W. 19th St.

Jun. 25-28 at 730 p.m.

Jun. 28-29 at 2 p.m.

$25; $15 for students & seniors

212-924-0077 or

“Spanish Wells” is entirely self-produced without collaborators. “I had gotten really comfortable with those collaborations,” the choreographer said in a phone conversation. Working with classic, live orchestral scores “taught me very quickly how to develop new ideas and concepts, but they had such a strong [musical] backbone, it limited my options. I learned so much about respecting the classical concepts, but this time I felt there had to be a way to step outside this mold.”

In Amy Winehouse, Nicholas Leichter breaks down Debussy's mold.

Leichter continued, “As I started doing research on Debussy, I discovered that he was this wild irrational, very emotional, controversial figure, much in that kind of tabloid way.”

Enter Amy Winehouse's music with its over-the-top, politically incorrect, but soulful and funny point of view.

“I'm seeing this relationship between these amazing, brilliant artists, who are also just seriously fucked up,” he said. So, for the new half-hour-long dance he's alternating Debussy's “La Mer” with Winehouse.

“It was so wrong, it was right,” he proposed. “Pulling out songs from her was in a way was like breaking down the Debussy scenes. It gave me that soul that I was looking for.”

It's as though Leichter were using the sardonic Winehouse to elucidate the irrational Debussy.

“I would say that the characters are more colorful than some of the things I've been exploring recently,” he said of his seven strong dancers – Lauren Basco, Wendell Cooper, Aaron Draper, Mathew Heggem, Dawn Robinson, Naima Bigby Sullivan, and himself.

The title refers to a mysterious place that might be real or mythical – a figment of our imagination.

“It is questionable what happens to these people: Do they end up in this magical island? Does this place even really exist? Is it Islandia or just a really wild disco party?” Leichter speculated. “It's got this kind of '60s party vibe in that when the song changes, the whole mood changes.”

He compared the dance to a painting: “I'm trying to bring color to this painting, pull those individual pieces out and make them pop.”

Also on the program will be a brand new, recently added little solo, called “Love Letter” – “just kind of a thank you to all those that need to be thanked, some specific, some not so. Just a moment to go back to look ahead,” he added cryptically, “and remind people of the power that a performer has, which I think is something we forget. There is a tool we have that very few people have, which is a sense of power that is very different from what we consider power to be.”