Article by Tresca Weinstien for the Times Union
May 10, 2022
After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company is back at the Egg on Saturday for their annual May performance. And they’re back with a bang, bringing two new works to the stage along with a dance that has been shown only once—just days before the shutdown in March 2020.
That piece, “Within the Quiet,” was created for a March 7 program at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and Sinopoli’s dancers were accompanied by live music played by cellist Ashley Bathgate.
“Our May 2020 concert at the Egg was to have included that work, plus another work with Ashley that was ready to go and never premiered,” Sinopoli said in an interview last week. “The next weekend, everything shut down.”
The concert was rescheduled for May 2021, and then put off another year. On Friday, the collaboration resumes at last: Bathgate will perform the Jacob Cooper score for “Within the Quiet,” as well as music by Christopher Cerrone for the premiere of “Faultline.” The evening also includes the premiere of “Standing Last,” with live music by guitarist Maria Zemantauski and percussionist Brian Melick.
While the show marks the company’s return to performing at the Egg, they haven’t been sitting still for the past two years. Between teaching residencies at local schools, outdoor concerts at Troy Night Out and in parks around the Capital District, and shows at Chesterwood, UAlbany, the Sand Lake Center for the Arts and the Opalka Gallery—not to mention three virtual performances prior to widespread vaccination—Sinopoli has been able to keep all of her dancers busy and employed.
“One of my dancers had a baby [during the pandemic], another got married—there have been lots of changes in their personal lives, but the company has stayed strong,” the choreographer said.
One dancer, Maggie Ciambrone, was cast in “Faultline” but retired from the company in 2021, before she had a chance to perform it. She’s coming back from retirement to do just that, making a special appearance on Saturday in the role.
In contrast to the serenity of “Within the Quiet,” in which “it’s almost like the dancers are on the clouds,” Sinopoli said, “Faultline” is dynamic and fast-moving.
“There’s a momentum to the piece that just comes out of nowhere and suddenly pauses,” she said. “Toward the very end, Ashley’s actually double-bowing — she has a bow in each hand going after this cello like mad.”
For Bathgate, who grew up in Saratoga and is now artistic director at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire, performing for dance offers a new perspective on the music.
“From an early age, my parents took me to the ballet in Saratoga, so dance was always a part of how I heard music,” she said. “As a performer, it heightens the experience—you get to see the notes you’re putting out in the atmosphere take shape literally in front of you.”
Both the Cooper and Cerrone compositions Bathgate plays for the concert were originally written for her 2019 album “Ash,” inspired by the 200-year-old “Bach Cello Suites.”
“I wanted to commission a modern-day suite that was both looking forward and looking back at the tradition of writing for the cello as a solo instrument,” the cellist explained “They each took their inspiration from a movement or an idea that Bach had.” In addition to accompanying the dances, Bathgate will also perform a musical interlude at Saturday’s concert.
The third piece on the program, “Standing Last,” is a 26-minute work set to a Zemantauski and Melick composition called “Backscattering.”
“Some of it is written music, some is improvisation,” Sinopoli said. ‘When Brian plays, he doesn’t have just one drum, he’s got this whole slew of percussive instruments. And then Maria brings in her classical flamenco artistry but also lets it take off and go into other places.”
As always with Sinopoli, the choreography is inspired in large part by the music, but also by ideas and imagery that both she and her dancers bring to the process. In setting the scene for them, Sinopoli told the company, “In this world, you go back and forth between human and creature. You have to imagine you don’t breathe oxygen, you breathe something else. The color of the sky is not blue in your environment, it’s something else. I want you to see yourselves as being an entirely new species that no one has known about before.”
The choreographer pictured the final moment of “Standing Last” even before the dance-making process got underway, she said, which is unusual for her.
“Rarely do I have a sense of how the piece is going to end. That is often revealed [along the way],” she explained. “It’s almost like writing a novel — you have to listen to the characters and the narration, and if it heads off in a certain direction, you have to be willing to go there.”