The dozen or so teenage dancers who make up the New Paltz-based Figures-In-Flight 4 dance company are heading off for college after working with their teacher and choreographer Susan Slotnick since childhood. Their final performance together will be Saturday, June 6 at 7 p.m. in the Quimby Theatre at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, 491 Cottekill Road. Tickets cost $20 at the door.
Slotnick’s first dance company, Figures-In-Flight 1, was followed by Figures-In-Flight 2 and then 3. Figures-In-Flight 4 will be the final group, she says; Slotnick is retiring both her dance school and the dance company. But not before a grand finale for her youth company, whose accomplishments have sometimes been overlooked, she says, because of the tremendous amount of attention given to another dance company Slotnick fostered: Figures-In-Flight Released, a group of formerly incarcerated adult male dancers who learned their art through Slotnick’s weekly volunteer work in Woodbourne Correctional Facility over the last 20 years.
Saturday night’s performance will be all about the students. “These kids are fantastic dancers who are on a professional level,” says Slotnick. “They deserve their final show to be about them. They’ve worked hard, they’ve made sacrifices, and I want them to get the glory of the last show on their own.” Figures-In-Flight 4 has performed by invitation at the prestigious Battery Dance Festival in New York City and appeared at The National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs as well as at Mohonk Mountain House.
The final show will highlight approximately eight of Slotnick’s best dances from over the years, culminating in a performance of “Welcome to the World,” to be presented for the final time. “It’s my signature piece,” says Slotnick, “the best work of my entire 35-year career.” With a message that promotes world peace, the work explores the universal human experience through themes of separation, war, suffering, love and reconciliation.
In her own words — Slotnick is, of course, familiar to New Paltz Times readers through her regular columns written about themes of social justice — she described “Welcome to the World” in the following way:
It begins with group of dancers, all lifting their arms to form a peace sign. A homeless woman comes on stage. A seven-year-old boy gives her some money. A human being is swept across the floor. With each musical change, the scenes, one after another, are a montage of unrelated events all about the constantly shifting world. A bell rings! The dancers form a line where each dancer merely looks at one person after another. The dance ends when a clump forms stage left while one dancer after another is lifted up and lowered.
The destruction of the World Trade Center and the Boston Marathon bombing resulted in an opportunity for people to become their best selves — to help each other. My vision for the end of the dance was to bring a moment like that to the stage.
When Figures-In-Flight 4 complete its performance of “Welcome to the World” at SUNY Ulster on Saturday, Slotnick says she intends to bring on stage “everybody that ever studied with me who’s there, every teacher I ever had, and take a final bow with all the people who have helped me the last 35 years get to where I am.”
Slotnick has received a great deal of national and international recognition for her work with social justice and dance. She’s been featured in national magazines and been twice nominated a CNN Hero, named one of the “Greatest Women of the Day” in honor of women’s history month by The Huffington Post and been the subject of several public radio documentaries, one of which won a Gabriel Award. She received the Caring Heart Award from Dance Studio magazine and will be receiving a prestigious award from an organization of criminal justice lawyers next year.
Now Slotnick has hit the big screen at Cannes Film Festival, where “The Game Changer,” a documentary made about her work in the prison, has won a top prize. First-time documentary filmmaker Indrani Kopal won first prize at the American Pavilion’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes in the category of Best Student Documentary. “The Game Changer,” which was filmed locally last year and includes scenes of familiar sights on Main Street in New Paltz, made it into 16 film festivals altogether. After it leaves the festival circuit it will be available for viewing in wide circulation, but until then its trailer can be seen at https://indranikopal.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-game-changer-us-2014.html (or just Google “The Game Changer.”
The funny thing about all this attention, says Slotnick, is that she didn’t do a single thing to make it happen: not an e-mail, not a phone call. “For my entire career, I avoided notoriety and all the brouhaha. Nobody who wants to get known does choreography in a prison, where everything has to be kept secret, and nobody does choreography on my level with local kids and is perfectly happy for my entire career to have them be the people I expressed my choreographic skills with. So now, at the end, it’s very strange to have really wanted to stay under the radar where nobody would judge what I was doing, and it happens anyway. I’m out there.”
Retirement for Slotnick only extends to her dance school and company. She plans to continue her volunteer work teaching dance every Sunday at the correctional facility and will write her column for this newspaper “whenever I have a subject I really want to write about,” she says.
Slotnick is also working on her memoir: The working title is “Flight.” She was inspired by the honesty of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” [an account of the author’s personal journey coming to terms with devastating loss]. “She wrote the truth about herself and that’s what I loved about the book,” says Slotnick. “She had some objectivity about who she was.” But having written a similarly uncensored first draft of her own life, Slotnick is not at all sure at this early stage of the process whether she’ll eventually want to put her life story out there for judgment by the public.
“Before I get serious about publishing it, I have to ask myself if it’s okay if the entire world finds out about this thing, or that thing,” Slotnick says. “I have to think of my husband, my kids… if this book is out there, it’ll be out there forever.
The final performance of Figures-In-Flight 4 will be held this Saturday, June 6 at 7 p.m. in the Quimby Theatre at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, 491 Cottekill Road. Tickets cost $20 at the door.