GREAT BARRINGTON – Recently, choreographer Olga Dunn and dancer Ava Girard were in their rehearsal space at the back of Saint James Place, putting the pieces together for an upcoming solo dance performance. As the late afternoon sun was setting from the tall windows, they work on a slightly unusual piece – a staging not on the music, but on the poem. “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Lameris.
Dunn gets a feel for the final movement of the piece, a flourishing point of the finger for an invisible stranger, with the cheerful, almost disposable line “I love your hat”. Dunn steps up the wall into the space, and suggests that maybe there should be another move there. Maybe a greeting smile and a nod before that finger. Girard is giving it a try.
Over the weeks, this is how the show emerged, to become what will be the cautious and scaled-down first reappearance of the Olga Dunn Dance Company to a live audience next month in what will likely be the first dance performance. in theaters in the Berkshires in over a year. Unlike his regular company shows, Girard will dance all six pieces on his own – actually seven if you plan to preview a piece for later this year – deviating from usual practice. Dunn describes all of this as “extremely new”.
“What I love about working with Ava is a lot of the time you work with an artist, you visualize something and ask for something and it rarely happens exactly as you hope,” Dunn said. “For most of what we worked on for this show, Ava was miraculously able to dance what was in my head. It was such a good thing.
“Six by One” is scheduled to premiere at Saint James Place on May 15 at 7 p.m., although details on what it will look like are still being worked out. The performance space has a capacity of around 300, but current state regulations only allow 100. But Dunn said even that felt a bit too much, and it’s unclear how many more than that. the 30 already confirmed will be authorized. The audience will be masked, the first two rows will remain empty, and although they are only planning one night, Dunn said they are “definitely thinking beyond a performance” either through an online movie version. or additional dates later in the year.
For now, just get out there. “I think just reading something that is happening live will make people feel better about our current situation,” she said.
The program will last approximately 40 minutes and includes four pieces choreographed by Dunn and three by Girard. They bring together a variety of dance styles, including ballet, jazz, and modern, the kind of eclecticism Dunn has called the company’s signature. “I like to push the boundaries and not limit myself to just one style,” she said.
The music ranges from Billie Holiday and modern percussion, to Lameris’ poem written in 2016 but which seems eerily prescient about the desire for the most basic friendly contact with strangers, which we have lost in all these months. The variety of music, costumes and styles is a way to keep the momentum going throughout the show.
“When there’s a solo artist, you really want to make the audience feel like they’re going to different places with each piece,” Dunn said. “They don’t want to see the same character, feel the same energy, or hear the same music.”
Girard likes this turnover. “It helps make sure you don’t repeat what you did,” she says. “And with different styles, it helps internalize different traits and qualities.”
The collaboration between Dunn and Girard is intergenerational, with a choreographer and artistic director with decades of experience and a young dancer who has just started. Dunn said coming together for a project like this was the result of “the pandemic and luck”.
“He just started rehearsing together, and the rehearsals got longer and more productive and we started to see things going in circles,” Dunn said. “We thought, ‘This is ridiculous; we should be able to run them. But no one else was available, so we figured we could do a one-woman show. “
Girard is originally from New Hampshire and had already trained in ballet for years when she met Dunn in 2017 when she came for an intensive summer program. She had just moved to New York to continue her training and begin her career when the pandemic began. Since then, she has spent a lot of time in the Berkshires, where she has family, keeping fit and taking classes online.
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” Girard said. “I’m so used to being in class with other people and relying on them for inspiration and companionship. It’s very different from training alone.
She said working closely with Dunn was “a good next step”.
“I was starting to embark on a career and the pandemic was a game changer,” Girard said. “To work with Mrs. Dunn in this capacity and to continue my choreography seems to me a very nice continuation of this moment.
So far this time has been an opportunity for her to develop her own methodology to become a professional artist.
“One thing I want to develop is a process that I can count on,” Girard said. “Right now I can get to a result I’m happy with, but I don’t necessarily have the steps I know to get there. It’s trial and error, which is fun, but that’s the next goal. And it’s good to perform where I can and to have to get up to the performance level. “
They say they’re starting to get nerves, especially being among the first to come back this way. Last December, the company released a series of line dance shows, which was a good way to stay engaged and reach audiences perhaps beyond the region. But now they’re thinking about the reality of getting back in front of an audience.
“I’m worried about looking and seeing all of these masks,” Dunn said. “It’s like a science fiction movie. We are trying to prepare, but that is not what we would prefer.
Much of the serendipity of working together has come from the fact that Ava is at the point in her career where she might find the time to embark on a big project like this. The other core members of the company, around six, have been linked with work, childcare and are just trying to get through the pandemic.
“It has been devastating to be away for so long,” she said. “It’s been a whole year, a year where you have to have your own life.”
But Dunn said there were performances scheduled for July.
“When we start to get back together, it will be like jumping into a cold pond,” she says. “And then I hope we warm up, with a lot of movement.”
For more information on the company and upcoming performances, visit www.olgadunndance.org.