Jersey (New) Moves!


Four emerging choreographers. Four accomplished dance mentors. Endless possibilities.


In a modest-sized rehearsal space at NJPAC’s Center for Arts Education, choreographer Nai-Ni Chen discusses spatial relationships with a young dancemaker, whose new piece would be seen on a larger stage. Several days later, choreographer Carolyn Dorfman consults with her protégé, who has concerns about the structure and color of a costume, and the effects that lighting would play upon it. 


The women, both directors of eponymous dance companies, make half of a foursome of established choreographers who are key to Jersey (New) Moves! Emerging Choreographers in NJPAC’s Victoria Theater on June 19. Completing the team are Randy James, founder and Artistic Director of the 10 Hairy Legs all-male dance ensemble, and Claire Porter, best known for her PORTABLES character sketches.


Their roles are strictly behind the scenes, however: These accomplished New Jersey artists have been recruited to mentor four gifted up-and-comers, acting as guides in the journey of turning a new work into a fully staged production. The video here offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse.


Jersey (New) Moves! is an offshoot of NJPAC’s 5-year-old Jersey Moves! Festival of Dance; the former event is presented at NJPAC in association with Dance New Jersey, the service organization for dance in the state. It is also the culmination of a competition that began in November with an open call for online submissions. Support for Jersey (New) Moves! is provided by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  


Each choreographer has a 20-minute segment in the program:


Robert Mark Burke of Elmwood Park, who dances with 10 Hairy Legs and studied choreography with James at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, reunites with his former instructor in the staging of a new duet, sheath, with music by Max Richter.


Bayonne resident Lauren Connolly is being mentored by Porter in the premiere of Displayed Exposure – for seven dancers – and Borrowing Identities (2014). Various composers contributed to both works, which explore such themes as conformity, integrity and self-awareness.


Kyle Georgina Marsh, who lives in Jersey City, is partnering with Chen and collaborating with composer Jonathan Granoff in the development of Arrow Dynamic Females, a work that examines gender identity and the objectification of women.


Arielle Petruzzella of Hoboken, under Dorfman’s wing, is showcasing a new, five-minute solo titled I Am Coming for My Things, set to composer Ólafur Arnalds’ Haust. Her other 12-minute dance, first presented in 2013 – the fence that you sent me – features music by Tanya Tagaq, René Aubry and others.


“This is a wonderful opportunity for these young artists to be mentored by established New Jersey choreographers, who are offering creative and artistic guidance through the process of creating a new work,” says Lisa Grimes, Executive Director of Dance New Jersey. “We hope Jersey (New) Moves! is used as their launching pad for furthering their careers as choreographers.”


Burke intends to fulfill that prediction: “I’m a true believer that a work is never finished and plan on continuing to work on this duet to present it at other festivals and events.” Zella Dance – Petruzzella’s company – will give audiences another chance to see both her works on July 25 at DeBaun Performing Arts Center in Hoboken.


The dynamics of the working relationship between mentors and mentees are highly individual, and James likens himself to an advocate. “It’s more of a collaboration than a dictatorship,” he jokes wryly in the studio where Burke rehearses his dancers. He calls the project an honor and is proud that the four winners (chosen by an independent panel of dance experts) turned out to be graduates of Mason Gross.


“By having such an intense mentor relationship attached to this project, I am able to constantly talk about the never-ending questions that can arise during a process and use discussion as a form of problem-solving,” Burke observes.


Since she is helming her own, newly formed dance company, Petruzzella considers Dorfman a role model. In the studio, Dorfman promotes honest, open conversation peppered with the question “why?” and draws the dancers’ opinions into the discussion. (“Everybody leaves their mark on the work,” she explains.) Marsh credits Chen with helping her consider new ways of directing her ensemble, ultimately creating “a much more productive and enriching rehearsal experience for my dancers.”


Another asset of Jersey (New) Moves! is the opportunity to build a “strong network” of friends and fellow artists, according to Connolly, whose ultimate goal is to inaugurate a dance company.


“The constant and consistent feedback from an established artist such as Claire Porter has been the most valuable gift from this program,” she says.


June 2, 2015