With its diminutive stage, White Eagle Hall in Jersey City may not be the ideal venue for dancers with a lusty impulse to cover ground. Choreographers are ingenious, however, with a keen eye for arranging bodies in any space that’s available. So, on Nov. 18, the recently refurbished venue will host not just one or two, but five dance troupes, wedging themselves in to share a performance titled “Up Close and Personal.”
Tap dancer Hillary-Marie and her modern-dance colleague, Carolyn Dorfman, have figured out a way to make the space their plaything. “She’ll have the stage, and we’ll be on the floor in front of the stage,” Dorfman says. The audience will sit in risers gathered around the Marly dance floor, and can also watch from the horseshoe-shaped balcony above the space, enjoying what Hillary-Marie calls “a cool, level-change experience.”
That won’t be all, though. Before the program officially begins, the 10 artists of Carolyn Dorfman Dance will insinuate themselves among the crowd in the lobby, sidling up to the bar and interacting with the public in a way that’s truly “up close and personal.”
Then, once everyone has settled in a seat, viewers will be treated to a warm-up act called Rising Stars. This platform for aspiring artists is typical of the tap-dance community, where an encouraging atmosphere prevails; Hillary-Marie says organizing this warm-up act is her way of paying forward the generosity of those who gave her a chance to test herself before an audience, when she was starting out. Sunday’s Rising Stars will include Danica Butler, a slick, young tapper performing a piece by Mary Ho entitled “Car Radio”; contemporary dancer Dolly Sfeir leading an ensemble in a subtly constructed modern dance piece called “Beveled”; and the rambunctious kids (ages 10 to 24) of Hillary-Marie’s FutureSTEP Tap Company.
The professionals will then take turns performing. Each group will present two works.
Hillary-Marie will dance alongside musician Ami Madeleine, who sings and plays the ukulele, in a duet that is among the “Herspective” videos the tapper has been posting on her website. (Check out Hillary-marie.com/film for a preview of their breezy, al fresco rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” or watch it below). In addition, the tapper and two other members of her Sole Music Collective will perform excerpts from the recently premiered “One More Than Two,” a piece that offers a light-hearted exploration of repeated failures and ultimate triumph. Here, multi-generational tappers Jenn Rose and Lynn Schwab will join Hillary-Marie in dancing to Sonny Rollins’ jazz standard “St. Thomas,” in an arrangement for desk bells that Hillary-Marie swears they will play with their feet. That’s a promise!
For her part, Dorfman will reprise a dance that premiered earlier this year, along with excerpts from a company classic. She created the new work, “Snap Crackle Pop” in collaboration with former CDD member Renée Jaworski, who went on to enjoy a distinguished career with Pilobolus Dance Theater. Pilobolus is taking a pared-down version of the work into its repertoire — the first time it ever has adopted a dance created on another company.
The title, which recalls the antics of a famous breakfast cereal, offers a key to the choreographers’ intent. “Snap Crackle Pop” feeds on the nostalgia that people of a certain age feel for the supposedly simpler days of their youth. But interspersed with the antique advertising jingles that composer David Van Tieghem has assembled into a sound-score are reminders that the past was not as jolly as the old-timers may remember.
“You’ve got Brylcreem commercials, and then you’ve got Malcolm X saying, ‘Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair?’ ” Dorfman explains. A little dab of such irony goes a long way in puncturing fantasies about the past.
“Snap Crackle Pop” does not stop there. According to Dorfman, the piece also reflects upon the ways that we use technology to communicate, taking the audience on a journey from the 1960s to today’s text messages and social media.
Dorfman observes that “our humanity depends on unfettered human connection. (But) we keep trying to replace the essence of human-to-human contact.”
That contact, she feels, is at the heart of dance.
Carolyn Dorfman Dance and Hillary-Marie’s Sole Collective will present “Up Close and Personal” at White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. Visit JCTCenter.org.