PS21: Bringing dance to Chatham


CHATHAM, N.Y. - Dance always has been an important part of Judy Grunberg's life.

"It's a personal thing," she affirmed in an interview one afternoon last week. "Growing up in Manhattan, it just seemed to me that my love of dance kind of infiltrated my entire life, she said, noting that she danced a lot when she was younger, with her ballet lessons well underway by the time she was 10.

Grunberg, who moved to Columbia County in 1965, as she describes it, "with two young children in diapers and a husband," said she has noticed great changes over the years. "Hudson has blossomed, and the population has changed somewhat. They've become more accepting of outsiders -- people who come here to enrich the place."

And as one of those seeking to enrich the community, she said she has observed the scarcity of dance in her immediate area. While a fan and supporter of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, she contends that dance has been underserved and uncultivated on her side of the state border. "There seems to be kind of a line between the Berkshires and New York state, and I've been up here for 48 years trying to blur the line."

In one effort to blur that line of demarcation, she inaugurated Performance Spaces for the 21st Century (PS21) seven years ago in a rather fancifully shaped, open-ended tent located in an apple orchard just outside the village of Chatham, and has been steadily building a dance program, along with the music, theater and film. She perceives education as one of the major missions of the facility.

"There aren't a lot of places where kids can go and be absorbed in this other language -- the language of the body," explained Grunberg. "When children dance at a young age it helps them develop all kinds of senses. You learn about space and grace, and how to give other people space.

"I'm a huge music fan, but music is all around us, and we realized that if we concentrate on dance, we can cultivate a local audience in dance. Some of the people who started coming out here seven years ago were curious, but not knowledgeable."

Parsons Dance, the popular company founded and led by the choreographer David Parsons, was among the first companies engaged by PS21, and later this month (Aug. 30 and 31), the troupe is returning for its eighth annual visit.

But prior to the arrival of Parsons, PS21 is enjoying somewhat of a mini-dance festival this month. Following earlier visits by Monica Bill Barnes and Company and Vanaver Caravan, a group especially appealing to children and families, the PearsonWidrig Dance Theater will take the stage under the big tent Friday and Saturday evenings at 8.

"I have not seen the company except from film excerpts, but it sounds wonderful," said Grunberg. They have a wonderful sense of humor about life and the body."

Sara Pearson, co-artistic director of the company, promises three pieces each evening -- "Ordinary Festivals," the group's best-known work, set to folk music of pre-World War II Italy; "Oashisu," described as a subtle meditation on continual tectonic shifts, seismic surprises and deep calm, danced to original music for Japanese instruments by James Nyoraku Schlefer; and "A Season of No Regrets," said to be an exuberant celebration set to the original live music of David Schulman, an eclectic composer who is reputed to be comfortable mixing styles in his scores.

"Audiences can expect an ultimately uplifting, but not necessarily easy-going experience," suggested Pearson. "We ask that each person be open to discovering something that they didn't know about themselves or the world before. We don't present something narrow and specific that the audience is supposed to ‘get,' and that is the same for each person. Instead, we are interested in their personal response to entering into the unique world of each of our works."

PS21 is collaborating with Dance OMI, a Ghent-based project that will bring its summer program of choreographers and dancers in residence to PS21, next Sunday afternoon at 2, with several short works-in-progress. The event is free of admission, according to Grunberg. "And it's interactive. The audience gets to participate and make suggestions."

Montreal choreographer and dancer Victor Quijada brings his RUBBERBANDance Group to PS21 Aug. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Quijada, whose reputation involves a fusion of hip-hop, ballet and modern dance, will offer "Gravity of Center," his evening-length dance.

Quijada describes his movement as expressing the adversarial relationship between the individual and the group: "Each being is both at the center of the world and orbiting around others. Interdependence is obvious, and struggles are inevitable. Five dancers -- a family, a nomadic tribe or an entire people -- interweave, fight, manifest their cravings and hustle in an astonishing fluidity of action, all of this merely to survive."

As a prelude to the appearance of RUBBERBANDance, Grunberg said a short film of "Gravity of Center" will be shown Aug. 20, at 8:30 p.m.: "We have the film, and we're going to show it as part of our ‘100 Years of Dance on Camera' presented by Deidre Towers, former director of ‘Dance on Camera' at Lincoln Center," said Grunberg, noting that admission is free with the added inducement of large bags of organic popcorn with real butter and imported Parmesan cheese personally grated by Grunberg, available for only $2.50.

Dances to be offered by Parsons Dance at month's end include "Nascimento Novo," "Brothers," "Ebben," and a preview of "For EK90," a newly commissioned piece set to a Sterve Reich score, celebrating the 90th birthday anniversary of Elsworth Kelly, the American painter, sculptor and printmaker who makes his home in Spencertown, N.Y.

And, of course, Parsons' fans would not allow a company performance without "Caught," the choreographer's signature of Terpsichorean legerdemain made possible by carefully placed strobe lights.

Tickets for the Parsons performances will be available until they sell out, says Grunberg. And they usually do, she added.


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