The clouds threatened rain but there was no dampening of our spirits as my daughter and I drove south to the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio to enjoy the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory’s final performance of the Summer Dance Festival. Tickets were sold out and excitement filled the hallway and reception area. For a few moments before the show my daughter danced with a young boy near the piano… in so far as she jumped as high as she could in the air while he jumped around separately, enjoying the waiting period in his own way.
Ushers helped us to our seats on the top row of the risers. We sat next to the very patient videographer who stood the entire performance ensuring his shot was perfect. My daughter had her notebook and pencil; she wanted to help me document the experience by drawing impressions of the show.
Tim Melady walked on stage and greeted the guests with good cheer and instructed everyone on the rules regarding no cameras (so I didn’t take any photos during the show) or cell phones. He thanked everyone for coming, thanked the parents for the opportunity to teach the students of the Nutmeg. Then the lights came down, the room got quiet and the dance began…
Act One of the program focused on the DETAILS of the students. There were variations on the Waltz of the Hours from Coppelia, choreographed by Kirk Peterson. Coppelia is a popular ballet story, almost as popular as the Nutcracker, and my hope is that the Nutmeg will one day perform a full Coppelia production as it would be a rare treat for Torrington. Variations from Raymonda, choreographed by Victoria Mazzarelli and variations from The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Eleanor D’Antuono, featured the female dancers. Tim Melady’s Men’s Etude featured the male dancers. Chromatic Rhythms was a modern dance choreographed by Meghan Dodd. Each performer was a part of a team, dancing with precision and grace.
When watching a program such as this, it is readily apparent that those who graduate from the Nutmeg have the ability to go on to dance professionally. The teachers are experts in this field and it has never, ever ceased to amaze me that this opportunity is placed here in my home of Torrington. Now the dancers come from all over the country and the world. For instance before the interview I enjoyed with the Nutmeg’s Associate Director Joan Kunsch this past Friday, I was introduced to two dancers, one from Halifax, one from Oak Ridge. Students come here for world class training. They get that training and they work tirelessly to perfect their art, and if we’re lucky we will have the opportunity to see the fruits of that labor at the shows; these performances are sold out quickly and with good reason.
To close out the first act, the partnering demonstration choreographed by Tim Melady enjoyed a moment that made the shutters of the professional photographer’s camera flutter nonstop. There is a moment when Taylor Gober lifts Madeline Cochrane high in the air as they glide across the stage. It was a fantastic moment in the first act and I felt privileged to be there to see it.
When we came back from intermission, Associate Director Joan Kunsch and the Nutmeg’s Artistic Director Victoria Mazzarelli took the stage. Victoria Mazzarelli reminded those in the audience of the dedication the students demonstrate when they are there at the Nutmeg, using this short summer program to work on their skills and hone their art. And this year Joan Kunsch is celebrating 50 years of teaching ballet and she introduced us to her friends, Ivor and Ann Hutchinson Guest. Ivor Guest is a ballet historian who has written 32 books on ballet and Ann Hutchinson Guest’s work was instrumental in the notation of dance. Yes, BOTH Guests have Wikipedia entries for their work on dance. After the performance, I was able to take this photo of Victoria, Joan and Ivor and Ann Hutchinson Guest.
When the lights came back on, we enjoyed the first work of the second act: The Hoe Down, choreographed by the Nutmeg’s Donna Bonasera, which depicted a fun romp in the old west as dancers portrayed characters with individual personalities and motivations. There were scamps with slingshots, bandits and book readers, a strong man and, most popular with the crowd, a women’s suffragette contingent! This work definitely had the feel of the “cast of thousands” as a sea of dancers wove in and out of the stage with flawless interchanges.
For the guest portion of the show, we enjoyed a dance from the newly formed dance company Simerson and Co. I enjoyed a new perspective of Brian Simerson’s choreography as I had previously enjoyed the preview night at front row level. From this new vantage point at the top of the risers I had an even greater appreciation for the work of Simerson and Co ‘s professional work. They performed KARA, the wildly popular dance that closed out his first program. The nine members of the company each had their moment to shine in this piece. As this was a Nutmeg Summer Dance program, I particularly enjoyed getting to see former Nutmeg graduate and gold medal winner Ben Youngstone fly across the Warner’s Nancy Marine Studio one more time. And Alex Yee Chang, another Nutmeg graduate, demonstrated his back flips which continued to astound no matter what seat you’re in when you see them.
The next dance in the program was Kune, choreographed by Kate St Amand, a Nutmeg graduate and co-founder of Syren Modern Dance Co. The dancers had a fierce intensity and provided the image to my mind of mirages on the sand dunes in a far off land. The dancers seemed to relish in this unique vision and there were many shouts of approval in the audience when we applauded.
The scarf Dance from La Bayadere, choreographed by Torrington School of Ballet’s artistic director Susan Szabo received applause even in mid dance as the “corpus de Ballet” whirled in unison while utilizing scarves linked to their ankles in a display of dancing prowess.
The closing number was “Hey!” choreographed by Brian Reeder with featured dancing from Mantanya Solomon. The music was Kamarinskaya-Osipov State Russia Folk Orchestra and Vialy Grutov and it complimented the first number of the second act (The Hoe Down”) beautifully. The style of the wardrobe befitted a Russian folk dance but the colors made them pop and wherears Hoe Down was distinctly American in concept, “Hey!” was distinctly Russian in concept but perhaps with the filters of my American eyes, I felt there was a hint of western influence in portions of the movement which I liked.
As each group of dancers joined the stage, we clapped and cheered until the stage was filled with Nutmeg performers and the sound in the studio was filled with applause. My daughter and I waited until the room was nearly vacant before we left our seats as we talked about the show.
In the reception area we met Simerson and Co’s Oscar Carillo, Kathryn Van Yahres and Brittney Fitzgerald and I introduced my daughter to them before heading for home.
That night the kids and I took a drive before dusk as the blue sky darkened amid cumulus clouds like a Maxfield Parrish painting. We drove to center of town and saw vehicles parked in every space as the lights of the Warner Theatre lit up Main Street for their Peter Pan production. Performance Hub was hosting Jacque William’s Singer/Songwriter network series Ladies and Lyrics. Across Water Street Five Points Gallery was hosting a night of Art and Jazz with Mario Pavone.
There can be no denying that Torrington is building a rich cultural legacy and will hold a powerful place in the world of art. Connecticut is starting to take notice and soon the country will too, for with every dancer from the Nutmeg who graduates and finds a home in professional companies in Boston or Richmond, or every dancer of a professional company who performs at a Nutmeg show and then returns to their homes in Oakland or Pittsburgh, the name of Torrington, Connecticut will be associated as a destination where the dreams of artists become realized on a canvas or on a stage, and that message reverberates as clearly as the sound of the audience’s applause, signifying the triumph of the artists who shared their skill in this marvelous city by the river of ours.