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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 5, 2000. All rights reserved.
Dance in the Landscape
Art serves life and it sometimes serves death, too.
Dance and vocal artist Julia Ritter seeks to explore both in her new
site-specific dance and music theater piece, "Love After Death."
The multi-media work will be performed by dancers, musicians, and
chorus in the wide open spaces of North Slope Organic Farm, near Lambertville,
on Friday and Saturday, July 7 and 8.
Tailored for the farm’s natural amphitheater, "Love After Death"
will be the first work performed there. The cast is comprised of five
dancer/vocalists, a music ensemble, and a vocal and movement chorus
of 25. One of the founders of North Slope farm, Ritter no longer resides
on the farm, but still lives in the neighborhood.
"I’m been interested in public expressions of private suffering,"
says Ritter, who has just completed her first year on the faculty
of the Rutgers university dance department. "I drive a lot throughout
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York for my work, and I noticed
more and more roadside shrines commemorating people who have died
in roadside accidents. I was interested in this continuous public
expression of their grieving process."
And hers is not the fleeting glance shared by most motorists. "I
stop the car, pull off, and walked back to look at them. I’m fascinated
by the attention and the detail. Many of them are maintained on a
regular basis. They are works of art," she says.
Ritter composed the choreography for "Love After Death;" the
text is by the Belfast writer, Michael Duke; dramaturgy is by Philadelphia
performance artist Melanie Stewart who, Ritter explains, "guides
the dramatic action form beginning to end." Original music is
performed live by the percussion trio MbiranDinda, with musicians
Kim Burja, Glen Fittin, and Michael Toal. The vocal and movement chorus
of 25 to 30 members is drawn from communities throughout the area.
When Ritter brought her interest in roadside shrines to the attention
of Michael Duke, he passed along a photo essay by Paul Fusco resonating
with her observations. The photographs were made to document the cross-country
funeral procession of Robert Kennedy, that took place via the railroad.
"The photographs are set in the countryside, in rural communities,
where people were coming out of their houses and placing themselves
along the train tracks. And it was from there that I got many of my
ideas for movement," she says. "They’re like Greek friezes,
these tableaux of people. There’s a whole family of eight, lined up
along the tracks, in some sort of reverent and respectful posture.
I was also interested in how the shrines were placed in the landscape.
Obviously people weren’t choosing the site of the accident, but how
did that shrine fit into the landscape?"
Ritter says she has also been looking at the roadside shrines as ritual.
"Rituals were created to give meaning to human experience,"
she says, "but within those rituals, each individual needs to
be able to take their own path. We have to have compassion for individuals
who spin out of the normal structure of a ritual. Someone’s grief
might take them five years while another might take four months."
Ritter has not experienced the loss of a loved on directly, but says
that, at times, changes in the relationships in her life have caused
comparable grieving processes.
"If I had lost someone, I couldn’t see myself building a roadside
shrine," she says, "but I wanting to learn more. It’s an education
that we all will eventually get, but we’re never quite prepared for."
The second to youngest of five children, and the only artist among
her siblings, Ritter grew up in southern New Jersey where she studied
with Phyllis Papa, a former member of the Royal Ballet.
"I have been training since I was five years old and never stopped,"
she says emphatically. "I decided on it at an early age and my
parents always supported me."
Her father owned his own his construction company; her mother kept
his books, raised five children, and later earned a college degree
in social work. Ritter went on to study modern and jazz with Anne
Stein, and earned her BFA at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School in 1992.
She danced in New York with Amy Pivar before moving on to Philadelphia
where she earned her MFA at Temple University in 1997. She joined
the faculty at Rutgers last year.
In process for two years, "Love After Death" is produced by
Wide Open Arts, Ritter’s vehicle for her solo works and artist residencies.
"I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist," says Ritter,
who began singing in her church choir at age eight and has also acted.
Incorporating music traditions of the Middle East, Africa, and India,
extended techniques "experiments with the spectrum of sound that
the voice can make, taking sounds to the extreme without injuring
the voice," she says.
Over the past three or four years, Ritter has been bringing her dual
interests in movement and song together for the first time. And when
she auditions performers for her work she is reminded how difficult
it is to find both talents in one person. "Each requires its own
rigorous training," she says.
