NEWPORT—Middletown resident Rachel Balaban is not a professional dancer, but this weekend she will perform six times in front of hundreds of people in Newport. She is one of about 50 individuals from the community who are inspired to be part of “Open for Dancing,” the sixth biennial outdoor celebration of dance, conceived and produced by Newport’s professional dance company, Island Moving Company.
“It’s an opportunity to dance in an exhilarating environment,” said Balaban, an educator, who has been part of the dance festival since its inception in 2002. “It’s all about the process,” she said. “You get to see and be part of the making of a dance from the very beginning.”
The creative process is indeed an integral component for all involved with Open for Dancing. Island Moving Company’s executive director, Dominique Alfandre, is careful to assemble a creative team of dancers, choreographers and collaborating artists, who have ranged from musicians to poets, fashion designers and a children’s choir. With only three days of rehearsal, these professionals team up everyday people—some who have danced all their lives, and some who never have and always wanted to—and create three separate dances in three different locations in Newport.
This year’s magnificent venues include a wooded grove of trees on the campus of Salve Regina University; the terrace of Gray Craig, a private estate overlooking Second Beach in Middletown; and the Newport Opera House’s outdoor construction site.
“The experience is transformative,” Alfandre said. For participants, “it’s so thrilling to be part of that creative dance,” she said.
From children to senior citizens, former dancers to bankers and engineers, “anyone who can move can be in Open for Dancing,” said Alfandre.
Shane Farrell, one of the company’s principal dancers, knows well the challenges and rewards of working with such a diverse ensemble in such a unique environment.
“Most of the people who do this are not dancers,” Farrell said. “So they do a lot of the gesture work. It’s like telling a story and using people from the community to help explain it.”
From this partnership comes “magic,” according to Deborah Lohse, a New York City choreographer, who will create a dance set to an original score at the Salve Regina wooded labyrinth.
“I want to keep the movement simple so [the dancers from the public] can own what they’re doing,” she said. “I want them to focus more on the ‘how,’ not the ‘what.’ ”
Noting that the creative process is most important to her work, Lohse has planned a “natural runway” of sorts which will require dancers to appear in various stages of gowns designed with crystal chandeliers. Lohse hopes that the dancers—moving to tranquil music—will be able to experience “moments of reflection” as they walk and dance in what she calls a “durational performance.”
“I’m really interested in making something beautiful,” Lohse said.
At the Gray Craig estate, choreographer John-Mark Owen will stage a performance to “Rhapsody in Blue,” and at the Newport Opera House, a sound score using children’s voices will provide the music for Yanira Castro’s choreography.
No matter what the setting, Alfandre said, each dance promises every participant the opportunity “to be part of a work of art and to work with fabulous artists.”
These promises echo the conception of Open for Dancing, which was the brainchild of a committee of the Island Moving Company, charged with finding a way to commemorate its 10th anniversary in 2002. According to Alfandre, who has been affiliated with the company for 30 years and served on the committee, the founders wanted to highlight Island Moving Company’s love of collaboration, its connection to the community, its ability to create new works of art and its ideal setting amid the stunning landscapes of Newport.
Open for Dancing has become a popular staple for the Newport dance troupe, which is classically trained, with both traditional and contemporary repertoires. The festival typically attracts hundreds of spectators and is the only one of its kind in the nation.
Farrell believes that the raw, onsite aspect of Open for Dancing is one of its attractions. “It heightens your senses; it creates a bigger picture,” said Farrell.
This is refreshing for a professional dancer like Farrell. “You’re not just listening for an audio cue. You get to feel the wind brush against you or the leaves beneath your feet,” he said.
Balaban, who has participated as a community member in every festival, has been enthralled by all of the settings she has danced in. She recalls performing in places as remote as a bird sanctuary and as unique as the top of Fort Adams.
“If you want to be immersed in the creative process risk-free, you have a sense of adventure and you want to perform,” Balaban said, “then you should participate.”
“Most importantly,” she said, “if you want to witness magic and be part of magic, then Open for Dancing is for you.”
The festival itself in many ways reflects the hallmarks of Island Moving Company, which is the only site-specific ballet company in the country, meaning that it does not have its own home theater.
“The places where we perform are very much what we do,” said Alfandre.
Open for Dancing spans five days and includes master classes, evening events, panel discussions with the artists and all rehearsals. Cost for participation is $150. Student cost is $75.
Performances are free and open to the public; they run Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21 and 22, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. For a detailed schedule, check www.islandmovingco.org .