‘Bodies in Motion’: Extended series of dance performances and workshops brings multiple performers to Northampton

  • Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson will perform their new dance, “another piece apart,” Sunday at 5 p.m. at Northampton’s Community Arts Trust building as part of the month-long festival “Bodies in Motion.” Photo by Ben McKeown/courtesy A.P.E.@HAWLEY

  • Cameron McKinney and his New York company, Kizuna Dance, perform at the “Bodies in Motion” dance festival Jan. 27. Photo by Martin O’Connor/courtesy A.P.E.@ HAWLEY

  • Dance partners Alex Springer, left, and Xan Burley perform Jan. 18 and 19 at “Bodies in Motion.” Photo by Francisco Graciano/courtesy A.P.E.@ HAWLEY

  • Brooklyn-based dancer and choreographer Doug LeCours, a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, comes to the “Bodies in Motion” festival on Jan. 20. Photo by Alana Kimara Dixon/courtesy A.P.E.@ HAWLEY

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2019 4:49:37 PM

Given how fast the news moves these days, it’s easy to forget that for some 15 years, Thornes Market in Northampton was the setting for a regular series of dance performances and workshops in January, held on the downtown building’s third floor by Available Potential Enterprises (A.P.E.), Ltd., the arts organization founded by the late Gordon Thorne.

But after Thornes Market was sold in 2006 to new owners (Gordon Thorne was one of the building’s original developers), its accompanying arts space disappeared — and the yearly dance/workshop event known as January Movement Month went, too.

Now, though, it’s coming back, and organizers hope to make it an annual event once again, with a new home at the city’s Community Arts Trust building at 33 Hawley Street.

“Bodies in Motion,” which begins Friday, Jan. 11 and runs through the first weekend in February, will bring over 25 dance artists and their collaborators — both regional artists and those from further afield — to 33 Hawley’s “Flex Space” for an extended series of performances and workshops. A wide range of dance is on tap: contemporary, improvisational, hip hop and more.

The festival is produced by A.P.E. @ HAWLEY, in conjunction with The School for Contemporary Dance & Thought (SCDT), the Northampton arts organization at 25 Main Street, which will also host a small number of the upcoming dances and workshops. 

To complement all that movement, four visual artists, a music composer and a dance scholar will be in residence at 33 Hawley during the festival to showcase their work and to offer some opportunity for “cross-pollination,” says Andrea Olsen, a longtime A.P.E. board member and a key organizer of the dance festival.

“The idea is to work simultaneously, to feed off each other,” said Olsen, a former professor of dance at Middlebury College in Vermont. “I think we’re also hoping to get a sense of what the [Arts Trust] building wants to be.”

In addition, the festival will host a special presentation Tuesday, Jan. 15 with Historic Northampton (it takes place at 33 Hawley) that looks at the history of the city’s arts scene back to the 1970s. The event will include the debut screening of a short documentary, “Vision of Thornes,” about Gordon Thorne and his view of the arts and its importance to a community.

Jennifer Polins, the founder and director of SCDT and the program director for A.P.E. @ HAWLEY, says “Bodies in Motion” has also been designed to celebrate the more recent history of the arts in Northampton and to introduce some of the younger dancers and artists to that story, in part by mingling different generations of performers and instructors.

“We’ve always been interested in keeping that history alive, and I see [the festival] as a great resurrection of what we built,” said Polins, a longtime dancer and dance teacher.

For much of the past 10-plus years, she notes, the city has been without a central, community-dedicated space for dance performances, though other locations, like SCDT (since 2015) and occasionally the A.P.E. Gallery at 126 Main St., have helped fill some of that gap.

But with the opening of the Arts Trust building, Polins said, “We’re in a position to make this an annual event again and build on what we’ve created.”

Duos, ensembles and more

The dance performances and workshops, which will be staged Friday through Sunday from Jan. 11 through Feb. 3, will have a different theme each week. This weekend, for instance, the focus is on improvisational dance (Olsen will lead the first workshop on that subject on Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at 33 Hawley).

Sunday at 5 p.m. will open the “Sundays at Five” series of dances with a production by two New York dancers who have ties to the Valley and have performed across the country. Of the new dance by Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson, “another piece apart,” one critic says the duo “masterfully use movement and gesture as catalysts for emotion.”

“They are both really outstanding and creative dancers,” said Polins. 

Both artists, who have worked together since 2005, have previously taught dance in the Five College community, Nugent at Amherst and Smith colleges and Matteson at Amherst and Mount Holyoke.

There will also be performances this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. by The Architects, an improvisational troupe made up of Lisa Gonzales, Pamela Vail, and Katherine Ferrier along with colleagues Peter Schmitz and Kathy Couch (Couch teaches lighting design at Amherst College).

Both Olsen and Polins say one of the big appeals of “Bodies in Motion” is that it features dancers they’ve previously taught, as well as performers who studied dance in the Valley and decided to stay, or are returning to renew their ties to the area.

“There are a lot of connections we’ve built through this community,” said Olsen.

On Jan. 27, for example, one of Olsen’s former students at Middlebury College, Cameron McKinney, will be part of a performance that includes the SCDT dance company, The Hatchery; the dancers will explore hip hop, Butoh (a form of Japanese dance theater) and other new work.

McKinney today heads his own New York company, Kizuna Dance, that fuses hip hop, house dance and elements of Butoh to depict aspects of Japanese history and culture. McKinney said in an interview last summer that he wants dance to “speak to parts of the human experience that we don’t get to address or that we choose not to address.”

Some performances will be built around specific collaboration between dancers and the other artists in residence at the Arts Trust building.

Xan Burley and Alex Springer, creative and life partners who have performed in many parts of the country — the couple are currently MFA students and teaching fellows at Smith College — will dance Jan. 18 and 19 to music created by composer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones (Jones is also the musical director of the Mount Holyoke College dance program).

“I think we’ll be able to offer a wide range of performance and workshops … and a more general celebration of the arts,” said Olsen, who suggested future dance festivals might even be staged biannually. “Really, what we’re doing is a continuation of Gordon Thorne’s vision of keeping creative spaces alive in town.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

For a complete schedule of “Bodies in Motion,” ticket prices and other information, visit scdtnoho.com/bodies-in-motion-festival.html or apearts.org/events—projects.html.


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