Visitors to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton on Sunday, October 8. might be surprised to find moving bodies among the stationery works of art.
The Outlet Dance Project, a New Jersey-based showcase for emerging women choreographers, is staging its second annual concert at several locations in the park starting at 2 p.m. The sculpture park’s Maple Alley and large, grassy field are among the settings for original works by 11 choreographers, some of whom appeared last October when the Outlet Project debuted at Rider University’s Yvonne Theater. Half of the works will be performed outside; the others on a stage platform inside the new Seward Johnson Center for the Arts.
Among those assigned to the interior space is Kathie Kececi, whose company, In Motion Dance Company, will perform her ensemble piece, “Are We Happy or What?” A native of Mendham who returned to her hometown after several years in New York, the 43-year-old mother of two boys says the piece sprang from her feelings of disconnectedness after moving from the city to the suburbs. Kececi’s husband, Erol Kececi, is a financial planner with AXA Financial in Morristown.
“The piece is a comic look at something that’s actually very sad,” she says. “It’s about people trying to be perfect and what happens to them as they go through life. It’s quirky and it’s funny and pedestrian.”
Kececi acknowledges that her piece has a similar theme to the cult favorite film “The Stepford Wives” but says she hadn’t seen the movie when she came up with the work. “People have suggested that to me after seeing it, and it’s a valid comparison. But I wasn’t aware of it at the time I made the piece.”
Kececi grew up in Livingston and Mendham, in an artistic family. Her father is a retired art teacher; her mother was a dancer, who still runs the Dorothy Delguercio School of Dance in Chester. Kececi studied ballet, jazz, and tap there and teaches at the studio today.
She can’t remember a time when she didn’t dance. But it wasn’t until she entered Moravian College that she discovered modern dance, which has dominated her creative energies since. “They didn’t have a dance major or minor program at Moravian at the time but they had wonderful modern classes,” Kececi says. She earned her bachelors in psychology but says, “I spent a lot of time in dance classes. It was the freedom, I think, that got me. Ballet is so rigid. It doesn’t allow for any personal differentiation or expression. So coming from that very codified background to getting the ability to interpret ideas was just wonderful. It was the first time I was able to take my skills and my talent and actually make meaning. Now, I’m able to actually express an idea and create something that’s just mine.”
Kececi entered the corporate world after graduating — first as a recruiter for Merrill Lynch and then Norstar Brokerage. She became a fundraiser for Columbia University and Loyala High School, then worked on a merchandising catalogue for Amnesty Internaitonal, all in new York. But never stopped studying and teaching dance. Eventually, she decided to go back to school, earning a master’s degree in dance and education at Columbia University. “It was absolutely amazing, theoretically and practically and in terms of performance,” she says. “That’s when I really started choreographing. I always had made dances but just for classes I was teaching. I’d put together shows in the summertime but I don’t know that I would call that choreography. After Columbia, it was different.” Once she earned her masters she focused full-time on dance.
Kececi counts choreographer Twyla Tharp as a major influence and inspiration in her work. “Of course, she was and still is my huge idol,” she says. “Back in my day, she was cutting edge and kind of broke the mold. But there was also, for me, Claire Porter, who was hugely instrumental in terms of my choreography. And I love David Dorfman. His stuff is so different. In terms of tap, there is my teacher Margaret Morrison. And Brenda Bufalino has always been an inspiration to me. I can’t leave out my mom, who was my inspiration growing up. She was wonderful.”
Watching her mother instilled a love of teaching in Kececi. In addition to her busy schedule at the Delguercio studio, teaching modern, jazz, and rhythm tap, Kececi is also a teaching artist for the New York City Ballet, working in the company’s program that brings ballet to public school children. In nearly every class she leads, Kececi leaves time for the students to create steps of their own. “I always include this at the end of a technique class,” she says. “I might give them a theme, and some counts. And they love it. What they make really becomes theirs, and I think that’s really empowering.”
While embracing modern dance, Kececi never abandoned her love of tap. She realized, a few years ago, that hers is a unique combination of skills. “On Fridays I teach beginning modern, beginning tap, advanced modern, and then work with my company. I can never find a substitute to do it all. I finally realized that nobody does this combination,” she says. “I guess I’m different that way.”
While Kececi has never combined the two styles of dance, she’d like to. “Sometimes when I’m doing a tap piece I’ll throw in some modern dance movement or some things with our voices,” she says. So it’s not always just straight tapping.”
Kececi and her dancers have performed at Seton Hall University, at her alma mater, Moravian College, and at New York’s Cunningham Studio. They will dance at the Series Art Gallery in Manhattan next month. She is a board member of Dance New Jersey, a support organization. She wants dance to be accessible to audiences and spoke about that recently at a forum. “I want them to get it,” she says. “I don’t want people walking away from my work and being intimidated, saying ‘Oh it must be so hard to do. I want to please them, I really do.”
The Outlet Dance Project, Sunday, October 8, 2 p.m. Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Showcase for emerging female choreographers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Mary Barton, Tanya Calamoneri, Keila Cordova, Alie Vidich, Nicole Mahncke, Maureen Glennon, and Andrea Kramer will perform outside, and Donna Scro Gentile, Lisa Marten, Kimberley Pinto, Kelly Ann Sloan, and Kathie Kececi on the indoor stage. $12 includes admission to the park. 609-689-1089.