By: Stefanie Sears
County College of Morris Adjunct Professor in the Dance department, proud CCM alumni, and choreographer Colleen McArdle presented her new piece “Once…” for the HATCH series at The Works Studio in New York City on Sat. March 30.
McArdle began working on “Once…” in September and it premiered in March on CCM’s main stage on campus.
“An evolving process,” says McArdle, “It was not created for HATCH. It just wound up being something that I thought would be a good fit at that program.”
Created in 1997, HATCH – The Saturday Presenting Series is a way to give dance artists an opportunity to share their work and engage in conversation. McArdle became aware of this program when CCM used to host the American College Dance Association. Jennifer Muller, who founded Jennifer Muller/The Works in 1974, was one of the judicators for the conference.
“Once…” marks McArdle’s fourth or fifth time presenting her work at HATCH. The last time she participated was in 1998 or 1999 when she was the Co-Director and Business Manager of the dance company BeyonDance Inc. Now as a professor, she has maintained her professional connections in the performance world so that her students could have real world experiences relevant to their career paths.
“I am proud and lucky to work in a department at the college where myself and my colleagues are still working in the professional careers they currently teach.”
A key difference between this performance and her last one for HATCH is that this is her first time choreographing her students for the event as opposed to company members. McArdle’s piece will be performed by Kara Byrnes, of Andover; Noelle Cappuzzo, of Succasunna; Courtney Crerand, of Lake Hiawatha; Jessica Giraldo, of Wharton; Grace Logue, of Vernon; and Sabrina Olivieri, of Long Valley.
Although company members are trained professionals, McArdle appreciates that her students bring a lot of that same maturity and seasoned performance experience to this project.
“I like work that is dramatic and look for dancers who have good technical skills in addition to performers who make strong acting choices,” she says.
McArdle was inspired to create the piece after hearing its accompanying music, “Redeemer” by Steven Sharp Nelson, best known as “The Cello Guy” of “The Piano Guys.”
“The sound of the cello came across so hauntingly and gave me the feeling of both loneliness and hope. The concept for the dancers was to work in a small space and portray the journey and experience of surviving in a difficult snapshot in time. What that snapshot is was specifically left vague so the viewer can bring their own thoughts and experiences to that answer. The idea was to make the concept universal.”
Although this music choice is definitely important, McArdle refers to “Once…” as a unit piece, meaning that the music is not counted out for the dancers to connect to through their breath.
“There’s a lot of visceral acting involved as opposed to counting out beats to music, so actors have to really be in tune with each other to create this piece.”
After BeyonDance Inc. disbanded, McArdle choreographed more so for high school and college students, hence why she has not been contributing her own more personal works to HATCH these past years.
“You’re really taking your art, putting it out there, and then sitting down in front of the audience that had just experienced it and asking for their feedback,” says McArdle on the challenges of the process, “If they like the piece, you’re happy. If they don’t, it’s tough to swallow and to listen to, but that’s the point to me of art. You want the audience to understand, you want to have a communication with them. In the past, I did tend to be very specific and I found through these types of workshops and in my own experience that sometimes being a little more vague and metaphoric allows the viewers to come to the piece with their own personal feelings and experiences.”
Although she does both, “Once…” is a great example of her pieces demonstrating the specific versus the vague.
“For this particular piece, I thought to leave it a little bit broader was the right way to go.”