Ellen Sinopoli Dance at Kaatsbaan

Calvin Grimm’s backdrop for Ellen Sinopoli’s Sea Ghosts (photo by Rich Hommel)

The Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company will present five dances at the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center this Saturday, December 1. Several were developed during the Company’s weeklong residencies at the Tivoli-based Center (the performance precedes its upcoming December residency). The Company, which is based in Albany, has access to rehearsal space at the Egg, but Ellen Sinopoli said that the opportunity that Kaatsbaan provides to focus solely on developing new work is invaluable. “Usually our rehearsals occur four hours a day, four times a week,” said the choreographer, who also teaches dance composition at two colleges. “This allows us to work six and seven hours a day. The productivity of this is exponential.”

Another wonderful attribute of Kaatsbaan is the large amount of space, which allows Sinopoli to step back to where the audience sits “and really get a perspective on how the architecture of this piece is flowing. Most studios are not that large. It’s perfectly constructed.”


One of the pieces in the December 1 performance, Sea Ghosts, was developed at Kaatsbaan last December and incorporates a blown-up image of a painting by Woodstock-based artist Calvin Grimm. Suggestive of ocean depths, the backdrop “fits right into the music” by composer William Harper, a haunting piece that uses electro-acoustical sounds and the voice to evoke the sound of waves and the tides, said Sinopoli.

Initially interested in creating a dance about the faltering functionality of an aging body, the choreographer said that Harper’s music steered her toward the underwater theme. “There are lots of dynamic changes within the piece. It’s high-energy and fast-moving, and at times the movements are very exotic, as the dancers tangle around themselves and each other,” said Sinopoli.

A second piece, Sing, Laugh, Play, is a lighthearted romp to John Adams’ Book of Alleged Dancers, which entranced Sinopoli when she first heard a snippet on the radio. “It is about moving and has a lightness,” she said. A third piece, titled Filament, incorporates the percussive sounds of Don Knaack, who makes music from objects that he scavenges in junkyards. Like the illumination of a filament in a lightbulb, the dancers are initially still and come to life under the force of faux-electric impulses. Sinopoli envisioned the bodies as segments of a totem pole laid flat on the ground, which slowly becomes animated.

Zarmina, which is the name of a young Afghan female poet who committed suicide due to a forced marriage, is set to music by contemporary violinist Cornelius Dufallo. It was inspired by a book about the Dinka tribe of Sudan – specifically, the various shapes of the horns of the tribe’s cattle, which are tended by young boys; the horns are twisted by their owners into a specific shape that establishes the animal’s ownership. A single dancer moves her body into the shape of the horns, tended by people who were terribly exploited; Sinopoli associates them with the haikulike poems of the Afghan girls, which function as a kind of secret communication about their struggles.

The fifth piece involves women moving their bodies to different forms of Latin jazz. For Sinopoli, contemporary music and the art, craft and narratives of various cultures are all grist for the creative mill. She also gets inspiration from a journal in which she writes down phrases culled from her extensive reading: pages and pages full of “rich visual imagery.” Described by one critic as “magicians in motion,” Sinopoli’s dancers distill these variously inspired forms and concepts into an exciting language of rhythmic movement and abiding grace.

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, Saturday, December 1, 7:30 p.m., $30 general admission/$10 children & students with ID, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, 120 Broadway; (845) 757-5106, ext. 2 or 10, www.kaatsbaan.org.