A birthday party is the theme of one of three original dances that make up this weekend’s New Dance Festival in the Marigny Opera House. Feel free to bring a gift.
The festival lineup and the names of the four local choreographers represented were announced recently by Marigny Opera House co-founder and director Dave Hurlbert. The festival was first held in 2012, taking a two-year hiatus before returning this year.
Dances to be performed this weekend are “722 Toulouse,” based on the Tennessee Williams play “Vieux Carre” and choreographed by Will Byram; “That space between,” choreographed by Maritza Mercado-Narcisse; and “Birthday Sue,” choreographed by Angelle Hebert and Shannon Stewart.
The Polymnia Quartet, consisting of Kate Withrow and Benjamin Hart on violins, Amelia Clingman on viola and Philip von Maltzhan on cello, will perform Samuel Barber’s “String Quartet in B-Minor, Opus 11” behind “722 Toulouse.”
Von Maltzhan will play two cello sonata solos for “That space between,” and LadyBabyMiss (Olivia Marie) will accompany “Birthday Sue” on piano.
Dancers for “722 Toulouse” include Isabella Beninate, Leielani Ealey, Imani Gaudin-County, Celine Seiber and Ceylon Seiber. Mercado-Narcisse, along with Ellery Burton, Sierrah Dietz and Kehinde Ishangi, will dance “That space between,” and Hebert and Stewart will perform as a duet in “Birthday Sue.”
“Birthday Sue” explores relationships through the format of a birthday party, according to Hebert and Stewart. “It’s a cycle of situations and images conjuring up the unrelenting impact one’s actions have on others.”
Both will sing to accompany the work, as will LadyBabyMiss, a pianist/vocalist with the local band Over the Moon.
Like the best birthday parties, this work is intended to be a surprise. Stewart would divulge little about the performance, other than saying it will incorporate a good number of props.
“People can feel free to bring presents, and we will incorporate them into the dance,” she said.
Byram, a 2016 graduate of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, explained that although “722 Toulouse” is based on Williams’ experiences while living in the French Quarter, “It is not solely an adaptation of the quirky, yet dark, play. It is also an exploration of the characters that came to exist at 722 Toulouse Street in the year 1938.
“It’s kind of autobiographical about the boarding house he (Williams) lived in,” Byram said. “It has poverty and alcoholism and is very dark. And it’s more dance theater than modern dance. I think it should be exciting.”
Ealey will be performing the role of Williams. Celine Seiber is Williams’ landlady who played an important role in the development of his early writings. Ceylon Seiber is Jane, a Williams acquaintance who is believed to be the archetype for Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Mercado-Narcise describes “That space between” as “explor(ing) the moments between decisions, those small choices we make that can alter a path drastically.”
“It’s taking a look into those moments and those choices we make in our lives but in different directions and the consequences of those choices: good, bad or indifferent. It looks at the repercussions of making different choices through physical pathways and physical relationships between individuals.”
Taking the unusual step of being both the choreographer and a dancer in her own piece, Mercado-Narcise described it as being “very different; something I don’t normally do.” She’s using video replays to fine-tune the movements in the dance number.
“There’s a lot of floor work, spinal articulation and partnering, along with some improvisation,” she said. “The piece is alive and constantly shifting, which makes it really interesting. It’s more of a contemporary take on choreography.”