By David F. Pendrys
Editors Note #1 Hartt put up a photo gallery.
Editors Note #2 Please excuse the lack of technical proficiency in describing the dances.
WEST HARTFORD, CT- Recently the University of Hartford’s The Hartt School Dance Division put on their Fall Edition of “Hartt Dances” which is a compilation of student performances involving a variety of subsets of the genre. Traditionally the shows blends skill, artistry, and innovation and this was again the case this time around.
The show opened with the ballet piece “La Vivandiere” headlined by Emily Aubrey and Joseph Heitman with excellent performances from the corps of the yellow clad Jasmine Urban, Samantha Watson, Allison Long, and Katherine Judge. The choreography was put together by Arthur Saint-Leon in 1844. Music was by Cesare Pugni and Jean-Babtise Nadaud. The staging for this specific performance was arranged by Hilda Morales.
The corps of four occupy the stage first before Aubrey, clad in an elaborate blue tutu, and Heitman, in a vest, and pantaloons enters. The dance builds with more simpler elements being performed. Aubrey eventually stands on pointe, moves while still on pointe, and then later spins majestically. Eventually the entire group moves as a line, utilizing kicks and jumps, and also doing an impressive balance on one leg while on pointe. Aubrey and Heitman perform together including unveiling a giant scale as the others dance on their toes for an extended period. Aubrey goes on to an extended pointe sequence dancing with Heitman, leading to a dramatic scale where she pushes her leg back while already standing on pointe eventually dipping her leg upward impressively.
A faster piece follows and the corps does a variety of turns and hops before Heitman takes the stage doing a leap to the side following by spins and hops and a big turning leap. Aubrey joins him and they jump together back and forth across the stage.
Later the corps really gets to shine as they throw all variety of skills between balances, jumps, and spins including jumps where they get height and time to hit their feet together or leaping forward but throwing their legs behind them. Aubrey returns with a huge split leap before engaging in some other jumps and pirouettes. Heitman then gets the stage alone launching into some leaps and turns.
In a final segment, everyone ends up on stage and Aubrey hits some more big turns and leaps. Heitman then turns on a leg and does a massive sequence of turns in succession before Aubrey balances on pointe as the piece wraps up.
The six are to be commended for their excellent performance building up throughout the piece to the powerful climax at the end. Ballet dancers ability to rhythmically dance but also balance is truly an amazing thing to see in practice.
The second piece of the evening was the premiere of “Ellington Dances” choreographed by Stephen Pier to the music of Duke Ellington. The Costume Design was by Mary Kokie McNaugher and Lauren Bricca served as Rehearsal Assistant.
In a dramatic departure from the first piece, the background sounds would be jazz and were performed live by Corey Garcia on Drums, Charles Savage on Piano, Jordan Young on Alto Saxophone, Josh Uguccioni on Bass and Gregory Carleton on Tenor Saxophone.
This dance featured a creative mix as it blended modern dance and ballet elements set to Duke Ellington in the apparent setting of a club. It reminds slightly of Gemma Bond’s “Host” in how it placed dance in a contemporary social setting with modern music. Though Bond’s piece was a full ballet and based on a more beatnik and hipster vibe. Nonetheless the two pieces reflected the Hartt dancers ability to take the traditional forms of dance to nontraditional places.
The dance was broken up into four segments. The first entitled “Black Beauty” featured Samiyah Parramore and Ty Graynor with Emory Campbell as well as Frances Fuller, Kayla Hamilton, Hannah Belrose, Sarah Nulsen, Joseph Beltre, Ruby Cabbell, Christopher Henry, Cassandra Laskowski, Kelly O’Brien, Mikaela Papasodero, and Cameron Whitney who all did an admirable job.
A black clad woman enters from behind the jazz musicians as a man in a black suit arrives. The woman dances majestically but quickly using her legs gracefully before a pirouette. The man dances in the background including on the ground and has his own jump. She continues her own flourish up front. Another woman enters though in a twist, she wear pointe shoes. The two dance and spin in unison and the man joins in. The new arrival does some elements on pointe as the rest of the ensemble dancers fill the stage. A great deal of activity follows among them as the man dances with the first lead woman and the second lead woman dances with some of the ensemble. It is a spectacle. Eventually the first woman is lifted high by the man as the first segment closes.
The next three segments “Take the A Train: Entire Cast”, “Single Petal of a Rose”, and “ Apes and Peacocks” somewhat blended together. In “Single Petal of a Rose” Frances Fuller, Christopher Henry and Samiyah Parramore are featured.
The ensemble gets the spotlight for a while, as a large group is on stage at once though there are plenty of exits and entrances. The eventual result is two dancers lying on the ground and two more standing with their backs to the audience. The two women spin a bit, as another woman rolls on the ground. Slow piano accompanies this part. One of the women eventually stands and unleashes a solo while a lone man lies on the stage. She lies down only to have him get up and leap around seemingly in pain. Another woman runs onto the stage and circles the man before a big balance and turn follows as the piano sound becomes more frantic. Eventually a man and woman lie on the ground together as a dancer up front continues her movements.
