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The Oliva Contemporary Dance Project

Dancing UpStream

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Francesca Dario and Kentaro Kikuchi of Oliva Contemporary Dance Project rehearsing - MICHELE OLIVA
  • Michele Oliva
  • Francesca Dario and Kentaro Kikuchi of Oliva Contemporary Dance Project rehearsing

Ten years ago, Gregory Cary, cofounder and artistic director of Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, created the "UpStream Series" to bring young, avant-garde modern dance companies from downtown New York City to perform in Tivoli.

Initially conceived as single-evening performances with three companies on the bill, UpStream is now funded by the NY State DanceForce (a collective of members of the NY dance community and subsidiary of the NYS Council on the Arts), and has evolved into an annual competition among 60 "emerging" companies, two of which are selected. Given a $500 grant for expenses and housed at the "Dancers' Inn" on Kaatsbaan's 53-acre campus, the companies create work during a weeklong residency that ends in a performance.

Cary's decision to expand the criteria for the competition (which now includes choreographers of all ages, some of whom are newly retired dancers who have formed companies) was mainly due to the plethora of New York City companies that have been forced to work in smaller spaces. "I noticed a lot of changes in the work of New York City choreographers over the years as they lost their long-used large studio and performance spaces due to prohibitively expensive rents," says Cary.

Enter the Oliva Contemporary Dance Project (OCDP), one of this year's two winners, which will be spending the week of May 4th at Kaatsbaan perfecting a new work in their large, light-filled studios and performing it on their Metropolitan Opera-size stage.

Trained in ballet and modern techniques in his native Italy, Michele Oliva began his career performing with Jamie King and other commercial chorographers who work in the world of pop music, touring widely with such internationally known singers as Geri Halliwell (the erstwhile Ginger Spice) and Kylie Minogue. As such, Oliva represents a new era of modern dancers. Extensively trained, they begin their careers as the hard-working dancers in large, lavish shows of well-known pop singers and then return to their roots to create works with depth and meaning in the world of concert dance.

Originally known as Compagnia Pantarei, Oliva and artistic codirector and lead dancer Francesca Dario (a notable dancer in her native Italy) moved to New York City in 2004 and reformed as OCDP. With their ability to embody his dynamic, exuberant movement vocabulary (a style synthesized from his exposure to a myriad of techniques), Oliva's dancers perform on stark stages, as well as over, under, and around familiar settings such as kitchen tables and ballet barres in dance studios. A choreographer who prides himself on breaking rules, Oliva deliberately incorporates dancers with diverse personalities and backgrounds to form his company.

Deep thinking and feeling, Oliva uses his insights to demonstrate peaceful solutions in his work, whether he's commenting on interpersonal relationships or group dynamics. In addition to the strife that sometimes appears, he also implies hope for humanity.

OCDP will premiere "LightISLife" at Kaatsbaan, an evening-long quintet exploring various concepts of light, utilizing light sources operated by the dancers that illuminate their bodies.

Realizations such as "Light can give life to anything, can turn on the mind and soul to the body" and "Light is an essential element for entering the world, but the essence of its unlimited power also has the ability to deceive and enable one to misinterpret aspects of reality," and that "Light can also serve as guidance in daily survival," were the jumping-off points for Oliva in creating this work. Music will be by electronica musician Murcof, sound artist Alva Noto, Academy Award-winning composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and prepared piano composer Hauschka.

Oliva Contemporary Dance Project, Saturday, May 10, 7:30pm. Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, Tivoli. (845) 757-5106; Kaatsbaan.org. Special ticket price for the UpStream series, $20.

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