That the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company has survived to celebrate a 30-year anniversary comes as no surprise, except perhaps to its founder.
“I just wanted to get through the first year,” Sinopoli said. “When I formed the company in 1991 I was new to the area and wondered at my stage of life if I was going to stay in the world of dance. I’d been teaching dance at Russell Sage College.”
Fans of her company are glad she did. On Saturday, March 13, her company presents its third virtual performance on YouTube to feature two of her most popular dances, a premiere and another from her repertory. The session also includes live comments with her dancers, Sinopoli and some pre-recorded comments from two of the composers. Register by Tuesday, March 9.
But having her own company meant another challenge: choreography.
“I’d worked in Boston for ten or eleven years teaching dance to high school kids when I began to experiment with choreography,” Sinopoli said. “I wanted to try and work with professional dancers. I didn’t want to form a dance school.”
Once in the Albany area, Sinopoli rented studio and rehearsal space and began to audition dancers. Word must have got around because after barely one year, The Egg approached her and asked her to become the venue’s resident dance company.
“We got bigger studio/rehearsal space and later they gave us administrative space. It was very fortuitous,” she said. “That’s an irony now because the Egg’s been closed and we’ve had no access to studio space so we’re back to renting space for rehearsals. My home is my office.”
Although the company’s schedule of about 20 performances a year has been hit “tremendously,” Sinopoli tries to stick to what the company’s mission has been since the beginning. It’s always had three initiatives: concert work; education whether in schools or through workshops; and collaboration sometimes with other disciplines or through outreach with galleries, museums or in outdoor spaces.
Since last year, the company has presented two virtual events, participated with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s Learning Library and had a video residency at a Cohoes elementary school. Sinopoli has also kept her six dancers going in weekly classes, which now have expanded to four times a week.
“My patrons were very generous and I got some federal funding,” she said. “The dancers were never laid off. We’ve been fortunate and we’ve been able to hang on. I know of small companies that have shut down. But in the midst of this pandemic, I’ve created two new dances and I’m fortunate to have my dancers. Three of my dancers have been with me ten years.”
But having to choreograph a dance in which the dancers must social distance as well as wear a mask has been challenging.
“It’s hard to breathe with a mask,” Sinopoli said.
Although her dances still require a certain degree of high energy, she paces her dancers by having them do a segment and then go backstage to take off the mask and get their breathing to normal. Social distancing is also tricky, so for the first two virtual events, she used only three dancers at one time.
But her March event will involve the ensemble in “House of Fables” with music by Indian composer Devesh Chandra; and “Compas” to music by Flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski. The new work “Fade” is to the middle section of Henryk Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” Also performed will be the duet “Slipping Through.” Sinopoli has worked her choreography so that the dancers will have limited contact with each other.
The mood for the concert is also more contemplative than previous events.
“I wanted to examine the sense of isolation,” she said. “The inspiration came from Gorecki’s haunting music; a dear friend was slowly dying and how all this affected her; and I retired last spring after years of teaching at Russell Sage.”
To make this event more lively than just a pre-recorded performance on Zoom that had been edited, Sinopoli asked Chandra and Zamantauski, her two commissioned composers, to give a four minute pre-recorded video about their music; will have her dancers talking live about their takes on the dances; and a question and answer session with Sinopoli herself on how the company has adapted to changing times.
“It’s still a challenge,” Sinopoli said. “We’re in upstate New York and not a national touring company. Our thirtieth anniversary is not what I would have ever thought it would look like.”
And having competent, talented dancers who are willing to live locally and not be based in New York City or other metropolitan areas is a constant source of gratitude.
Her company looks ahead: during the summer from July through September, they’re hoping to do the weekly outdoor dances for Troy Night Out; and the Chesterwood Museum in Stockbridge, which is hosting a July exhibition of John Van Alstine’s sculpture, wants her company to collaborate in some outdoor performances with cellist Ashley Bathgate.
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
WHEN: March 13, 7 p.m.
Register by March 9 on www.sinopolidances.org
Suggested donation $25.