Later a tambourine begins to play as a man in suit enters. The music becomes more jazzy as he leaps up. Two women arrive as well and the three spin rapidly. They then perform a jump in unison and follow it with some powerful leg moves before exiting.
A woman enters clad in a dress arrives and dances as more of the ensemble enters. The dress clad dancer gets the spotlight to perform. As the segment progresses, some of the ensemble dancers sit through clasp their arms behind them. Others dance around them. Two leads take the stage, as the ensemble dancers continue to dance with their arms behind them for a time before letting their hands fly free. Though they are soon in a circle embracing and More dancers enter as the piece wraps up.
The meaning of the full piece is a bit difficult to decipher, but such is dance. What was fascinating was not only the interjection of a ballet dancer amidst otherwise all slipper clad modern dancers, but also this was all set to the music that it was. It was also a stark contrast against the the traditional ballet the audience had just seen which served it well. The audience was exposed to a more straightforward piece and then got to see where dance has gone from there.
After the intermission, came the “Rusalki Cycle” ballet featuring choreography by Debra Collins Ryder. The music was from Romanian Folk Dances and Hungarian Folk Tunes by Béla Bartók (with additional sound by Kitka). The costumes were designed by Mary Kokie McNaugher.
The lead dancers were Kayla Hamilton and Christopher Henry with a corps of black and gray clad dancers consisting Emily Aubrey, Hannah Belrose, Frances Fuller, Kelly O’Brien, Samantha Watson and Samiyah Parramore.
The notes to show pointed out that:
“The folk music of Transylvania is the basis for Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, and the legend of the Rusalka (or Rusalki) has been part of Slavic folklore for centuries. Rusalka are believed to be nymphs living in or near water, who rise from their watery refuge at sunset. Rusalki were thought to take revenge on any male who stumbles into their sanctuary. Often associated with fertility, they can be flirtatious, playful or mischievous, but they are always alluring.”
With airy music playing, the corps enters doing some various turns on pointe. One dancer remains as the two lead dancers in normal looking dress enter. A violin starts and the man launches into big leaps. A pas de deux follows. The entire corps return and remain on pointe for a while before turning and sitting. As time passes, the two leads watch as they turn in a circle on pointe. One of the “nymphs” does an elaborate turn on point, as the others remain on their tip toes. Another does a balance and turns with legs out doing a lot of turns as four approach the couple. The lead woman dances with one of the group. Another spins across the stage on pointe as well as the two dance. The man finds a nymph to pair with as well.
The violin slows as the nymphs presumably are working to make their move. The next sequence features a lot of action as the lead woman gets center stage with some graceful dancing but the nymphs attempt to surround the guy. The violin picks up as piano joins in. The lead woman does a big leap with height as well as more balanced point work plus a jumping turn. Eventually the nymphs, who have done much dancing of their own, depart leaving the man and the woman to do a lift.
The violin picks up again and various nymphs enter and have their moments including some fast movements. The music continues to increase as a struggle seems to ensue amidst the dancing. Eventually the man does a big jump, but all the women including the lead circle him and then run off into the darkness.
It was an interesting change of pace as the ballet corps ensemble was working against the leads essentially instead of with them. It was another well executed performance involving a lot going on at once which while expected continues to be appreciated.
Finally came “A Choreographic Offering” choreographed by the renowned José Limón. Staging and Direction for this performance was by Nina Watt. The Music came from J.S. Bach’s “Musical Offering.” The Costume Design was by Stephen Pier. The notes provided by Hartt indicated that “José Limón created this piece in homage to his mentor, Doris Humphrey, developing variations and paraphrases of motifs from her many dances.”
The piece was broken up into several sections. Calvin Bittner, Joseph Heitman, and Ty Graynor were first up as a men’s trio. A fast solo was performed by Emory Campbell. Then came a Quintet from Courtney Costa, Darrigan Demattos, Katie Judge, Allison Long and Marielena Quintanar (Notes indicate the cast covers for Quintet were Ruby Cabbell, Jasmine Urban, Cameron Whitney). A duet segment featured Mollie Sharples & Bittner. A slow solo came from Sarah Nulsen and the entire group took the stage for a finale.
Limón’s works are no stranger to the Hartt Dances lineup as “Psalm” was recently performed multiple times. Though this piece differs dramatically from that one, which featured somewhat of a plot and a mix of and dire and choral music. Here Bach’s classic sounds accompany the dancers all clad in similar pants and shorts of varying bright colors.
The early parts of the piece feature a lot of hops in unison. At a later point some big leaps follow, and eventually various awkward poses result. There is a mix of more conventional moves and leaps, as well as some unusual positions. This is a trend throughout the duet and the solo. Slow movements are engaged in as well.
As the finale approaches, everyone is dancing around diagonally. A lot is occurring on stage at once featuring turns and spins. Various groups of dancers are sliding across and people entering and exiting. Everyone is working as a unit but not necessarily doing the same thing. Lifts also come into play, and more spins.
The elements are a bit harder for me to put into words but they were well executed. Limón’s piece demand a lot of coordination, and it is of no surprise that the students carry it out well.
Hartt will perform a Spring version of Hartt Dances in 2017.