Company offers professional dancers a New Orleans option _lowres

Photo by Elsa Hahne -- From left, Anna Iosipiv, Curtis Thomas, Britney Kuehn, Trey Mauldwin and Maya Taylor of the Marigny Opera House Dance Company.

A new, professional modern dance company at the Marigny Opera House is making it possible for dancers and choreographers to establish careers in New Orleans, and audiences can witness the results starting Friday, when the Marigny Opera House Dance Company kicks off its first season.

Opera House founding director Dave Hurlbert’s passions are music and dance, which blend perfectly with the decommissioned church building’s magnificent acoustics and grand space.

“We’re moving from being just a presenter of performance to being mostly a producer,” Hurlbert said. The recent creation of the dance company exemplifies the arts nonprofit’s producing role.

“We’re impresarios. We select the choreographers, who then create new work on our company,” Hurlbert said.

Program 1 opens Friday with three new modern works by company choreographers Donna Crump, Diogo de Lima and Maya Taylor. Each 15- to 20-minute piece is accompanied by live acoustic music.

Crump’s “The Fun Police” is performed by violinist Donald Surtain and saxophonist Oliver Bonie.

The Young Fellaz Brass Band, of Frenchmen Street fame, will accompany de Lima’s “Blast.”

For “Selcouth Liaisons,” Taylor selected music by Italian avant-garde composer Giovanni Sollima, to be performed by six cellists led by Elise Butler-Pinkham.

A gala reception will follow Friday’s performance with Honorary Chair and District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey.

For Program 2 (Jan. 23-25), the dance company will present a collaboration by all three choreographers set to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” performed by the New Resonance Orchestra. Program 3 (April 17-19) will feature three premieres.

“When we opened the Marigny Opera House, we wanted to meet the dance community. So we set up the New Dance Festival and met choreographers that way,” Hurlbert said.

After the festival’s sold-out performances and enthusiastic audience response in 2012 and 2013, Hurlbert and dance festival producer Spencer Doyle decided to found a professional, modern dance company.

“There are a lot of beautifully trained dancers in this town. There are wonderful opportunities for dance training,” said Hurlbert, listing the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the New Orleans Ballet Association and Loyola and Tulane universities. “What we think is missing is a full-time professional company.

“Where do the dancers go after they’re trained? Well, right now in New Orleans there are two things you can do: You can leave, go to New York; or get another job and maybe once a year you can perform in a recital sort of fashion in some venue. Those are the options,” Hurlbert said.

“What we want is a very good dance company here with a full season, with dancers who will stay in New Orleans and inspire these dance students. We’re hoping that this dance company will inspire others to set up their own companies.”

Selected through citywide auditions, company dancers are Anna Iosipiv, Curtis Thomas, Britney Kuehn, Trey Mauldwin, Maya Taylor and Grant Johnson, with understudy Madison Alford and apprentice Will Byram.

“We’re employing six dancers who we’re paying for rehearsals, performances, to take extra classes and days off. What we’re presenting is a choice: You don’t have to go to New York. You can get the same pay and more performance opportunities if you stay here,” Hurlbert said.

Rehearsal Director Maya Taylor — who also is a company dancer and choreographer — said, “There are so many talented dancers and choreographers in the city who are hungry for opportunity. … I believe companies like the Marigny Opera House Dance Company are needed to provide opportunities to artists who are looking for a professional outlet.”