By GWEN OREL
When Montclair High School performs in its winter dance concert next weekend, March 17-19, it will be working with a new artistic director: Kamille King, who teaches in the Newark Public School system, joined MHS in October.
The show includes pieces from nine professional choreographers and four student choreographers, and is dedicated to the late Sarah Butler. Twenty-year-old Butler disappeared shortly before Thanksgiving; her body was found a week later. Her younger sister Aliyah dances with the 48-strong company. Aliyah, a senior, is working on a solo in memory of her sister. The dance is choreographed by King.
For MHS senior Sophie Hill, 17, dancing with the Montclair High School Dance Company is a way to let everything go, no matter what happened that day. “Dance has always been my release,” said the tall, upbeat dancer. “If I’m feeling kind of like it’s been a bad day, dancing… it’s not thinking about the choreography, it just moves through your body. It’s just a really great way to get all that out.”
Hill has been with the company since freshman year. Four years is a decent length of time, especially in the life of a 17-year-old girl: “It’s a lot of after-school hours, but it’s all really worth it in the end,” said Hill, shortly before rehearsal began on Brianna Santigate’s piece “Colonized.” Another thing Hill likes about dancing with the company is the opportunity to interact with students she might not otherwise know, she said. Hill has been dancing since age 3, when she began taking class at Montclair’s DanceWorks & Co. Now, she helps teach classes there. “It’s this crazy full circle kind of thing,” Hill said with a laugh.
Working with new Artistic Director Kamille King was scary at first, but Hill was quickly reassured by the way King was “super understanding. She came right in and listened to us.”
LISTENING AND LEARNING TOGETHER
For King, having the dancers feel included is just what she most wanted to accomplish. “I want to make sure everyone is feeling like a part of the accompany, feeling welcomed. I love allowing artists to be artists.” Managing the schedules of 48 dancers is a challenge but, King said, “everyone here’s accountable for what they are doing.” Though King, a Smith graduate, thought she would be a journalist and loves to write, “Dance and Kamille, they just don’t separate,” she said.
As the dancers rehearsed “Colonized,” King occasionally sidecoached the lines to be straight. She didn’t need to admonish the dancers to focus, though: none of the teens giggled or chatted, but showed focus and determination as they energetically incorporated Santigate’s insect-like moves.
“Colonized” is a modern piece that was inspired by a video of ants, said Santigate, a senior at Montclair State University. “They come together as a community to help each other in stressful situations.” Santigate had staged the piece at MSU in the fall of 2016 with three dancers. At MHS, she uses 16 performers, and was not involved in casting. While the change is challenging, Santigate said her experience working with the Montclair High School Dance Company has been positive.
“I come from a performing arts high school in Howell,” Santigate said. “In some ways this is better.” The students are able to explore different types of dance without having to choose just ballet or modern, she explained.
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
The choreographers were handpicked by King, who began rehearsals for the show as soon as she arrived — except for the MHS choreographers, who were picked last year. The “Senior Piece,” an MHS institution, was choreographed by seniors Sydney Miede and Natalie Marshall. The company’s Hip-Hop finale, also a dance company tradition, was choreographed by seniors Sophie Claman and Maiya Blaney. An “amazing parent board” helped King pull everything together, she said. MHS offers dance classes, which are separate from the audition-only MHS Dance Company, King said.
While some of the dancers will go on to dance professionally, not all will: Hill plans to attend nursing school, and minor in dance. But all of the students, King said, “love what they do. I’ve never [before] been in a situation where they’re like, ‘I want this. This is something I want to do.’” She said she hopes some will go on to dance because “some of them — most of them — ALL of them are stunning,” she said.
The concert “allows community to see how important the arts are. Not only does Montclair support the arts, but it’s so invested in children. The concert an amazing manifestation of all the beautiful children that attend this school.”
‘Where to Begin’
Montclair High School Dance Company
Friday, March 17, and Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 19, 2 p.m.
Montclair High School Auditorium, Park Street
Tickets at the door, cash only
Choreographers: Earl Mosley (staged by Eric Parra and Daniel Padierno); Eric Parra; Donna Scro; Ariel Grossman (staged by Allie Kronick); Brianna Santigate; Kamille King; Hilary Nicolai; Winnie Berger; Chalvar Monteiro. “Senior Piece” choreographed by seniors Sydney Miede and Natalie Marshall. Hip-Hop finale choreographed by seniors Sophie Claman and Maiya Blaney.