'Process and Performance': Albany Berkshire Ballet and Williams College to present new works of collaboration

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Dance exists in a constant state of renewal. Recreating classic choreography can bring past performances to present day audiences, but new creation propels dance into the future and keeps it alive and kicking.

In an upstairs Pittsfield studio, under the watchful eye of choreographer Mary Talmi, four dancers — two adults and two children — move fluidly across the resilient dance floor, youngsters alternately hoisted onto shoulders and stretched out on the ground.

On Saturday, this dance and six others form "Process and Performance," Albany Berkshire Ballet's new works will be showcased at The Stationery Factory in Dalton. The initiative, which launched last year to create new repertory and foster collaboration between the ballet company and Williams College, includes some 20 dancers drawn from Albany and the Berkshires.

Works spanning ballet, modern and folk dance styles include Alexia Barandiaran's "Aromas" inspired by Latin American dance and music; "Unsquare Dance" by Chuck Paquette with jazzy rhythms by Dave Brubeck; and two romantic, sensual pieces by Jonathan Riedel danced to Bach and Mozart.

Talmi's "Rockwell In Our Time" draws on the artist's famed "Freedom From Fear" painting. Excerpted from a larger multidisciplinary piece slated for fall, "it's really what `Process and Performance' is about," Talmi said; "a choreographer and composer getting together on a theme."

The music by Christopher Culpo, son of Albany Berkshire Ballet founder Madeline Cantarella Culpo, is challenging, Talmi said, pushing her to think about what she can do with the four-dancer family tableau. Working now with the children for the first time helps verify she's "going in the right direction," she noted.

Over the course of four decades, the company has partnered with noted choreographers including Laura Dean and Bill T. Jones, creating new works supported by sets, lights and costumes.

"It was time for ABB to get back to that part of its history and be a platform for choreographers both established and emerging, a resource for creation and collaboration," Talmi said.

A Pittsfield native, Talmi grew up with Cantarella School and the Albany Berkshire Ballet. "From the time I was small sitting on the studio floor watching Madeline, I knew I wanted to choreograph," she recalled. She began creating dances even before attending The Juilliard School in New York, and has continued ever since.

Another longtime company member, Ruslan Sprague — he debuted as the Changeling at age 3 — will choreograph and perform a pas de deux with Lisa Iannacito McBride to music by Chopin.

When creating new work, music always comes first, he said: "It dictates how I want to move, what I want it to look like, how I want it to feel." He surfs iTunes, "looking for music that speaks to me."

Sprague initially choreographs his dance in his head, "then I play with it in the studio."

Working collaboratively "lets you build on each other," he observed. To date he has solely worked on short pieces he also dances in, but he has ideas for more substantial projects. "I would need more people," he noted.

His dance photography will also be displayed, his third Berkshire exhibit this month.

The Williams College collaboration was facilitated by ballet company board President Alison LaRocca, who attended the noted liberal arts school. Under director Sandra Burton the dance department has expanded, and includes several student- and faculty-run ensembles serving both experienced dancers and those new to the art form.

"CoDa" contemporary dance ensemble co-director (and Berkshire Eagle dance reviewer) Janine Parker set "Preludes for Another Time," on Hannah Antonellis, Eva Leick and Joelle Troiano, with music by Chopin. Fellow CoDa members Aayushi Pramanik, Dew Maskati, Claudia Portugal and Claudia Rodriguez perform in Barandiaran's "Aromas."

Creating new work takes time, Parker noted. While dance steps can be learned in a few hours, dancers have to build the stamina to perform them with full-out dance quality, both artistically and physically.

"We're always happy to work with other artistic organizations as often as we can," she added. "It's good for students to get out and see what other dancers are doing."

Some collaborations go beyond the world of dance. Singer songwriter Grace Ida Marks and guitarist Vlad Zeleny will perform between dances on Saturday. The ballet company has issued a "call to artists" offering access to trained dancers and production support to potential collaborators from filmmakers to poets.

Ultimately, the showcases highlights both new dances and the ballet itself, with its history of presenting programs Talmi described as "diverse choreographically and representing the strong talents of ABB dancers."

Since performing in different locations attracts new audiences, the goal is to let people all over Berkshire County see the company as something other than The Nutcracker.

"Our intent is to bring ballet to the community," Talmi said.

She pointed out the evening also includes hors d'oeuvre's, dessert, a post-show discussion and a cash bar.

"Beer and ballet," Talmi noted; "how much fun is that?!"


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