Freespace Dance celebrates 20th anniversary with a striking premiere

freespace dance review


Andrew Kruep (in blue vest) and other dancers in “We Are …,” which Freespace Dance performed at The Vanguard Theater in Montclair, March 29.

Anniversaries may be nostalgic occasions, but choreographer Donna Scro Samori keeps moving forward. For the 20th anniversary celebration of her company, Freespace Dance, March 29 at the Vanguard Theater in Montclair (there also was a show on March 30), she might have assembled a program of revivals. Instead, she channeled her memories into a new creation titled We Are ... Following a video reel of greatest hits, the dancers poured their energies into this emotionally turbulent premiere.

Founded as a choreographic collective in 1997, Freespace Dance was the joint project of four Montclair State alumnae, including Lisa Grimes (the company’s longtime managing director), Maureen Glennon and Kim Villanueva. The director of MSU’s dance division, Lori Katterhenry, offered free rehearsal space to get them off the ground; this was such a boon that the youngsters named their troupe “Freespace” in gratitude. The current 20th anniversary dates from the year in which the company received its nonprofit status and consolidated under Scro’s artistic direction.


Dancers in “We Are …”

Remaining in Montclair, the troupe prides itself on its New Jersey roots, and has helped many MSU graduates transition to professional careers. In addition to offering regular local seasons, however, Freespace Dance has toured widely, and the anniversary video montage offered glimpses of performances at landmarks like New York’s Danspace Project of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, and the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. The videos also testified to this company’s abundant creativity, with excerpts from works by turns intimate and brash, all bearing a common stamp in their bold attack and leveraged physicality. Scro herself appeared in various settings, hanging in a metal cage or dancing around a tree stump; her charismatic presence has kept the company centered.

Indeed, it is tempting to see the central figure of We Are … as a stand-in for Freespace’s artistic director as she revisits the past, surveying more than 20 years of solidarity and struggle. Andrew Kruep begins the work alone, breathing gently and stirring as if asleep while we hear ocean waves breaking in the distance. Pointing suddenly to his head, he seems to awake, and returning consciousness brings a sensation of pain. Unseen forces draw Kruep into the space, where he becomes aware of an armchair in the corner. This chair, large enough to accommodate a whole family (or a dance company?), will journey gradually around the stage, reappearing as a symbolic gathering place.

The other dancers, 11 in all, begin to drift in, each one declaring himself or herself with a personal movement phrase, then taking up an angled position.

Suddenly, the whole scene becomes active. We hear the sound of a commuter train, and individuals rush past each other, getting caught or tangled in the crowd. Relationships develop from these supposedly random encounters, but Scro’s characters seem worried. Stepping forward, they shield themselves and contract with anxiety. Alfonse Napolitano and Kierstyn Edore glare at each other.


Melina Soriano and Emma Gentile in “We Are …”

Later, Miguel Miranda falls to the floor, trying to hold on to Edore. Kruep returns to gaze down at Miranda’s prone body, powerless to intervene in an event that may have happened years ago.

Despite these disappointments, relationships form. The ensuing duets may suggest friendship or passion. Buddies dance side-by-side, while more fraught encounters show partners grappling blindly or asserting dominance, with one stepping on the other in triumph.

Pulsing in a disco light, the dancers party together, and they assemble to pose for group photographs. In a more abstract formation, they lie zigzag on the floor, knit together in a line that might suggest a ladder or a scar. Kruep continues to wander in and out, observing the action and meditating with his hands clasped.

Curiously, as We Are … progresses, Kruep acquires more clothing, gradually assuming a vest and tie. Conversely, the other characters strip down; this dressing and disrobing may imply Kruep’s dawning insight into the events and personalities of his biography, as he matures. Living for 20 years at the center of a social hive like a dance company, one may acquire a fund of wisdom.

For more on Freespace Dance, visit


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