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Women of the Hour

This Friday and Saturday, Boston Dance Theater (BDT) makes its home city debut, with performances at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Mass., presented by World Music/CRASHarts. Although Boston-based, the new company has local and international connections, with co-direction by Boston dancer and director Jessie Jeanne Stinnett, and Itzik Galili, award-winning Dutch-Israeli choreographer.

Boston Dance Theater rehearse “Deeper Inscription” by Sidra Bell. Photograph courtesy of BDT

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“Itzik and I have a history of working together in various contexts, and this company is simply the next manifestation of that professional relationship,” explains Stinnett. “As a Boston native, I’ve kept a finger on the pulse of the Boston dance scene for the past 15 years, and am an alumnus of the Boston Conservatory (now at Berklee). I’ve watched Boston-based contemporary choreographers come and go, venues for dance open and close, and major institutions change leadership . . . It wasn’t until 2016 that I dug in and started a period of extensive research into the local scene to find that Boston dance has been experiencing a kind of renaissance in terms of creativity and also infrastructure to support local dance artists. This felt like the right moment to ignite a plan that Itzik and I have been cooking since we worked together in Amsterdam over 8 years ago, to merge national and international choreographers with a local ensemble of Boston-based artists, and to create the foundation for a springboard between Boston dance and our global networks.”

While Stinnett serves as the company’s Boston anchor, Galili describes himself as its “wings abroad.” For Galili, who was knighted by the Dutch queen for initiating five other companies in Holland, BDT is his first opportunity to create a new company in the United States, which comes with its own challenges. “Jessie and I are learning how to create the space for dancers to work in Boston from the very ground up, which includes learning how different it is to finance a company in Europe than in the USA. I bring my experience and international network, she brings her resourcefulness and eagerness to give to the place she comes from. I also have family in Boston, so we share a need to have a presence there.”

This weekend’s performance features four Boston premieres, with the acclaimed choreographic voices of Sidra Bell (“Deeper Inscription”) and Yin Yue (“Today For Now”) joining Galili’s.

“[Each piece highlights] a different aspect of the strength of women,” says Stinnett. “Through gestures, Galili’s ‘Chameleon’ showcases how women can adapt, within a split second, to society’s values and expectations while also being true to themselves. Yin’s piece tests the dancers’ strength, pushing them to their physical limits which literally pulls emotions out of them while on stage . . . Sidra’s work is conceptually-driven and shares a language with the audience that is unique to the women with whom the piece was created. Galili’s ‘Man of the Hour’ (excerpt) unveils raw emotional power in a group of women donning business attire . . . [and incorporates] every day movements to draw the audience into the action on stage.”

Boston Dance Theater
Boston Dance Theater perform “Man of the Hour” by Itzik Galili. Photograph courtesy of the company

Originally an evening-length work, “Man of the Hour” is emotive, guttural, and percussive. At moments, the dancers scream at the audience in gibberish; at others, they perform to the bittersweet music of Henry Purcell. “For me, ‘Man of the Hour’ describes this moment where you really are in the spotlight,” recounts Galili. “The audience sees inside of the dancers, the pain, fear, humiliation, fragility housed there.”

“Man of the Hour” was originally set on a cast of all men, yet for this weekend’s excerpt, the cast has shifted to all women. Dancer Jen Passios describes the performative experience as a “constant buzzing.”

“The physical and mental preparations for this work are inseparable from one another,” explains Passios. “The company has benefited from the privilege of working with [Jeanne’s sister and poet] Sarah Stinnett who has coached us on breath work, vocalization, and characterization in the studio. Her contributions have been indispensable in building stamina for the work.”

This stamina pertains not only to the dancers’ time on stage, but off stage as well. Passios describes the dancers’ moments backstage in between sections as energy-builders, with the cast hissing and pouncing to keep momentum going. “It hypes me up so much,” she says. “I feel like a feral creature by the time I run on.” She even bought a jump-rope.

For Galili, too, there is a unique comradery and power in this new cast’s rendition, describing it as having “a new tonality.” “For me,” says Galili, “in some way with this cast of women there is different strength, perhaps because these American women are ready to be heard during these times in the USA.”

The young company (BDT incorporated in February 2018) is off to a flying start, having performed at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s Inside/Out series in the summer, and their debut in Boston is nearly sold-out. Executive director of World Music/CRASHarts Maure Aronson has already invited the company back to the ICA for three nights in 2019.

For Stinnett, the company (and Boston arts scene as a whole) has the potential for dynamic growth. “There is so much potential for Boston to be a contemporary dance destination, rather than a stopping place on the way to other American cities,” she says. “We are the home of Harvard, MIT, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, the ICA, the BSO, and many, many other incredible resources that make this a very attractive place for artists to live, create, and present work. I hope that BDT can serve as the connective tissue between these organizations, and already has started to be one of the tethers that keeps artists in our city.”

Like Stinnett, Galili sees BDT as having only just begun. “I firmly believe that with the right backup and support, with the right connections this company could rival Nederlands Dans Theater in five years. This is a bold statement, and I do not make it lightly . . . I know and have a long history both in the European and Israeli dance markets, and I believe that this company has all of the ingredients.”

Merli V. Guerra

Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, writing, and graphic design based in Boston, MA, and Princeton, NJ. She is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), and has performed lead roles with modern and Odissi companies on international tours to India (2007, 2012) and Japan (2009), while her choreographic works, screendance films, and installations have been presented by more than 80 events across the U.S. and abroad in Canada, Germany, and Italy. As a writer, Guerra is Senior Contributor to The Arts Fuse (curating its weekly “top pick” dance events across New England), and a ballet and contemporary dance critic for the international Fjord Review, and Dance International magazine. She is an MFA in Dance candidate at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), and frequently acts as a guest choreographer, panelist, speaker, and advocate for the arts throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic.



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