Stepping out

Island Moving Co.’s Open for Dancing
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  September 17, 2008
NATURE’S WAY IMC: dancers entwined in Ballard Park.

Since 2002, Island Moving Co. has sponsored a festival of open-air dances that are open to community participants and, this year, free to audiences, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Appropriately titled Open for Dancing, this event brings in three choreographers to do site-specific dances at three Newport spots, in collaboration with visual and musical artists. Past festivals have taken audiences through the dungeons of Fort Adams, onto the oceanside lawn behind Doris Duke’s Rough Point mansion, through the formal gardens of the Elms, down to the Naval Yard, inside the International Hall of Fame, and around the ravine at Ballard Park.

This year, two of these dramatic sites make reappearances — Ballard Park and Fort Adams — along with Gooseberry Beach. Public performances take place September 20 and 21, at 2, 3, 4, and 5 pm. Parking is available at all three sites, and a trolley will run between them.

The piece at the beach was originally scheduled for Rejects Beach and is still titled Rejected Beach. Brooklyn-based Swiss choreographer Andrea Haenggi, who did a hilarious pop-art tennis match at the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006, had a vision of people digging holes and of a piano on the beach, and she communicated this to IMC director Dominique Alfandre, who asked a Newport neighbor, John Davis — who just happens to be a stunning pianist and who has made his name resurrecting forgotten composers from the late 19th and early 20th century, including Blind Tom and Blind Boone — if he would join the collaboration, and he agreed to play the piano on the beach.

At Davis’s suggestion, Haenggi has done a lot of reading on Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade, and she has formed many images based on that information.

“I grew up very religious, and the movement of the sea, as waves wash things away appeals to me,” she mused, in a recent phone conversation. “If you have something under sand, it goes away. It’s like life and death and a rebirth.”

She has created the look of ritual movement in her choreography and Davis has tried to adapt his normally narrative-style com-position to accomplish the same mood.

“We are trying to find the spirit of the place with a very ritual attitude, though humor also comes through naturally,” she admitted.

New York-based choreographer Monica Bill Barnes found the archways, tunnels, ditches, and ramps at Fort Adams “wonderfully interesting.

“They give us the ability to travel and to represent the idea onstage of going through an ordeal to arrive,” Barnes explained, on the phone from NYC. “We want to create a bizarre parade that makes the audience witness to the attempt to make something glorious and uplifting, but also makes them conscious of the effort it takes.”

Collaborations with costumer Sarah Havens from Big Nazo and Rogers High School art teacher Barbara Wunderler will produce “over-the-top Las Vegas showgirl hats,” in Barnes’s words, to add another dimension when the dancers duck under archways. There may also be country or circus music to accompany the “parade.”

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