This fall, the group will reprise "Love After Death" in an
urban version to be staged in Philadelphia, accompanied by another
chorus assembled for the occasion. "The work’s not as heavy as
it sounds," says Ritter. "We take the audience on a journey
with us, through the landscape, and through different emotions. We
try to create a good mix of atmospheres — laughter, community,
searching, and urgency. It’s quick paced and we’re working towards
a place of acceptance and hope at the end."
— Nicole Plett
Farm, Route 579, Lambertville, 609-466-4222. By reservation, $10.
Friday and Saturday, July 7 and 8, at 8 p.m. A free workshop
in contemporary dance, theater, and vocal techniques will be taught
by Ritter, Duke, and the music trio on Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m.
to noon; call to reserve a place.
on the farm the weekend of July 8 and 9. Volunteers are needed to
help farmers and maze designers mark, cut, and shape the pathways
that will become the farm’s 2000 Amazing Maize Maze, the annual fundraising
attraction due to open to the public on Labor Day weekend. Volunteers
are asked to commit, in advance, to a block of time lasting 4 to 6
hours, with starting times offered at 9am, 12:30 and 4pm, on either
Saturday or Sunday. Volunteers must be 18 years or older, able to
commit a four-hour block of time, and able to do light or medium duty
work. Contact the farm at 609-737-3299.
is offering a Drawing and Painting Portfolio Class for teens taught
by Helen Bayley. With a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School
of Design and an MFA from Indiana University, Bayley has taught and
exhibited extensively. The class, designed to prepare students to
take AP Studio Art or to build their portfolio, meets Monday and Wednesday
evenings, August 14 to 30. Cost is $180. To register, call 609-924-8777.
four-week Summer Arts Camp for children ages 7 to 11 in July, with
both full and half-day schedules. The series begins July 10 with "Painting
and Drawing;" with other camps in "Sculpture," "Printmaking,"
and "Creative Crafts." Fees range from $125 to $195 per week.
Summer Theater Program for ages 10 through 13, July 10 to August 3.
The afternoon program will take place at the Mill Hill Playhouse on
Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton. Free performances of the students
work will be given Saturday, August 5, at 2 p.m., in Mill Hill Park.
Activities include basic theater skills, improvisational theater,
and ensemble play creation. Call Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles at 609-392-5589.
Exploring New Jersey Habitats, a week-long, science-oriented summer
program for ages 6 to 12 that focuses on life forms, habitats, and
geology. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, provide foundation classes
at the museum. Tuesdays and Thursdays feature field trips. Space is
limited; students are grouped by age. Call 609-292-6310.
show be August 1 to September 10, 2000. Show is open to all artists
and all 2-D art media. Work must be hand delivered on Sunday, July
30. For prospectus send a SASE to Community Open Prospectus, 1860
House, Montgomery Cultural Center, 124 Montgomery Road, Skillman
08558; call 609-921-3272; or on the Web at www.1860house.org.
program for writers that is also a charity fundraiser for the New
Jersey Literacy Project. Submit the synopsis and up to 50 pages of
a novel for a donation of $1 per page; short stories, up to 20 pages;
or poetry (five poems or 125 lines) for $5 per line. All manuscripts
should be mystery-related. Submissions will be accepted until September
30, and returned by December 15. For complete guidelines visit members.aol.com/sinccj
or send an SASE to SinC-CJ, Box 61, Spotswood, 08884.
on Monday, August 21, for Equity performers; and on Tuesday, August
22, for non-Equity performers; at the George Street Playhouse, New
Brunswick. Over 20 theaters will be in attendance. Deadline for lottery
entry is Friday, July 21. Request entry requirements and guidelines
at 973-593-0189; on the Web at www.njtheatregroup.org.
is hosting Tomas Rouzer and his applied somatic arts psychotherapy
workshops and training in three weekend workshops, August 4 to 20.
Cost is $295, including meals and sleep space for out-of-towners.
Reservations require a $100 deposit. Call 609-882-6815.
guided photographic exploration of Machias Seal Island and the Maine
coast beginning Thursday, July 13. Photographer Curt Cowgill has designed
the trip for serious nature photographers. Space is limited; call
edition of "Under Age," an anthology of poetry and prose by
writers under 18. This year 51 poems and prose pieces were selected
from 1,000 entries. This year’s editor is Mary Jane Rossi, who writes
that "opening up each submission was like unlocking a bottle of
memories and thoughts and feelings. I knew that I was about to unlock
magic in these lovely pieces." The anthology is available for
$6 at the Arts Council, the Princeton Public Library, Micawber Books,
and other area businesses.
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