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Art In Motion: Lustig Dance, CoLAB Partner to Give Emerging Choreographers a Stage

"Works and Process" is a new residency program for emerging choreographers to produce and stage original modern dance works in New Brunswick.

From left to right, dancers Myssi Robinson, Kate Baldasare, Caitlyn Barrows, and Emily Sucoff perform Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski's original piece "Keep Calm & 20 On". Photo credit: Peter Richter
From left to right, dancers Myssi Robinson, Kate Baldasare, Caitlyn Barrows, and Emily Sucoff perform Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski's original piece "Keep Calm & 20 On". Photo credit: Peter Richter
Nicholas Ruiz tends to draw from dark and morbid influences to create dance works.

A Manhattan-based classically trained dancer with a background in ballet, Ruiz wanted to challenge himself and try something new and different.

The end result was "the greener grass" a solo performance combining music, singing and dance into a story about one person's search for happiness.

Ruiz was recently able to bring his idea to life on the stage of the George Street Playhouse as part of the "MOTION: New Dance Works" modern dance showcase that was the culmination of an ongoing partnership between New Brunswick's own coLAB Arts and Lustig Dance Theatre.

CoLAB Producing Director Dan Swern said the partnership began two years ago after coLAB sought to create more outlets for dancers and choreographers to cultivate their art in New Brunswick. The nonprofit turned to the esteemed Lustig Dance Theatre and received the support of founding choreographer Graham Lustig. 

They call the resulting choreographer residency "Works and Process," a three-month program in which selected emerging choreographers are given free studio space to design and choreograph their performances before debuting them before an audience.

The program was curated by choreographers Lauren Connolly and Bat Abbit.

The goal is to feature eight choreographers a year, Swern said. The next installment of the program will begin in January, featuring two new choreographers, he said. 

This past weekend featured the works of four emerging choreographers: Kyle Georgina Marsh of New Brunswick, Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski of Clark, Meagan Woods of South Brunswick and Ruiz.

Each choreographer was able to create their own works, using dancers they themselves chose.

Lustig Dance Theatre has lent their support and name to the project, but is not exercising creative control over the artists involved, which allows them complete freedom to create, Swern said.

Each performer chose radically different themes to explore in their performances.

Woods said her research into discovery and treatments ended up turning her thoughts to a person who cannot be saved, culminating in "Incurable" a dance of deep sorrow, anger and tenderness involved in the loss of a loved one.

Zwierzynski created a lively, playful and at times ironic and confusion-laden piece featuring 13 dancers, all women in their 20's, to illustrate the curiosity and analysis directed at millenials.

There's a lot of talk aimed at 20-somethings, Zwierzynski said.  However, that talk doesn't really include the voices of the young people it's all about, she said.

Marsh showcased a piece that relied on the vocal cues of performer Hayden Katz, who sat eating apples and reading aloud from a book by the author Saki while Marsh and dancer Iris Platt danced and moved, accompanied only briefly by any music. 

Marsh's fruit-laden performance was meant to explore objectification of women, using the ideas of the female body as fruit and male gaze, she said.

The next installment of Works and Progress will begin in two weeks, featuring two new choreographers, Swern said.

Supported by the New Brunswick Cultural Center, New Brunswick City Market, and the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission, the program appears to be a sustainable breeding ground for dance in New Brunswick, Swern said. 

The majority of homegrown dance in New Brunswick is centered around Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, the dancers said. The majority of the dancers involved in the four performances either attended or graduated from Mason Gross. 

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