Thursday, June 28, 2001

Chamber Dance Theater's debut season

Combining intimate dances, instrumental and theater pieces, the Chamber Dance Theater offers a unique evening not found in many places. This contemporary ballet is a close collaboration of dancers and musicians in an intimate setting. The program alternates throughout the evening between touching and sensuous dances and classical musical selections. The extensive expertise of each performer-from the dancers to the musicians to the lighting to the costumes-is overwhelming. And even more impressive is that the company started with a benefit performance just a year ago to get the word out. The Board was so impressed, they charged forward with more pieces, more artists and more performances. Founder, artistic director and choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning brings years of choreographic work at over eleven ballet companies and teaching at over four schools including Juilliard, NYU's Tisch and the Lincoln Center Institute to her current initiative. Current music director of the Parson Dance Company John Mackey (who has also worked with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the Joyce Theater and Carnegie Hall) worked with the Chamber Dance Theater as composer and music director-filling out Diane's vision.

Her vision was actualized by dancers whose talents are also seen at dance companies like Les Grand Ballets Canadiens (Nanci Crowley, Jeremy Raia, Victor Quijada), the Atlanta Ballet (John Welker) and the American Ballet Theater and the Royal Swedish Ballet (Griff Braun-who also has founded, Inc.). Musicians hailed from such heralded ensembles as the New York New Music Ensemble and Ensemble Sospeso (Stephen Gosling) and The Elm City Ensemble (Rebecca Patterson). One musician-Christopher Collins Lee-holds five honorary doctorate degrees from foreign institutions in addition to a BFA and MM from Julliard and doctorate from SUNY Stony Brook. He also has received a Guggenheim Grant and Fulbright and plays a violin made in Cremona, Italy by Grancesco Ruggieri in 1680, which once belonged to Leopold Mozart.

If you'd seen the Broadway musical "Annie Get Your Gun" or "Jekyll and Hyde" then you've seen the work of lighting designer Beverly Emmons, who's won seven Tony nominations, won a Tony for lighting in "Amadeus" and is the artistic director of the Lincoln Center Institute, responsible for selecting dance theater and music repertory for students and teachers. Costume designer Holly Hynes worked for noted choreographers like Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon.

But what about the pieces, you ask! Well, each one was unique, passionate, compelling and inspiring. Piazzolla Songs and Berceuse were inspired pieces that began the evening's night of theater. Between each dance number were instrumental selections like Gyorgy Ligeti's Devil's Staircase (played by Steve Gosling on piano) and John Corigliano's Sonata for Violin and Piano (played by Gosling and Christopher Lee on violin). Four Men in Suits, a mixed media piece with spoken text and movement was a humorous look at men (and ultimately women too) and the various activities they do during the day (sales calls, hailing taxis, training dogs, sunbathing). Australian-born choreographer with the Australian Ballet Stanton Welch premiered a dance piece, Kisses, that was full of amour, passion and tenderness in its creativity. Diane Coburn Bruning's premiere of Passages was the concluding piece that incited deep emotion in it's sensuous classical ballet mixed with Argentinean tango set to John Mackey's score of classical music with Latin percussion beats.

Afterwards the gala attendees got to enjoy champagne and desserts as we listened to tango music. Of course the real fun was when professional tango dancers announced that we were now going to learn this sexy dance. Ole! My partner, Ken Fisher, a noted arts presenter from Ann Arbor, and I learned our respective steps. I bit into my long-stemmed rose and off we were! The creative passions didn't end on the dance floor though; board members took discarded ballet slippers of the dancers and turned them into new creations. Board member Hilka Klinkenberg, supporter Lina Bryant and intern (and future Yale attendee) Tyler Coburn were among the artists who put their talents into these artful slippers. Among the designers were feathers slippers by Hilka ("Swan Lake"-in white feathers, "Firebird"-in red feathers), seashelled slippers by Hilka ("La Mer") and actual lilies in a pot surrounded by painted slippers ("Lilies" by Lina Byrant). Even a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement were immortalized on slippers by Tyler. The slippers were such a hit for the Silent Auction that this will be a signature item at future galas!

This wonderful group has one performance left in Manhattan-tonight, June 29th at 8:00 PM and then two final performances on July 1st at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough. You can also read a review in Newsday and hear one tomorrow at 5:57 pm on Frances Mason's show on "World of Dance" at WQXR.