It’s Not Just Dance, it’s DancePlus!

It’s Not Just Dance, it’s DancePlus!

DancePlus Fall with Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University

At this time of year, we’re starting to dream of turkey and stuffing, planning our holiday parties and making lists (and checking them twice). Those holidays you have to wait all year for and then it’s over in a day. But I’m delighted to tell you about the upcoming run of performances of  (from the Dance Department at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts), which runs TWICE per year.

So go ahead and enjoy your turkey with all the trimmings this week, dear reader, and then go savor one (or more) of the delectable DancePlus performances in New Brunswick. Take your pick: Wednesday, November 30 through Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4 at 2:00 p.m.

And there’s much to be thankful for on this program: six works ranging from those choreographed by dance titans to new works that you’ll get to see first. You’ll also see exciting young dancers on the cusp of careers, eager to share their joy of dancing with you.

I recently spoke with Julia Ritter, Dance Department Chair and Artistic Director, about DancePlus and she says that the works on the biannual DancePlus concerts are created and staged by guest artists (both from the U.S. and abroad) and the school’s own faculty. The focus of DancePlus is about introductions: the community to modern dance, the public to the dancers, and the dancers to their careers.

About 30 dancers from the department are members of the DancePlus company, which consists of juniors and seniors. There are about 60 dancers in the whole department and the fall DancePlus concerts are planned to need more dancers than the company’s 30, so underclassmen are invited to audition for a chance to perform.

Here are the works you’ll be seeing:

Pas de Detour (2015) This piece was choreographed by Ellen Cornfield and features music by Andreas Brade (who will be playing it live during the performances). Ellen Cornfield is a longtime company member of the legendary Merce Cunningham, which provides the dance students with a great opportunity to work with the next generation of modern choreographers, while still gaining an essence of the earlier master.

What’s also interesting here is that Cornfield created this work for her company in 2015, which had many more dancers than the eight you’ll see at Rutgers. This is a great experience for the students, Ritter tells me, because they get to witness firsthand how choreographers handle opportunities to change, expand and adapt their own work. Ritter explained that Mason Gross is not just training dancers, they are also training choreographers, so being present during this kind of process is extremely valuable for their careers.

Angel Food for Thought (new work) This piece was choreographed by Chien-Ying Wang, in collaboration with the dancers (and here I bet you thought they had just one job: to dance what they are given. Nope!) The music comes from the album Angel Food for Thought by Meryn Cadell. Wang is on faculty at Mason Gross and is a former dancer with the Repertory Dance Theater.

Dark Meadow Suite: They Who Dance Together (1946) This work, choreographed by Martha Graham, originally premiered in 1946 in New York City, but was reset in 2011 by The Hartt School Dance Division. The original score was written by Carlos Chavez, but adapted for The Hartt School by James Stewart. Of the work, Martha Graham said, “Dark Meadow is a reenactment of the Mysteries which attend the eternal adventure of seeking.” 2016 is the 70th anniversary of the Martha Graham Dance Company and the spring of 2017 marks 120 years since the legendary choreographer was born. --So although she is no longer with us, of course, this is still a celebration of all things Martha Graham!

Ritter tells me that Dark Meadow Suite is a really interesting piece for her dancers to work on. The students generally focus on more contemporary works, so this is a fantastic opportunity for the dancers to work on a piece from one of the pioneers of modern dance. Dark Meadow Suite (created during the Graham Company’s first year) has been reconstructed and is being taught to the dancers by one of the representatives of the Martha Graham Dance Company and in the spring, the Mason Gross dancers will be performing this with the Company in February at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

Transient Relations: Adj. Fleeting (new work) This piece was choreographed by Keith A. Thompson and features a variety of music selections composed by Ólafur Arnalds, Meshell Ndegeocello, Johann Johansson and Maesa Pullman. Thompson is also on faculty at Mason Gross.

Moonlight This work was choreographed by Randy James, with assistance by Alex Biegelson, Kelli McGovern and Blair Ritchie and features music by Ludwig van Beethoven. James is on faculty at Mason Gross and my most eagle-eyed readers may recognize his name from some of my earlier posts: he has his own dance company (10 Hairy Legs). This work was originally choreographed for two dancers, but has been expanded for 28 DancePlus dancers!

Torrent (2013) This work was choreographed by Brian Brooks and features music from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, recomposed by Max Richter. Torrent was originally commissioned by Juilliard Dance for New Dances: Edition 2013.

And if you need one more reason to go see one of these performances, I’ll give it to you. At a time of year when we talk a lot about giving back and helping others, by attending a performance of DancePlus, you’ll be helping the dancers put one more block in the foundation of their careers.

As Ritter tells me, until the audience enters the space, this is just one more exercise. But when the dancer steps on the stage with an audience in the house, it becomes a magical moment of bringing something to life – and that’s a two-way street, because it’s both the audience and the dancers who are necessary to create that magic. This is something they work with the dancers on in their training: you have to truly communicate with the audience, which is a different process with each performance, with each audience group.

And the dancers will give back to you, the audience, as well. Ritter referenced the writer Lewis Hyde when she reminds me that yes, dancers are artists who need to dance to live complete lives, but it’s also an opportunity to give the gifts of performance, of art, and a piece of themselves to every audience member, every time the curtain goes up.

The Details

Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University will present six performances of DancePlus Fall: Wednesday, November 30 through Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4 at 2:00 p.m.  The performances take place at Victoria J. Mastrobuono Theater, located at 85 George Street in New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are $25 (general public); $20 (Rutgers alumni, employees and seniors) and $15 (students). To purchase, call 848.932.7511 or visit the ticket office. For more information on DancePus and dance at Mason Gross, visit

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