Torrington Stories

Before a Grand Debut: Simerson and Co. at the Nutmeg

While the Main Street Marketplace roared outside, inside the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Torrington,  the newly formed dance company Simerson and Co: Where Life Comes to Dance” enthralled their guests with a sneak preview performance of their inaugural work.  As an artist in residence at the Nutmeg, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat.

Now earlier that day I had visited the world class Premiere Studio, the enormous glass-enclosed iconic dance space of the Nutmeg, and I observed as the masterful Joan Kunsch instructed a class of 30 young dancers. After the training session I was able to interview Joan but soon discovered that her career, her non-dance artistic work (art and poetry) and her personal journey was a such an amazing story that it would far eclipse the hour we had been given to discuss it so we will enjoy many more pleasurable interviews before I can complete my profile. But this experience set the stage and whetted the appetite for me to experience the amazing world of dance as can only come from those in the Nutmeg community.

Joan Kunsch teaching in the Premiere studio

Joan Kunsch teaching in the Premiere studio

I returned to Main Street in Torrington that evening and parking was at a premium due to the Market-place, but I lucked into one of the last spots available in the library lot. I crossed the bridge to the Five Points area and within minutes entered the impressive campus of the Nutmeg. Finding my way up the third floor, I met my friends Daya and Dan Solomon, whose son Mantanya is a wonderful Nutmeg dancer.

Brian Simerson stood tall at center stage, the pressed casual clothes betrayed the muscular build of a dancer ready to amaze an audience with his own dances at any moment but his role that night was different; for this night Simerson was the artistic director, choreographer, lighting and sound coordinator and host. He warmly welcomed his guests then brought the shades of the glass studio down and prepared the music as the dancers entered stage right.

BRIAN The first piece was “Bach and Forth” featuring the work of  Kathryn Van Yahres and Oscar Carillo. The entire piece was beautiful, enchanting and fun and certainly set the stage for the evening. Van Yahres was elegant and graceful, providing a mesmerizing introduction to the Simerson and Co. program. And Oscar Carillo, well if Superman danced ballet, he’d be Oscar Carillo, with his heroic posture, movement and agility. In the second half of the first piece, the company erupted into a celebratory dance as they used every portion of the stage to convey the meaning of the piece through their movement.

The second work in the program was “Bach and Hommes” featuring the men of the company including the aforementioned Oscar Carillo. I was already familiar with the amazing Ben Youngstone, he’s a gold medal ballet dancer (2014 Connecticut Classic Competition ) who trained at the Nutmeg and I’ve seen him defy gravity during the Nutmeg’s IMPACT show this past March. Kevin Yee Chang is another Nutmeg dancer who’s been dancing in Europe and flew in from France to be a part of the company.  Cameron Clark was a young dancer who said during the Q/A period after the performance that he had left dancing for a short time before returning to the world of dance specifically for this company. Had it not been mentioned, I would never have known as the DETAIL work was excellent. This second dance reminded me of the movie PINA that celebrated the work of choreographer Pina Bausch. Now someone with more knowledge of dance might be able to completely contradict me but this was my impression and I enjoyed it immensely.  The dance incorporated movements that showed the dancers creating, molding, shaping something intangible, and then affecting one another as they danced in unison.

The third piece called SUTTERLY enjoyed some music by Philip Glass. Starting with a feature of Lauren Breen, she was like a crescent moon affecting waves of the ocean personified by the other dancers. Then as the movement changed, Maggie Small took center stage, and there was a quite powerful moment as she danced solo while three couples danced together.  Even if she had expressed herself with only her eyes, Small’s dance here told a story.

IMG_1207 In the final piece KARA, a colorful, joyful performance ensued. If Breen was the moon in SUTTERLY, Small was the Goddess of Spring in KARA as the dancers pulled out all the stops in the choreography. Jenna McClintock danced without shoes creating an elemental effect. Chang performed two back flips that were astounding. Brittney Fitzgerald expertly layered her performance with exuberance and precision.    By all measures based on this night’s preview, Simerson and Co.’s official premiere tonight at Jacob’s Pillow will be an enormous success. After the official part of the show, we enjoyed a very special Q/A session with the dancers and the artistic director. We learned about the history of these artists and what brought them together to form this company. Each dancer was a unique individual with traits and talents and under the direction of Simerson, they became a company, a family of friends. QA 1

I felt privileged to be there and grateful once again for the opportunities the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory provides to the Connecticut community.  As the Nutmeg celebrates its 45 year history, it’s important to note that those connected to the Nutmeg Community become part of a larger story, they expand the art of ballet and share in a grand legacy. Teachers like Brian Simerson come back time and again to the Nutmeg to share their knowledge, their vision and, as in this night, they shared their work and begin something new. Simerson and Co., is beginning their journey as a company and if this night was any indication, it will grow and thrive, taking a Renaissance aesthetic vision to a wide and expansive audience.

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