UW News

October 8, 2014

Renowned dances meticulously restaged for Chamber Dance Company’s ‘On the Edge’

UW News

Pablo Piantino, left, and Bruce McCormick in the UW Chamber Dance Company’s production of the dance “Jardi Tancat.”Steve Korn

Two pairs of dancers watch from upstage in a spacious Meany Hall rehearsal room as a third, downstage couple moves in tandem. The woman rises over the man — suspended briefly as if in slow motion — and then the other couples return to fluid movement across the bare stage.

This is a rehearsal for the University of Washington Chamber Dance Company performance of a piece called “Jardi Tancat” based on Catalonian folk tales collected and expressed in song by Maria del Mar Bonet. But it’s also a bit of history — the faithfully exact re-enactment of a dance created by a famous choreographer more than three decades ago and a continent away.

“On the Edge” comprises this work and two other recreated dances — “Cloudless,” originally staged by Susan Marshall, and audience favorite “To Have and Hold,” created by the late Danial Shapiro with Joanie Smith.

The evening of dance will be performed Oct. 9 to12 in Meany Hall with pre-performance lectures by Seattle arts writer Sheila Farr.

“On the Edge” will be performed Oct. 9-12 in Meany Hall. Tickets are $10 – $22.

The evening of dance also includes these two works.

  • Cloudless,” created by Susan Marshall in 2006, is a retrospective of her career as one of the leading choreographic voices in the post-modern era. Excepts of her evening-length work will be presented. The New York Times said Marshall’s dances “resemble good short stories; they are dramatically taut and emotionally rich. And her choreographic brevities are often packed with multiple implications.”
  • To Have and Hold” was created by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith in 1989. Affectionately known as “Bench,” it was first presented by the Chamber Dance Company in 2011 and became an audience favorite. Reviewing a 1992 production, the New York Times said, “There is no plot. But lives are spanned. Lovers meet and part. Death comes, first frighteningly, then as peaceful resolution. Above all, no one is alone in this world in continuous motion.”

This attention to detail comes as no surprise to the two dozen invited guests watching the recent rehearsal at the invitation of Hannah Wiley, founding and continuing artistic director of the Chamber Dance Company, They know this company — begun in 1990, and composed of professional dancers now seeking master’s in fine art degrees from the UW Dance Program — is well known for meticulous reconstructions of dance works of historical significance.

Dancers plot out dances as a director might stage a play, but while theatrical “blocking” can be a passing thing, the staging of a dance is more of an art. Thus, when “Jardi” is reconstructed, it must be performed as closely to its original staging as possible, music and all.

But were it not for two of the performers, “Jardi Tancat” — which tells the tale of people who work the land and pray for rain — would not be on the Chamber Dance Company bill at all.

The dance was created by famed choreographer Nacho Duato in 1983 for the Netherlands Dance Theater. Chamber Dance Company member Pablo Piantino and his wife, Penny Saunders, performed in it when working for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2007, there getting the chance to work with Duato. When Wiley thought of bringing the dance to the UW, they reached out to Duato for permission.

“Nacho was extremely kind,” Piantino said. He not only said yes, “he trusted Penny and me with the huge responsibility of remounting ‘Jardi.'”

And so they began to plan the production. Piantino contacted Jim Vincent, former Hubbard Street artistic director and one of the first dancers to perform the piece. Vincent offered to come to Seattle and coach the troupe.

“I never thought we’d be able to perform it,” Wiley told those gathered for the rehearsal. “Jim’s coaching was phenomenal — it was one of the most amazing coaching sessions in my 24 years of directing.”

Piantino credited not only Duato’s generosity, but Wiley, too, for “relentless efforts” in helping make the piece happen. “She emailed, sometimes in Spanish, with my help — and called, bargained, and did all she could in order that a small university company could get such a great work,” he said.

Members of the UW Chamber Dance Company rehearse the piece "To Have and Hold." Seen in front is Pablo Piantino.

Members of the UW Chamber Dance Company rehearse the piece “To Have and Hold.” Seen in front is Pablo Piantino.Peter Kelley

For her part, Wiley said “Jardi” is among her favorite works in both the ballet and dance repertoires.

“It has been such a gift to work on this dance for three months,” she said. “To get inside of it and figure out how Duato worked his magic. The vocabulary, music, intent and humanity come together to create a deeply moving aesthetic experience. And we have dancers with the maturity, experience and technique to make this dance really sing.”

As the dancers finished their rehearsal performance of “Jardi,” Piantino glanced tentatively to colleagues to see if he should bow, but the audience’s reaction answered the question soon enough — and he bowed, with a shy smile.