Summer Guide: Mount Tremper Arts Festival

Downtown HEADS for the hills!

The studio where the Aynsley Vanden-broucke Movement Group was rehearsing the other day—a small room in a grimy industrial building out in Bushwick, rented for a few hours from another choreographer—is typical enough of the spaces where New York dance makers summon the muses. As the company tried out 3 Dancers, 4 Chairs, 26 Words, a talky piece composed of hard-to-remember variations, a saxophone joined in from another room, altering the mood. Not long after came a hammering from above and, from the street below, the piercing tune of an ice cream truck. Laughing at the unintended accompaniment, used to it, the dancers soldiered through, then left for their separate lives in the city.

Much of the dance had been created under far different conditions, in an ample studio in the Catskill Mountains that the dancers had all to themselves. Between the sprung maple floor and the 25-foot ceiling, large windows looked out on an organic garden and abutting forest. Between rehearsals, the dancers shared meals and living quarters, indulged in long conversations by the fire, and floated in the creek. No unexpected saxophones, no running off to a waitressing job—just birdsong and silence and time.

Vandenbroucke and her husband, photographer Mathew Pokoik, bought a farmhouse in Mount Tremper, near Woodstock, in 2003. Since then, the pair, both in their early thirties, have slowly designed a dream studio ("a little like a barn, a little like a church"), dealt with zoning boards and septic systems, and cultivated sponsors. Last summer, their Mount Tremper Arts Festival opened to the public, offering classes, lectures, a photography exhibition curated by Pokoik, and a series of dance performances by Vandenbroucke's troupe and others whose work they admire: Duan Týnek, Hilary Easton, and Jonah Bokaer with the poet Anne Carson were among the first high-grade crop. Each company was invited to stay for a week, plus two more weeks in the spring or fall.

Easton, who's attended her share of residencies, found this one to be "a verdant idyll, both intimate and open." Vandenbroucke and Pokoik, she says, "are such thoughtful artists in the way they curate. Each company is treated with so much care." The post-performance talk-back with the audience was "one of the best conversations about the piece that I can remember . . . and then we all had a campfire."

Engaging the public is a prime concern—hence the campfires and the practice of offering free tickets to people willing to post responses on the festival blog (blogmta.wordpress.com). The crowd tends to be half city people, half locals, many of the latter unfamiliar with contemporary dance. It's a situation ripe for confusion—during one performance, someone asked Pokoik to make it stop—but also fresh responses. "Everyone feels really included in the conversation," says Easton, "so there isn't the same reserve that one sometimes feels with a New York audience."

As curator and choreographer, Vandenbroucke craves formal exploration. After graduating from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she briefly quit dance, unable to find meaning in questions like, "How high can your leg go?" Eventually, like many before her, she discovered ways of addressing other questions, lately through verbal means—one piece using "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," another teasing stories out of 26 scrambled words. She has her own blog. She's drawn toward choreographers like herself—technically trained but skeptical of technique, driven to talk about why. That preference, along with a marriage-mirroring focus on visual elements, is evident in this year's lineup, running July 11 to August 29: Robbinschilds and Liz Sargent (as much installation artists as choreographers), Kimberly Bartosik, Monica Bill Barnes, Mark Jarecke, and Brian Brooks. Vandenbroucke's own 3 Dancers, which premieres at the Center for Performance Research in Williamsburg this week, reprises at Mount Tremper July 31.

Running the festival, she says, has been like the role shift from dancer to choreographer: a widening of perspective. She's also learned what retreats often teach artists: that removing distractions can be as terrifying as it is freeing. So she doubly appreciates the conversations, the peek into how other dance makers work—that's what she gets from the festival. The other artists get space and time. The good folk of Mount Tremper get exposure to those artists. And New Yorkers get a reason to escape upstate for some downtown art. It's closer than Jacob's Pillow.

mttremperarts.wordpress.com

SUMMER DANCE PREVIEW

American Ballet Theater

June 1–6

As usual, ABT's season at the Met runs from May through July, cycling star dancers through the standard story ballets, all the excitement in the casting. This year, however, a different kind of excitement charges the first week of June: a premiere by the company's new choreographer-in-residence. This is Alexei Ratmansky, who woke up the Bolshoi and has given City Ballet its most electrifying additions of late. His staging of Prokofiev's On the Dnieper, a flop in 1932, is easily the most eagerly anticipated ballet of 2009. Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, abt.org

Trey McIntyre Project

June 2–7

After nearly two decades as a prolific freelancer, the ballet-based choreographer established his first full-time company in 2007, setting up shop in Boise, Idaho. The New York debut of that troupe should showcase his impressive craft, musicality, and showmanship, along with hints of a developing company style. Leatherwing Bat finds innocence and the shadow of its loss in the children's songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary. (serious) is an intricate trio graphed on chamber compositions by Henry Cowell. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, joyce.org

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