Hope Boykin

Fall’s welcome arrival in Tannersville brings with it a wave of exciting new creative works, as a trio of contemporary dance companies take to the stage through the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s latest partnership with the historic Joyce Theater of New York City. The residency will give artists from Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE, HopeBoykinDance, and the Olivier Tarpaga Dance Project the space and opportunity to build and refine pieces for their repertoire, as well as showcase works at a series of public performances presented at the Orpheum.

Representatives from The Joyce—which has served as a world-class incubator and beacon of community for the dance world since its inception in 1982—were happy to collaborate with the team at CMF, noting that “the work being done at Catskill Mountain Foundation perfectly aligns with the artists supported by The Joyce,” said Danni Gee, Director of Programming for the theater. The Joyce has a long history of organizing residencies with external arts organizations, said Gee, adding that “providing support to artists from the beginning of the process is critical for the success not only of The Joyce but of the entire field. It is wonderful to be able to work with other organizations who have a clear understanding of the need for space for artists to create so we can all continue to have incredible experiences in our theaters.” The residency provides critically needed working space for Joyce artists as well, said Gee, who noted that The Joyce’s New York City facility has no “dark” time available for artists to experiment with production and technical aspects of a show prior to load-in. “Having this available in the Catskills is a great addition to the creative process,” she added.

The Joyce presented six companies to the Catskill Mountain Foundation—all of whom were commissioned to create original works for the dance theater, said Gee. While CMF approved the selection of these artists, Gee told us, “I believe they are a true representation of the quality of work and diversity of styles we value and strive to support. Each company has its own unique voice and they offer a broad range of audiences an opportunity to experience incredible dance.”

First up in the series will be a new work from HopeBoykinDance led by the choreographer, dancer, and teaching artist of the same name. Boykin—an alum of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadelphia Dance Company, Philadanco as well as an original company member of Complexions—will present a new dance theater work entitled States Of Hope on Saturday September 6 at 7:30 pm at the Orpheum.
A “dance memoir of sorts,” States Of Hope is a fully scripted, evening-long exploration of “self-discovery, reshaping, and renewal” that will feature narration from Boykin as well as an ensemble of voices, poetic movement and an original score by composer Ali Jackson. Joyce producer Ross LeClair, who has been working with Boykin to develop the piece, said that States Of Hope “represents a coming together of the various mediums Hope Boykin works in, including text, poetry, and movement, to tell a deeply personal story of Hope’s life as an artist and human. Known to audiences for years in a specific context, States Of Hope allows Hope to tell her own story in her own way. In the production, Hope and the performers will be delivering dialogue and performing choreography, making this a true work of dance theater.”  CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Olivier Tarpaga Dance Project

Following HopeBoykinDance is a showing from the Olivier Tarpaga Dance Project, presenting Once the dust settles, flowers bloom at the Orpheum on Saturday September 23 at 7:30 pm. Tarpaga—a choreographer and composer originally from Burkina Faso, West Africa—first partnered with The Joyce through their streaming programming in 2020, after COVID-19 shutdowns delayed a planned in-person performance. Their current collaboration on Once the dust settles, flowers bloom will culminate in an evening-length live performance to an original score by Tarpaga, in a piece created to “give voice to the refugees of his homeland.”

In creating the work, Tarpaga observed “how the insistent incursion of fundamentalist belief into daily life can crack the most intimate bonds of family relationships between husbands and wives, in-laws and couples, siblings and cousins.” He added that the piece addresses Burkina Faso as a nation severely impacted by the rise of extremist terrorism—one that is “losing its long-held status as a country that—despite having had its share of political upheaval and struggles over the reins of government—has been a model in the region for social stability among the various family clans, language groups, religious identifications, and tribal alliances that make up its multicultural society.”

Performers in the piece have taken special care to understand the impact that terrorism has made on the Sahel region, having spent rehearsals for the piece processing the June 2021 massacre when insurgents targeted an anti-jihadist civilian defense force in Solhan. “For them to see the news photos of piles of bodies, no time to put the bodies in the right positions, was very hard,” said Tarpaga. “The artists use their emotions as a creative, resilient resource: the ‘dust’ in the title refers to this confusion, the craziness, the killing, the body piles. The flower is the spirit of survival.”
Closing out The Joyce residency is a first time appearance from Ronald K Brown’s EVIDENCE/A Dance Company, which has worked in several capacities with the New York City theater since the early 2000s. Founded in 1985, the Brooklyn-based EVIDENCE blends the traditions of African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word. Brown—a noted choreographer who has set pieces with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Cleo Parker Robinson Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Jennifer Muller/The Works, Jeune Ballet d’Afrique Noire, Ko-Thi Dance Company, and Philadanco among others—will present an evening long rotation of works at the Orpheum on Saturday October 8 at 2:00 pm. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE

EVIDENCE’s residency will provide Brown with the opportunity to continue work on a new piece—Percussion Bittersweet. Brown will draw inspiration for the dance from his travels to Cuba, where he worked with ensemble members from the Malpaso Dance Company. Members of Malpaso will join performers from EVIDENCE in the final showing of Percussion Bittersweet, which will premiere in April 2024 at The Joyce.
October’s showcase will include selections from Upside Down, a piece first created in 1999 in collaboration with the Ivory Coast-based company Jeune’ Ballet Afrique de Noire and choreographer Rokiya Kone. The dance features Brown’s “now widely known and highly regarded fusion style” of African and contemporary dance and “speaks to the ideas of the importance of community and the destiny of the soul,” said Pamela M Green, EVIDENCE’s Interim Managing Director. Also featured will be a contemporary duet entitled March, in which Brown himself will perform. Set to speeches by Martin Luther King, “its social justice message remains eerily relevant,” said Green. “As is often the case, Ron’s social justice messages are beautifully melded into a kinetically rich dance vocabulary that resonates with the heart, the mind and the soul,” she added. An additional highlight will be the showing of Four Corners, a piece originally commissioned for the Alvin Ailey Dance American Dance Theater in 2014. Depicting four angels surrounding the corners of the Earth, Brown draws on West African and modern dance movements “to portray figures who are burdened by grief but ultimately find peace, solace, and freedom with the aid of ‘the angels in their corners’,” said Green.

The chance for Catskills audiences to see both newly created and re-explored works is a singular artistic experience, said Dannie Gee of The Joyce. “I believe these companies each provide audiences with the chance to engage with them early in the creation process, which is so rare and transformative for artists and hopefully for audiences as well,” she said. “The opportunity to see work while it is still in process and then to see it later, perhaps even on the stage of The Joyce, can form an intimate bond between the audience and the art.”

For the artists featured, the residency is a chance to share both their works in progress as well as the passionate concepts behind them. Said Tarpaga of Once the dust settles, flowers bloom, “I hope that by giving voice to the struggles of Burkinabe women this will bring a recognizable and personal humanity to the issues, raise empathy, and contribute to greater understanding among audiences in the U.S. and Europe.” States of Hope “should also inspire audiences to see their own lives reflected in the journey of the characters and their relationships to love,” said Le Clair, adding that “the blending of dance and text may open up the boundaries of what a dance performance can be and what these talented artists can bring to the stage.” And for the team at EVIDENCE, they hope that Catskills audiences “discover joy and mystery and the beauty of dance—and also hear the messages and reflect on them towards a better world.” CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Here’s to a world—and Catskill Mountains—filled with innovative and original new art!

All shows will be at the Orpheum Performing Arts Center, 6050 Main Street in Tannersville, NY 12485.

–Post by Sarah Beling, from the September, 2023 Catskill Mountain Region Guide