Residency connects dancers, students and the community

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PUTNEY — Members of an acclaimed dance company are taking up residence at The Putney School, working on pieces they'll premiere next month and showing high school-age students the dedication and rigorous work habits that go into being a professional dancer.

It's the ninth consecutive year that Nimbus Dance, a company from Jersey City, N.J., has spent a week in at the school. The dancers will culminate their stay with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday. They'll open with a piece featuring Putney School students before previewing works slated for a New York City premiere next month.

During the artist residency, Nimbus Dancers rehearse as a company during the morning hours, preparing their current repertoire for their upcoming tour. In the afternoon hours, they teach master classes for Putney School dance students. There are between 30 and 60 students, depending on the trimester, in grades nine through 12 who take part in the dance program at the Putney School.

Putney School dance director Jessica Batten, who started working at the school in 2016, had visited the school as a guest artist with Nimbus Dance when she was living in New York City.

"The Nimbus Dance residency is a special opportunity for Putney School dance students to have this experience of working with and performing alongside professional artists," Batten said. "It's really energizing for them."

Nimbus Dance will preview new works by Italian choreographer Sofia Nappi and Kristen Klein of New York, and premiere them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music next month. The company will also present founding artistic director Samuel Pott's two-part cycle, "Patch of Turf" and "Falling Sky." Both include original music composed by Qasim Naqvi. Falling Sky also features video design by Laia Cabrera and Isabelle Duverger.

The pieces address human relationships to diminishing natural environments and climate change, Pott said.

"Patch of Turf is performed by four female dancers and centers around a large piece of artificial grass which symbolizes the planet earth. For 17 minutes straight, they compete for dominance, assume biological forms, and embody mythic characters, within the piece of earth," he explained.

"Falling Sky" focuses on the spiritual heavenly world of the clouds and space. Both pieces have a depiction of the natural element through artificial means. In "Falling Sky," the heavens are represented with a piece of draped plastic. "Ultimately it explores our relationship with the planet and starts with the ways species have been forced to adapt to new patterns of migration," Pott said.

Pott, who founded Nimbus Dance in 2005, said when he was a child growing up in New York City, his mother, Judith Goodwin Pott (a Putney School alumna) took him and his older brother Roland to many folk dances, square dances and singing events at The Putney School. That "was not cool at the time," he said, but in retrospect, gave him exposure to the world of music and dance.

"We were making sense of these different influences and to this day, integrating the many different avenues of how we relate to art and music is an essential and inspiring part of my process," Pott said.

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Batten had visited the school as a guest artist with Nimbus Dance when she was living in New York City.

"I really appreciated nature and how beautiful it is up here. The starry night sky always stuck with me," Batten said. "I also appreciated the philosophy and values of the school and was thrilled to join the faculty as director of dance."

Leigh Ann Curd, a Nimbus dancer from Orange County, New York, is in her third residency at The Putney School.

"The students have this amazing energy," she said. "Getting to set choreography and working in-depth to explore a process with them is exciting for me and for our company."

Putney School sophomore Emmanuelle Woodford, 16, from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is in her second year of working with the professional dancers.

"Interacting with the professional dancers, learning from them, talking with them, laughing with them and getting ready for a show with them is an incredible experience," she said. "The Putney School has changed my life and dance has been a large part of that."

Woodford was recently accepted into the prestigious American Dance Festival at Duke University for the upcoming summer.

During their stay, Nimbus dancers live in a house on campus, eat all of their meals in the student dining hall and rehearse in the school's dance studio. They're hoping to experience sledding, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities while they're here.

"The Putney community is so excited to host them and have them here," Batten said. "It's a nice exchange to have these artists on our campus, engaging with our students and our community."

"We've been able to accomplish an incredible dialogue with the Putney School and Southern Vermont community," Pott said. "It's an ongoing dialogue. People are interested in getting to know the dancers, the repertoire and the evolution of our work. It shows how the arts can be the nexus of people coming together to explore ideas and aesthetic sensibilities — over nine years, the dialogue has been deep and far-reaching."

Victoria Chertok is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Ovation.


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