By Steve Sucato
In its 22nd season and ninth in Washington, D.C., Chamber Dance Project is once again branching out in its repertory offerings. With its upcoming production Grace, Grandeur & Gatsby, June 16 – 19 at American University’s Greenberg Theatre in Washington, Artistic Director/Choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning has programmed two unique-for-the-company world premiere works along with the return of three recent repertory favorites and more.
Performing in the program will be CDP string quartet members Sally McLain, Jerome Gordon, Karin Kelleher, and Todd Thiel, pianist Sophia Kim Cook and sound artist James Bigbee Garver. Joining them will be several familiar faces to those who follow the company–dancers Alexander Sargent, Boston Ballet soloist Patric Palkens, Francesca Dugarte, Grace-Anne Powers and Austin Powers of BalletMet, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Julia Erickson, and Milwaukee Ballet’s Davit Hovhannisyan and CDP Ballet Master, Luz San Miguel. Also on board will be several new apprentice dancers.
In Bruning’s latest creation for the seasonal company, she turned to a literary classic with a ballet inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The ballet also takes inspiration from Paris’ legendary Le Chat Noir and their shadow theatre. Like Pilobolus dance company’s popular production Shadowland, Bruning’s “Gatsby” will use shadow puppetry in addition to live dancing. Joining Bruning on the creative team for the work are Matt Torney, co-creator of 2019’s “Prufrock,” sound artist Garver, and puppeteer Michael Haverty.
The Producing Artistic Director of Atlanta’s The Object Group, Haverty will be providing the scenic elements of both the interior and exterior worlds of Gatsby. Using two large video screens, two projectors, and over one hundred computer-designed and cut paper puppets of cars, landscapes, party guests, and varying art deco designs and shapes, “We kind of move back and forth between the real and the dream world,” says Haverty. A cast of eight dancers throughout the work will perform in front of and behind the video screens.
“We also have a number of projected slides with text from the novel that act almost like silent film titles,” says Haverty.
The 20-minute work is what Bruning refers to as chards of the Gatsby story from the point of view of character Daisy Buchanan.
“We’re not trying to tell the entire [Gatsby] story, but show power images that spring from the book,” says Bruning. “It’s not a linear telling of the story, rather a surreal, chronologically arranged constructivist approach.”
For award-winning guest choreographer Tommie-Waheed Evans who has created dance works for BalletX, Philadanco, Louisville Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and others, his world premiere work for CDP, “Gravity to Grace,” is the very first work he has created with dancers in pointe shoes.
Begun in December of 2021, Evans says the work was a collaborative process with the dancers translating his movement aesthetic to be on pointe. From there, he says he figured out what he was interested in and wanted to see in the work.
As for the inspiration for “Gravity to Grace,” Evans says it is one of remembrance and tribute.
“A year ago, I lost a great mentor and friend of mine Debora Chase-Hicks,” says Evans. “She was the Rehearsal Director at Philadanco as well as a former principal dancer with the company and with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I took my thoughts about grief, longing, and human connection along with those of the dancers from their personal experiences and shaped the work not so much to be about Debora, but to be dedicated to her memory and spirit.”
Set to music by composers Alexsandra Vrebalov and Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton) that will be played live by CDP’s string quartet, the 13-minute work is a collection of three emotion-driven duets for four dancers that taps into imagery of floating, levitation, and the desire to move on.
Also on the program are reprises of the aforementioned “Prufrock,” a theatrical work built around poet T.S. Eliot’s masterwork “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”; the devastatingly beautiful duet from “Extremely Close” (2007) by newly named Charlotte Ballet Artistic Director Alejandro Cerrudo; the theater debut of the staged version of Christian Denice’s 2020 dance film for CDP, “Dwellings”; the opening movement of Bruning’s “Four Men” and two music-only performances by the string quartet.
Chamber Dance Project performs Grace, Grandeur & Gatsby on Thursday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 17 at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 18 at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., and June 19 at 7 p.m. Opening night tickets are $75 for the performance and $125 for the performance and cast party and are available at chamberdance.org or by calling (202) 499-2297. Friday-Sunday performance tickets are available through the Greenberg Theatre’s box office or by calling (202) 885-3634.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.