Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the June 20, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Sometimes you have to step away from something to see
it clearly. This was the process that brought Stuart Loungway, who
enjoyed a 10-year career as a ballet soloist, back to "terra
Less than two years after turning his back — or so he thought
— on dance, Loungway is launching Terra Firma Dance Theater, a
brand-new, New Brunswick-based nonprofit performing arts
Terra Firma gives its inaugural performances at George Street
on Friday and Saturday, June 22 and 23, at 8 p.m., with a program
of three premieres by three emerging choreographers. The concert
"Chamber," a contemporary ballet by Loungway,
by James Graber, and four sections from "If you leave the curtains
open" by the Cleo Mack Dance Project.
In an interview from his home in New Brunswick, Loungway describes
his vision for Terra Firma Dance Theater and how it grew out of a
dark moment in his artistic and professional life.
"I saw a need within the community for a meaner, leaner version
of a dance company, one that’s accessible and that has touring
he says. His company’s mission is to provide cutting-edge, accessible
dance through public performances, community outreach, dance
lectures, residency programs, and the development of new choreography.
"We want to provide the community something that it’s not getting:
first-rate, accessible, cutting-edge dance as an art form. We’re
to develop a multi-media company in the tradition of European dance
theater. But we’re built to serve the community. We’ve set our ticket
prices at the lower end of the scale, and we’ve begun to implement
our first school programs."
On a personal level, Loungway describes how, after 10 years in a
he loved, he became disillusioned with the creative opportunities
available to him. Loungway was a principal dancer for American
Ballet under the direction of Septime Webre. Prior to that he danced
as a soloist for the San Francisco Ballet in works by George
William Forsythe, James Kudelka, David Bintley, and Mark Morris, among
others. He started his career as a member of the Joffrey Ballet and
participated in its landmark reconstruction of Nijinsky’s "Rite
"In ballet, you’re not encouraged to develop a voice of their
own, you’re a tool — a piece of meat. I sometimes call ballet
the last legal monarchy," he says willfully. "As a dancer,
I had pretty much seen the whole spectrum and danced it. I didn’t
feel like I had any autonomy in my career or in my art form any more.
So I had turned my back on dance and decided to go into the field
of physical therapy."
Loungway went to work as a fitness trainer and had made plans to enter
a two-year physical therapy training program when he was invited by
Sherri Alban to teach ballet for Rutgers University’s Mason Gross
School for the Arts.
"Through teaching, and in the role of mentor, my love of this
art form was revivified and came back into my life," says
who is preparing to begin his third year as a part-time Rutgers
member. It was also at Rutgers where Loungway presented his own
for the first time, a duet that was performed on a student-faculty
concert program in May, 2000. "The academic environment seems
so right for me, and I’ve received a lot of encouragement in my work
from other faculty," he says.
Aging is another concern in the dance profession that workships youth.
It’s hard to grow up in a world where male and female dance artists
are customarily referred to as "boys" and "girls."
Many of these same dancers find themselves coming into their psychic
and emotional maturity — and the height of their interpretive
powers — when they are expected to retire. Loungway has just
the daunting milestone of age 30.
"Dancers so often have a difficult time transitioning from this
career because of the discipline and tunnel vision that the profession
itself requires. So many dancers do little to develop viable job
he says. "Although I thought I’d dance for five more years, I
also wanted to use what vestiges of youthful vitality that I had left,
to push something proactive and to develop this company. It’s a labor
of love first and foremost. There’s no payroll as yet. It’s about
having autonomy over my artistic voice." His present goal is to
develop a national and international audience for Terra Firma within
three to five years.
Among the companies that Loungway points to as models for his own
is the Hubbard Street Chicago (seen in concert at McCarter Theater
last November) a repertory company he admires for its ability to move
from one genre to another, from a ballet by Jiri Kylian to an
barefoot tour-de-force by Ohad Naharin. He also names Kylian as
of my heroes choreographically speaking" and admires Kylian’s
Netherlands Dance Theater.
"This is not an egocentric project — that’s why I’m not
it the Stuart Loungway company," he says. "It’s going to be
a repertory company and a collaborative effort amongst the artists
and among the patrons. My goal is for more of a collective voice and
a collaborative process in dance. We’re also interested in listening
to the voices of different demographics, of audiences that aren’t
Loungway describes his ballet "Chamber," a new
contemporary ballet for five dancers, as "a story of love, loss,
and redemption." Contemporary and neo-classical in style, it’s
performed on pointe to a collage of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Marin
Marais, 20th-century composer Lukas Foss, as well as some ambient
sounds and Techno music. "Choreographically I strive to evoke
some type of emotion from my audience," he says. "To quote
Balanchine, if you put a man and a woman on stage — or a man and
a man or a woman and a woman, for that matter — there’s a story
there. I’m not interested in entrapping my audience, but my intent
is to make them think. And I want to bring back a little of the
in dance that has been lost in some of the things I’ve seen
Loungway is married to dancer Gianna Russillo, also a former member
of American Repertory Ballet, who is one of the company of dancers.
Russillo is currently one of eight dancers in the cast of "Phantom
of the Opera" on Broadway. She will take a leave to perform the
lead pas de deux, with David Pittenger (also an ARB alumnus)
in Loungway’s ballet "Chamber."
Sharing the first half of the concert program with "Chamber"
is James Graber, who has danced professionally with ARB and the
Ballet. Graber will premiere an interdisciplinary performance art
piece titled "dance/rant" that work combines choreography,
improvisation, vocalization, and addresses socio-political themes.
With a bent toward multi-media performance, Graber has created more
than 20 works, the most recent presented at the Broome Studio in New
Featured in the program’s second half is the Cleo Mack Dance Project
performing four sections from an evening-length, work-in-progress
titled, "If you leave the curtains open." The Mack company
plans to stage the full work next spring. This new company is led
by artistic director Cleo Mack and dancer Kim Barkhamer who is also
the company’s co-founder and administrator. Both women graduated with
BFA degrees in dance from Rutgers in 1998 and are on their way to
realizing a "five-year plan" for the emerging company.
Mack has already won a Capezio/Dance Magazine award in choreography
and a Turner Award for Choreography. Her work was presented by Dance
Theater Workshop this spring, part of its "Fresh Tracks"
and presented last fall by the Mulberry Street Theater. Mack, who
has danced with John Evans and Dancers, LKB Dance, and Rhombus Dance,
is also a teaching artist for American Repertory Ballet.
"If you leave the curtains open" has been sponsored by the
New York Foundation for the Arts. In it, Mack uses household icons
such as a bathtub, matress, trash can and television set to comment
on the intricacies of human behavior. Performers include Mark Fucik,
Kelly Grigsby, Melanie Kramer, Courtney Viar, Kathleen Flynn, and
Stephanie Laipis, most of whom are intimate with Mack’s distinct
style having performed in her works at Rutgers. Fucik, however, will
leave the ensemble in August for his new job as a member of the famed
Barkhamer says the group is delighted to help fulfill its mission
to support new work and new artists. "It also helps Cleo maintain
her terrific momentum as a choreographer," she adds.
Loungway, too, is brimming with optimism for his new company. And
his choice of its name reflects his hopes for the future. "Terra
Firma is Latin for `lasting earth’ or `solid ground.’ I wanted the
name to have a twist, a sense of ritual. I also wanted a name that
would bring good tidings and suggest a foundation, roots, and
in years to come."
He calls his current path a vision quest. "Sometimes you have
to step away from something to regain your objectivity. I just needed
to be able to look at what I had given my life over to and see it
— Nicole Plett
Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717.Adults $15; students
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