The choreography of innovation

DanceMasters Weekend explores new dance vocabularies

Photo by Julietta Cervantes

Photo by Julietta Cervantes


Steve Scarpa

For one weekend a year, the quiet campus of Wesleyan University becomes a center of the dance world with world-class companies offering innovative classes and performances.

The 14th annual DanceMasters Weekend will take place Saturday, March 9, and Sunday, March 10, at the Wesleyan University Center for the Arts.

Over two days, dancers have the opportunity to take a series of 13 master classes taught by members of the some of the leading dance companies in the nation.

“It will change the way you see dance and all of its great possibilities,” said the center’s director, Pamela Tatge.

Carolyn Kirsch’s class offers a glimpse into the possibilities dance offers. Kirsch, a Connecticut resident and veteran of such Broadway productions as A Chorus Line, Chicago, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, among many others, will teach a Bob Fosse-style jazz workshop for older dancers. It was an immensely popular workshop during last year’s DanceMasters Weekend.

Photo by Julietta Cervantes

Photo by Julietta Cervantes

“It isn’t about acrobatics,” Kirsch said, “it’s about the style.”

Kirsch is sanctioned by Fosse’s estate to teach his unique style, one whose choreography is marked by isolation and angularity.

“I was privileged, I was honored, because he taught me so much,” she said, having worked with him on A Chorus Line and Chicago.

On Saturday evening at 8 p.m. three companies – Armitage Gone! Dance, ODC/Dance, and Ballet Hispanico – will perform works from their respective repertoires.

“We look to showcase companies that have a distinct vocabulary that audiences can become engaged with,” Tatge said. “We hope that audiences leave here having put their finger on the pulse of contemporary dance by seeing three of the most important companies in America perform in one evening.”

Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Classical dance primarily explores the virtuosity of the body – it is almost Euclidean in its aesthetic. In an effort to move away from this as a primary ideal, Karole Armitage, dubbed the “punk ballerina” for her edgy, innovative choreography, uses contemporary scientific thinking as inspiration for her most recent work, Mechanics of the Dance Machine, a portion of which will be performed on March 9. Her company, Armitage Gone! Dance, first performed the piece in late January.

“The artist’s job is to be an antenna of what is going on in society,” she said.

Armitage created the piece using the fluidity of Japanese calligraphy and fractals – the geometry of nature – as inspiration. The piece is choreographed to Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, a combination of orchestra and club music.

“It is classical, contemporary, and pop culture, all combined in a real way,” Armitage said.

While the dance vocabulary is unique and new, the subject matter is timeless – the complexity of human relationships.

breathing 2

“It is always about what it is like to be alive,” Armitage said.

Brenda Way, co-artistic director of ODC/Dance, had a friend who worked to restore a 1482 copy of Euclid’s Elements. As the restorer worked with the book, she became increasingly aware of the multiple roles she played in engaging this classic text – collector, curator, and conservator. This triangular perspective intrigued Way as an opportunity to initiate creative explorations.

Way and KT Nelson, co-artistic directors of ODC/Dance, will present a work titled Triangling Euclid. Three choreographers, including Way and Nelson, worked to create the dance. Scientific themes of volume, angles, and space were guideposts in the work’s creation.

“We move from abstraction and elegance of form to go to an understanding of human relationships,” Nelson said.

“Always I hope there will be some sort of visceral engagement, that you’ll feel your body in a new way, that there will be some sort of kinesthetic response,” Way said.

The 1980s in Spain were a tumultuous time, one of innovation and cultural revolution. Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director of Ballet Hispanico, said his company’s new piece, A Vueltas Con Los Ochenta (A Return to the 80s) captures the mood of the country at that time.

Photo courtesy of Wesleyan University Center for the Arts.

Photo courtesy of Wesleyan University Center for the Arts.

“It is about the constant negotiation of past and present and the need for each generation to have its own voice … yet, it is very now. It is always now,” he said.

And yet, despite the serious underpinnings, the piece will have an exuberant quality.

“For those of us from the ’80s, it will look like the ’80s. It is an amazing visual testament to the club scene with light and costuming … the piece is gorgeous because the dancers are exquisite. It is very youthful,” he said.

Vilaro’s hopes for how audiences will react to the piece could be a summation of the entire performance.

“What I want an audience to take away is the sense of curiosity and a sense of beauty. The piece takes you through some comical moments and some dark moments … It is a true reflection of life,” Vilaro said.

For more information about DanceMasters Weekend, visit wesleyan.edu/dancemasters. To buy tickets, call the Wesleyan University box office at (860) 685-3355 or visit wesleyan.edu/boxoffice.

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