Schools: Unique Performance Arts Center; Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts; DaceWorks & Co.; New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble; Freespace Dance
Professional: MeenMoves; Barkha Dance Company; Maurice Chestnut and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards; Ayodele Casel and Andre Imanishi
2018 commissioned New Jersey choreographer: Javier Padilla & The Movement Playground
Work from previous NJ choregorapher award-winners Robert Mark Burke, Kyle Marshall and Lauren Connolly
By GWEN OREL
Charmaine Warren always looks out at the crowd before the event begins.
She thinks, “Oh my gosh, look how many people are out there! Folks are coming earlier to hold their spot.”
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Last year, there were about 500 people on the lawn of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said Warren, artistic director and founder of Dance on the Lawn.
Dance on the Lawn (DOTL) turns five this year. Warren and Managing Director Laura Marchese founded it in 2014.
“New Jersey has a bounty of dance,” Warren said. “We don’t have enough platforms to show it.” Audiences will get to see some of what New Jersey has to offer: there are 13 New York and New Jersey dance companies and schools performing.
Dance on the Lawn is a way to “share dance with the community,” she said.
Warren is a dancer herself, who teaches dance courses at the New School, Hunter College and online, including “African dance and religion in the diaspora,” and “Dancers and the audience.” The local classes are both studio and theory, meaning the students read and move. The online class involves students reporting back on events they’ve attended, which because of the international nature of the course could be a performance in Europe or Tennessee.
LEARNING AND TEACHING DANCE
The Dance on the Lawn educational component extends to professionals. Since its second year, DOTL has encouraged choreographers with its Emerging Commissioned NJ Choreographer Award.
The winner is announced in January, having been chosen from a panel of New Jersey professionals, including choreographers, producers and instructors. In addition to $1,000, the winner is assigned a mentor. In April, the choreographer holds an open rehearsal, and the new work created is shown in September.
“Visibility is the main thing,” Warren said. The program is a way to “kickstart their visibility.”
This year, the three past winners of the award, Robert Mark Burke, Kyle Marshall and Lauren Connolly, will all present work at DOTL.
Kyle Marshall in particular has “blown up,” Warren said. Marshall has been selected to win the 2018 Bessie. His work, according to the Bessies, is notable for “exploring important ideas around race and sexuality in dances that embody rather than illustrate complicated issues.”
The emerging choreographers already have a body of work that is notable and the grant can help promote them. This year’s emerging choreographer award recipient, Javier Padilla, has created work that has been performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others. Originally from Puerto Rico, Padilla founded The Movement Playground where, according to the DOTL website, his “movement vocabulary derives from analyzing emotional and physical impulses, utilizing improvisational scores and strategies and finding new ways of incorporating gestures that can express intent and energy while still remaining true to the performer’s self. While conceptualizing work, we explore the hidden corners of our world. The darkness in our light.”
Warren loves that all of the featured choreographers are returning, and thinks of DOTL as a home. “The great thing is, they know they can always reach out to us,” she said.
DANCE ON THE FLOOR
Marleys are expensive, and you cannot tap on them, Warren said.
So last year her husband Tony Turner and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut built a tap floor.
A marley is a kind of vinyl spread over a wooden floor, so dancers can work barefoot and not get hurt. It also has a kind of resistance and bounce in it.
A tap floor, on the other hand, has to be able to withstand steel taps without damage.
They are “expensive to rent, and hard to borrow,” Warren said. The percussive art form dissuades people from even lending their studios out, because of the potential damage.
The tap floors DOTL used in its first three years have also been small, four by eight feet in size. So last summer Turner and Chestnut went to Home Depot, bought wood and built a floor that has lived in Chestnut’s garage since last summer.
This year, Warren thought, “Wait a minute. Now we have a floor, let’s go for broke!”
So there will be more tap this year.
DOTL is presenting a special showcase called “Tap Dance in New Jersey.”
Chestnut, who has been with DOTL since the 2014 beginning, will be joined by tappers Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ayodele Casel and Andre Imanishi.
A ‘CULTURAL MECCA’
Warren might never have been a dancer at all if not for the Montclair school system.
She attended Glenfield elementary school and Hillside middle school (now Hillside is an elementary school and Glenfield a middle school), and when she was about to go to high school she was interviewed at Hillside.
The high school was starting the School of Performing Arts (now SVPA, the School of Visual and Performing Arts).
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have to take gym?’” Warren said with a laugh. “That’s how my dance world started. Because of Montclair. It’s a cultural mecca.”
Her desire to give back to Montclair, and keep the festival free, is a return on Montclair’s investment. “It’s beyond important. To be an audience member, to see art, is so expensive,” she said.
Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson introduces DOTL, along with Toni’s Kitchen’s Anne Mernin and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Rev. John Mennell.
Warren and Marchese come out and talk when the floors are changing over.
“I love watching the young audience members,” Warren said. Small children dance on the lawn too, and the student dancers sit in the audience after their performances. The program opens with the students and finishes with the headlining professionals.
“When [the young dancers] sit in the audience and watch the professionals, it’s like a ricochet. They are thinking, ‘Wow, that could be me.’ I love to see the excitement in their eyes.”