A CHANCE TO SHINE Aerplaye's Arnold and Baryshnikov. [Photo by Erin X. Smithers]
Some say it’s the convergence of an Ivy League and a design school; some say it’s the cross-fertilization of students, faculty, and community members. Whatever the source, Rhode Island has long held the distinction of being the state with the highest number of artists per capita. When you look at the fall lineup for dance troupes — including college companies, local dance companies, and special events — you can visualize hundreds of brains spinning with ideas that manifest in scores of movement sequences, thousands of steps, and dozens of emotionally-charged dance performances.
The atmosphere that nourishes artists — ”the connectiveness that seems to be here,” in Heather Ahern’s words — may be what drew the dancer/choreographer/teacher back to Rhode Island last fall.
“I think this culture here has a little slice of everything,” she noted in a recent phone conversation. “The ocean, the arts — but a quirky, interesting arts scene — I missed that.”
Ahern was a founding member of the Groundwerx Dance Theatre that wowed Rhode Island dance fans for 15 years in the late ’80s and ’90s, before the group went their separate ways. Ahern got a graduate degree from California State in 2005 and taught there before taking a job in West Virginia, where she met her husband, a West Coaster.
But they both had ties to New England, and Ahern wanted to create a new dance company, Aerplaye (aerplaye.com), which is having a busy fall season, beginning with “Return,” their premier concert, at the Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium, September 28 and 19; they’ll also perform at Rhode Island College on October 11 and Roger Williams University on November 2.
She cast a wide net for auditions and ended up with a five-person multi-generational cast that includes former Groundwerx colleague Kathy Gordon Smith, plus Brittany Lombardi, Sarah Hopkins, Jamie Arnold, and Shura Baryshnikov (last seen in Festival Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty).
Ahern has polished six pieces for her company’s debut, including: “There’s a Groove In My Jam,” which is humorous and jazzy, set to saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett’s music; “Utopia,” danced in steel skirt sculptures, exploring social mores, set to Rachel’s classical/minimalist music; “Voices,” in heavy medieval-esque dresses, set to Zordina and Värttinä; and “Ascend,” a flowing piece dedicated to Ahern’s mentor at RWU, Kelli Wicke Davis, set to Beethoven’s Archduke Trio.
“I feel like everybody in the concert has a particular solo moment,” Ahern stressed. “Everyone has a chance to shine.”
In their 26th year, Fusionworks Dance Company (fusionworksdance.org) will premier five new dances at the Fall Concert Series (November 22 and 23 at Rhode Island College’s Sapinsley Hall): two by artistic director Deb Meunier, plus works by Rhode Island choreographer Mark Harootian, NYC choreographer Erika Pujic, and company member Stephanie Stanford Shaw for the junior company Fusionworks II. Fusionworks will also sponsor its annual Fusion Fest at Blount Marina in Warren on September 21, with 10 bands, five breweries, multiple food trucks, and lots of dancing!