Passing the Artistic Torch: Three generations of dancers

February 18, 2010

Last Valentine’s weekend, the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble performed a world premiere created by artistic director Nancy Turano. The premiere, Primavera, was performed in collaboration with Colonial Symphony Orchestra at Drew University’s Dorothy Young’s Center for the Performing Arts.

The dancers onstage Saturday night ranged in age from 14–18. But despite their youth, audience members were powerfully moved through dancers’ emotional commitment to the piece. This dedication was inspired by Turano’s artistic direction, and the beautiful live music of Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring: Suite.”

Seeing young dancers give so much on stage stirs your heart. Turano’s personal inspiration is amplified through each dancer’s dynamic and genuinely expressive movements. Turano shares, “It was a great opportunity for the NJDTE dancers to work with live orchestra.” Doing this offers the young dancers the opportunity to develop better sensitivity and spontaneous response to the music and tempo (rather than using a CD that is always the same). They needed to really listen and feel the music! “Having the opportunity to choreograph to the score of Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring “ was a great and rare honor.”

Paul Hostetter, the director and conductor of Colonial Symphony, approached NJDTE in August about the collaboration. Mr. Hostetter had a long-standing wish to collaborate with dancers. He was delighted with the discovery of the local Dance Ensemble with leadership demonstrating uncompromising artistic integrity. Rehearsals began in January for the February performance. The collaboration was mutually rewarding. Turano expressed a special gratitude in receiving permission and rights from Graham & Copland Foundations. 

Martha Graham had originally choreographed her dance, Appalachian Spring, which was first shown in 1944 with music she commissioned from Aaron Copeland. His ballet score has received lasting success as an orchestral suite. Turano explains, “Having the great opportunity to see the original ‘Appalachian Spring’ of Martha Graham and Aaron Copeland gives tremendous insight as to the intention of both the choreographer and composer. With respect to their intention, reflecting a journey and union in a traditional way, I envision a more abstract concept of universal springtime/renewal, love, union, fate conflict, all witnessed by a corps de ballet. It will reveal an architectural landscape creating an expansion of space, while dancers become a textured expression echoing the voice of all people past, present and future.”

Indeed, the 15 young dancers carved out intricately winding spatial patterns sharing the stage with about as many master musicians of the Colonial Symphony Orchestra. The corps de ballet movement motifs, at times delicate and sensitive then varying with angular and bold jumps, mirrored the couple on their journey of discovery, separation and reunion. The couple connected through heart-warming gentle hand gestures and loving eye -contact that was palpable to audience members.

It’s hard to imagine a more wonderful experience on Valentine’s eve. There is a special joy in witnessing the continuity of dance artistry being handed down from one generation to the next. My hope is that Primavera continues to be performed with young dance artists reaching out to inspire the next crop of aspiring dancers. Live music certainly sweetens this delicious dance. A second helping is in order, please!