Dance is about being fully aware — completely present physically, mentally, and emotionally. That being said, let me note that it can be very difficult to get dancers and choreographers to project what they'll be doing a few months down the road, especially this year, when most of the dance groups in town seem primarily focused on their upcoming performances in the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival (September 19-23). Here are, at least, a handful of noteworthy dance events to mark on your event calendar for now.
Almost all of them are collaboration-based presentations. These dance pieces were created to work closely with music composed explicitly for these works. These are dance pieces that place a greater emphasis on set design. These are dances that include poetry, spoken word, and visual art in their performances. How will these elements impact the audience's engagement with these performances?
Garth Fagan Dance's annual Rochester premiere takes place just after Thanksgiving at the Nazareth College Arts Center (November 27-December 2, garthfagandance.org). "Lighthouse/Lightning Rod" is a new collaboration with Wynton Marsalis. The Tony- and Olivier Award-winning choreographer and the nine-time Grammy Award-winning musician and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer previously worked together to produce the masterful "Griot New York" in 1991.Scenic design by visual artist and Guggenheim fellow Alison Saar adds further allure to this new production.
At the world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in September, the Wynton Marsalis Septet will perform live with Garth Fagan troupe. Thematically, the dance appears to examine the complexity of feelings in romantic relationships. Program notes allude to "illusory feelings of security and danger."
Fagan is an incredibly busy man, especially in the weeks before a world premiere, and was unavailable for comment, but I recall the enthusiasm and excitement in his voice last spring when he mentioned this upcoming collaboration with his friend, Marsalis. I'm excited to find out what they've been up to together.
Rochester City Ballet celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. What began as a pre-professional company featuring high-level students changed to a professional company employing four contracted dancers just five years ago. Today, RCB boasts 18 contracted dancers (six of those being apprentices) and a growing repertoire. Artistic Director and Choreographer Jamey Leverett has been at the helm during the company's recent rapid ascent.
This winter look for Leverett's new piece, "New York Cityscapes" (February 1-2, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, rpo.org), which was commissioned by Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, to be performed to his original music. The 30-minute work contains five sections, each inspired by a particular NYC locale. The dancing is diverse and includes the tarantella and the tango, as well as African, ragtime, and musical-theater influences. This is Leverett's second collaboration with Tyzik. She also choreographed "Bravo Colorado" for the company to perform in accompaniment with the RPO.
"Being onstage with an orchestra is unique, in that the dancers get to feel this wall of energy right up behind them," Leverett said last week while her company was on hiatus. "This new piece is big. The music is big. The dancing is big. There are lots of dancers and many costume changes. Big."
True ballet aficionados will want to take advantage of a unique offering from RCB this season, a free series of studio events including an open rehearsal, a dancer-choreography showcase, and open discussions with renowned artistic collaborators. By observing the deconstruction of a dance that takes place again and again before eventual performance, viewers will take away a more first-hand understanding of the technique and artistry involved in the creation, absorption, and execution of dance. In May 2013, use your new insights to delve deeper into "Rochester City Ballet: Past, Present, and Future," which will mark the company's anniversary by going back to pull highlights from its repertoire. For more information visit rochestercityballet.org.
Less in the limelight, but one of the longest-established dance companies in Rochester, Park Avenue Dance Company is led by artistic director Christine Fendley. Fendley has made her name in dance education. Hundreds of Rochester students have passed through her dance studio in its annex behind St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Vick Park B and East Avenue; some of them have gone on to prestigious dance careers, like Thomas Warfield, founder and artistic director of RIT/NTID Dance Company, the student dance group at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Fendley is the recipient of choreography grants for her interdisciplinary collaborative work in video, dance, music, and theater from the New York State Council on the Arts, from the Wurlitzer Foundation, and from the Wilmot Foundation. Her company has performed contemporary modern dance in and around Rochester for 30 years. This year Fendley is forming a youth company.
Park Avenue Dance Company performs at ARTISANworks on November 11 as a benefit for the venue. Look for new works and works-in-progress choreographed by Fendley and Marina Peters, with dancers Jennifer Clausen, Samantha Locke, and Amber Marvin. Poet Kathryn Jospe will read selected poems from her work and artist Jackie Lippa will show her work. The same performance will take place in the Vick Park B studio on September 23; for more information check parkavenuedancecompany.org.
On the university level, the great incubator of dance in Rochester is the Department of Dance at the College of Brockport. Elizabeth Streb is an alum. Garth Fagan taught there for 30 years, and Bill Evans still does. Danscore, the annual faculty-choreographed showcase, is an opportunity to see what's happening inside this bubbling hotpot of talent. This year's performance at Hochstein School of Music and Dance takes place on November 17. Although the program is not yet set, a new, multi-disciplinary work choreographed and performed by Darwin Prioleau, professor and dean of the School of The Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is highly anticipated, as is choreography by Bill Evans. For more information visit brockport.edu/dance.
Nazareth College Arts Center can always be counted on to bring in some top dance talent from around the world, and this year is no exception. Jazz lovers will want to see River North Dance Chicago on March 23. The company, led by Artistic Director Frank Chaves, is known for its highly charged, passionate, jazz-based contemporary choreography. River North performs abstract modernism, jazzy ballroom, and lyrical duets with technical prowess and athleticism.
On May 4, Ballet Revolucion appears on the Arts Center stage with its successful combination of live music and dance. An all-star Cuban band performs the music of Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Santana, Ricky Martin, Usher, Chris Brown, Beyonce, and others while the dancers perform the choreography of Aaron Cash (one of the original Tap Dogs) and Rocian Gonzalez Chavez, a top Cuban choreographer. Sounds like it could set the theater afire. For more information on other Naz Arts Center dance events check artscenter.naz.edu.