‘You’re inspired by the light itself,” Princeton Junction-based poet Liz Madden Zibman proclaims as part of her voice accompaniment to dancer Marie Alonzo’s movements. The words were spoken during a rehearsal of Alonzo’s premiere solo work “Fifty Shades of 50 – 50/50 Project #1.” It is one of the several pieces that Alonzo’s Tangerine Dance Collective will present this Saturday, June 22, at the West Windsor Arts Center in Princeton Junction.
“Fifty Shades of 50” is an ambitious collaborative work or, more fittingly, a found work stitched together by the West Windsor-based modern dance choreographer. The nearly hour-long solo dance is supported by poets, choreographers, and musicians with links to and beyond the region.
At the rehearsal in the West Windsor center’s gallery and theater, Zibman is joined by fellow Princeton-area poets Anne Cheng and Tatyana Petrovicheva. They also let their words be the “music” for Alonzo’s dance.
Alonzo says that her new piece took a year to complete. “I was at a point where I wanted to challenge my range of styles and movement yet did not have the time to take all the classes or rehearse for other companies, so I decided to ask 50 dancer friends to give me 50 seconds of movement. It can be custom choreographed, or part of what they have performed, or a routine from class, or an improvisation task, or a YouTube link. It did not matter. I just wanted 50 seconds. Only one declined, so I just, face the back, and stand still for 50 seconds. I felt that I should represent an empty spot with stillness.”
Since the contributing choreographers come from as far away as the Czech Republic and Alonzo’s native Philippines and as close as New York City and New Jersey and work in a variety of dance styles, today’s rehearsal focuses on the seamless sewing of movement sequences. It is also the occasion to meld dance steps with the spoken lines of the participating poets, each of whom Alonzo met in a different setting. Alonzo and Zibman met through their mutual efforts to establish the West Windsor Arts Council. Writer and Princeton University English instructor Cheng and poet and occasional independent publisher Petrovicheva met during salsa dance lessons.
“When do I know when I come in?” asks Zibman early in the rehearsal.
“Start anytime you feel ready,” Alonzo — the athletically fit mother of two grown sons — replies as she stretches and practices a few steps. Then musing on the length of the work and the physical challenge of executing the mainly fast and complicated movements, she says, “By the last section, it’s either going to go very slow or very fast.”
When it is time to run through the work, Alonzo tells the poets to get ready and stand where the microphone will be set. After a few seconds of silence, the dancer begins a mute physical passage. Then Zibman says softly, “There’s honesty in our eyes and posture.”
Alonzo, dressed in black jazz dance attire, responds with percussive steps and counts aloud, “Ten! Twenty Thirty! Forty!,” and then, as she moves into the next sequence, shouts, “Fifty more!” The reference is to the next 50-second section of choreography.
“Don’t spoil the journey with worry,” calls the poet. The phrase is apt to both the concert and the choreographer’s development.
“Eduardo Garcia, former director of the West Windsor Arts Center, invited me to do an evening of my works last August,” Alonzo says about the performance. “I was thrilled because that was one of my dreams since I moved to New Jersey back in 1998. I miss having my own concert of my works, as I did in New York City. Since I restarted choreographing in 2002, after a seven-year hiatus while raising my two sons, I have choreographed 46 works.” Her sons are now 21 and 16.
Although she was born in the Philippines, Alonzo was raised in Italy, where her United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization-employed father was assigned and her mother was an instructor at Notre Dame International School in Rome. It was in Italy that the young Alonzo took her first dance class, chosen for health over art. “My doctor told me to do something physical. I was sickly,” she says with a bright smile. She eventually decided to follow it as a career, a choice supported by her parents as long as she obtained a degree.
“If I had to go to college I knew I had to be in New York City. It was either Juilliard or NYU. Juilliard had no dorms, and my parents would not allow me to stay in an apartment. So I could not apply there. So NYU it is!” She arrived in 1982 and went on to earn a bachelors and masters in fine art from New York University and a doctorate in arts education from Columbia University.
In addition to her academic studies, Alonzo performed with several New York-based companies, including HT Chen & Dancer (a modern dance company with Asian esthetics), the former New York City based Asian American Dance Theater, NYU’s Second Avenue Dance Company, and others.
She also performed new work by innovative choreographers Ruby Shang (who creates site specific dances), James Cunningham (a dancer who incorporates his own physical disability into his work), Yung Yung Tsuai (who fuses Eastern and Western dance techniques), and Rozalind Newman (a modern dance pioneer), to name a few. From the mid-1980s her work has been performed by the Chen Dance Center and commissioned by the Ear to the Ground Series in New York City.
She and her computer engineer husband, Kirk Snyder, moved to West Windsor, trading their New York City lifestyle for one more compatible with two children. Several years ago, after seeing her children become independent and establishing herself as a dance teacher at Princeton Dance and Theater Studios and a Pilates instructor, she co-founded the dance project I’ll Have What She’s Having (featuring choreography and performances by women dancers over the typical age associated with being a dancer) and founded the Tangerine Dance Collective.
The name Tangerine — a “pickup company” that engages dancers as needed to create a project — comes from a dance she created in 2010 and fits her approach. She explains that in that dance she was going to use flower petals as part of the dance, but instead she selected to use colorful tangerine peels. It is something that resonated and reflects her and her work.
“It became about taking something out of the normal and using it. And my work has different layers, flavors, and parts, and it’s organic.” She writes that the collective creates “projects that embrace and reflect the zest and essence of life stories and cultures, through flavorful passionate dancing, juicy thought-provoking choreography and refreshing artistic collaborations.”
During the rehearsal, poet Petrovicheva takes her place and says, “We are speaking in colors,” as Alonzo continues weaving the steps of the many choreographers, tones, and moods.
Of the colors or selections of June 22’s program Alonzo says, “It was a difficult choice of works to present because to some I could no longer relate to, some represented a chapter in my life that no longer had much meaning to me, or simply I did not have the right dancers available. So I chose one of my signature works, ‘Unveiling the Bamboo,’ which is very special to me because two West Windsor Arts Council members contributed their work: Zibman with her poetry and (Princeton Arts Council executive director) Jeff Nathanson who provided one section of the music. I also wanted to add ‘Zero Effect,’ a short, sweet solo based on the speech of Zach Wahls on being raised by a gay couple. I felt that the speech needed to be heard and this time I wanted to hear a male voice instead of a female voice reciting the speech. This will be a special presentation for me because the actor is a childhood friend of mine when growing up in Rome, Italy.”
Other works in the program include “Frame,” by a Teaneck-based choreographer; “Three Seascapes,” a work that uses live voice, sounds, and props to create humorous vignettes; “Save Me A Dance,” which uses social dance, silence, and chance; and two duets that she calls “last minute additions to show my venture into another dance genre, Brazilian Zouk, a social dance slowly growing in the U.S.”
With all the different threads coming together in this piece and her work in general, Alonzo says, “My technique is a fusion of all the technique, styles, and movement principles I have learned and performed while dancing with various companies and choreographers in NYC.” She likens her approach to something organic and seeks “a grounded sense of weight, like tree roots reaching down into the earth. This in turn becomes the energy that allows my movement to have a close relationship to the ground, almost as if partnering with gravity.”
As Alonzo continues to pass through the movements of “50/50” and test her stamina and concentration, Cheng takes the poet’s place and says, “How else could it be the way it is?”
Alonzo says the same thing but with her body.
Marie Alonzo and the Tangerine Dance Collective, West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction. Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m. $18-$20. 609-716-1931 or www.westwindsorarts.org.