Trenton dance group to portray trees coming to life in Dancescapes NJ

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Trenton’s mayor may be facing charges of bribery, fraud, extortion and money laundering, but the capitol city is still home to a number of jewels. Cadwalader Park — the “central park” of Trenton — was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the “father of American landscape architecture” who designed New York’s Central Park.

The 100-acres with undulating pathways will be the site for a commissioned dance performance about the land. DanceSpora, the resident dance company of Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company, will perform Dancescapes NJ on Saturday, October 6, in the park that hugs the Delaware & Raritan Canal, as well as at St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell Sept 22. Dancescapes NJ was commissioned by Passage Theater and D&R Greenway Land Trust, the organization that helped to preserve St. Michaels.

Dancescapes NJ will begin with a choice of three walks focused on nature, history or poetry through the landscape, along with the sounds of live acoustic music and birdsong.

DanceSpora Artistic Directors Heidi Cruz-Austin and David Austin met when she was dancing for the Pennsylvania Ballet (the two are married and have four children who sometimes perform Hip Hop with them).

David grew up in Trenton, not far from Cadwalader Park. He remembers when Ellarslie Mansion, now the home of the Trenton City Museum, was a monkey house, and seeing “the oldest living bear in captivity” in a cage.

Heidi, who grew up in Allentown, Pa., and David were given a tour of St. Michaels Farm Preserve with Greenway Vice President Jay Watson and learned about its history as an orphanage, and how the land is used today for farming and recreation.

In conversations with Passage Theatre Company Producer Kacy O’Brien, Austin got in touch with his own values of the land: visiting his relatives on farms, playing in creeks.

To choreograph Dancescapes, Heidi spent time at Cadwalader Park, finding the right spot, observing the elements of nature. “Dancers will portray Wind, Water and Vine in a trio,” she says. “Each dancer approaches movement in a different way to convey the character.” There will be a duet of trees coming to life. “It’s the first time they’ve moved,” she says.

In the opening section, “Seed,” women will be planting and paying homage to the land while a man is fertilizing. Another section, “Sun and Moon,” will show the male-female balance. “It’s a celebration of everyone coming together,” she says.

DanceSpora blends ballet, modern dance, jazz, contemporary movement, Hip Hop and house dancing. Heidi recounts how she and David were professional partners before they became romantic partners. “Our two styles were so different, but I believed we could create something out of that,” she says. Her father, from the Dominican Republic, was a professional dancer, and David’s mother, Wanda Austin, ran the Capital City Dance Company in Trenton. In the ’70s Austin was one of Trenton’s B-boys, and from 2003 to 2007 danced with renowned Hip-Hop troupe Rennie Harris Pure Movement.

“D&R Greenway has always connected to the aesthetic in bringing people to our work.,”  says Linda Mead, president and CEO. “Art, dance, performance and experiences on the land feed the soul – and open up creative ways of thinking about how we as individuals can make a difference.”

“Dancescapes is a further installment in Passage’s continuing attempt to show that the arts — particularly live performance — offers an accessible and immediate delivery system to reach more marginalized folks to learn about conservation,” says Passage Executive Artistic Director June Ballinger. “I know I don’t go out of my way to learn about the latest updates and news on the environment, but if I learn something from a story — particularly a live, well told story or something I can watch and be delighted by — I will definitely learn and remember and talk about it at dinner parties, where I’ll have more ears than if I recite facts from an article or a white paper.”

“Dancescapes will take on two different energies in its two locations,” says Austin. “But both will show that the land is beautiful.”

DanceScapes NJ will be performed Saturday, Sept 22, at St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell, and Saturday, Oct 6, in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. Both events begin at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $20 adults, $5 children. Rain dates: Sept 23 and Oct 7. www.passagetheatre.org ; www.drgreenway.org

The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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