Since its inception in 2006, ps21 in Chatham has presented high quality, internationally acclaimed dance companies each summer, but this year tops all as they expand into a month long festival. There's something for dance aficionados of all tastes, with performances, classes, events for children, stories about dance, and dance films.
In addition dance education, the ps21 mission includes bringing the community together on its land. The site is located on a 50-acre apple orchard, and attendees are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy the grounds—which extends to the dancers, as they reside on-site in a guesthouse adjacent to the dance studio during their stay.
Opening the festival on August 1 and 2 is Los Angeles' Lionel Popkin Dance, bringing their evening-long Ruth Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a fun, poignant, and informative work involving fabric that pays homage to early modern dance icon/pioneer Ruth St. Denis, who employed the occasional bolt of fabric in her works. Accordionist extraordinaire Guy Klucevsek will be playing his original score live.
A dance professor at UCLA, Popkin will teach a Skinner Releasing Technique class on August 2, utilizing natural movements to promote flexibility and alignment, and the company will also present an interactive performance for children illustrating the joys of moving to music.
The Jamal Jackson Dance Company (JJDC) was created in 2004 after Jackson's stint with Ballet International Africans. Born in Brooklyn, he studied with the Batoto Yetu Dance Company in Harlem and teachers as varied as renowned jazz dancer/choreographer Fred Benjamin, and Mali's Ba Issa Diallo. His blending of African, hip-hop, and modern dance yields profound and glorious results.
Employing four percussionists and nine dancers, Jackson's company moves with crispness and spiritual and emotional commitment to his choreography, clearly seen in the evening-long Bask In the Shade, which they will bring to ps21 on August 15 and 16. Elegantly tackling economic and social disparities and differences between traditional and modern values, the work celebrates those differences. Says Jackson, "As we broaden our perspective, the lines of these categorizations blur and more productive conversations occur about uniqueness rather than difference, redefining ideas of community and blurring divisive lines while celebrating the beauty of individual cultures. I want the audience to sit inside these concepts and see how their own identity has been defined or manipulated. I want them to bask in it."
The JJDC will also be offering an African dance, drum, and textile workshop for kids 8 to 18, culminating in a performance on August 15.
Tokyo native Takehiro U0eyama will bring his always visually magnificent New York City-based TAKE Dance, performing three works. The high-spirited Somewhere Familiar Melodies, danced to Japanese pop songs, sprang from Ueyama feeling "torn apart" after the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami. To comfort himself, he listened to the music of his childhood, which brought joyful memories and inspired choreography.
Ueyama will also be premiering two works on August 22 and 23; a collaboration with Chatham residents sharing stories about local life and danced to a soundtrack of their voices, and a work where the same choreography will be performed to two different pieces of music. In addition, there will be a workshop for intermediate to experienced dancers.
Closing the season for the ninth year is internationally renowned Parsons Dance on August 29 and 30. Founded by David Parsons in 1985, among the works the company will be presenting are Whirlaway‚ a collaboration with legendary New Orleans musician/composer Allen Toussaint, and The Introduction, a series of eight solos highlighting each dancer's individual style, culminating with the entire ensemble onstage together. The score by cellist Rubin Kodheli is also fine-tuned to each dancer.
Parsons's famed solo, Caught, to music by King Crimson's Robert Fripp, will spellbind as the dancer appears to fly. This piece alone is worth the price of admission. Company members will also teach a workshop in Parsons's style on August 30.
The ps21 Dance Festival runs August 1 to 30. Tickets to performances, films, and classes range in price from $12 to $55. Some events are free. ps21, Chatham. (518) 392-612; ps21Chatham.org.