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Sinopoli company teams up with wood sculptor

Sinopoli company teams up with wood sculptor

Eight pieces by Troy wood sculptor/furniture maker Jim Lewis help dancers tell stories
Sinopoli company teams up with wood sculptor
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company will perform Friday night at The Egg.
Photographer: gary gold

Choreographer Ellen Sinopoli loves collaborations. Over the last 27 years in which her company has been The Egg’s resident dance company, she’s worked with poets, architects, physicists and numerous visual artists, among others.

On Friday, her company will present a restaging of her 2001 dance “From the Mind/of a Single Long Vine/One Hundred Opening Lives” in which she worked with Troy wood sculptor/furniture maker Jim Lewis.

“I knew of him because we both live in Troy,” Sinopoli said. “We were brainstorming and he showed me some pictures of African carved seats. I wondered what kind of stories they’d make if we strew them across a stage. So Jim did some prototypes and later I picked out my favorites.”

She chose eight pieces: a 13-foot long bench, another bench called a marriage bench; three scoops, a shield-like piece that has a backrest, a “suitcase” with a handle, and a throne that has six parts. All can be sat or leaned on and can tell multiple stories.

Thus, a scoop can become a calabash, canoe, cradle or a weapon. A backrest becomes a shield, a mask, an animal spirit. A dismantled throne becomes a coffin or the means to heal. Lewis used red or white cedar and did a lot of handcarving on each.

But what theme would she use? Can these pieces placed about the stage tell stories both private and universal, ancient and current?

“I stumbled on an 18th century Buddist quote by Chiyo-ni that perfectly represented what I wanted the dance to be about,” she said.

She titled her dance with that quote, which means that from these objects that are linked, a community of people’s timeless universal stories about its birth, childhood, death, conflict, marriage, traditions, leadership and healing are revealed. After several months working all this out, Sinopoli settled on using seven dancers to thread eleven sections together. The result is an evening-long dance of about seventy minutes.

Yes, there’s an African-inspired theme but there are no African-inspired dance moves.
“We are modern dancers,” Sinopoli said.

But the costumes are another thing. Long time dress designer Kim Vanyo turned to African-inspired colors and patterns for a luscious warm palette of golds, reds and browns.

The music is, however, African.

“I got tons of CDs and listened,” Sinopoli said. “I selected music whose lyrics matched my dance theme.”

Much of the music is by artists either African-American or from Africa, including Obo Addy, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Ashia Hakil, and Dingane Lelokoane. There are also master drummers such as Ipelegeng, Ali Jihad Racy and Rokia Traore and music from the group Sweet Honey on the Rock. 

The Egg Kids Project will begin the evening with a new dance from choreographer Sara Senecal called “To Give a Sound.”  This is the sixth year that Sinopoli’s company has presented the group, which consists of nine children aged 12 to 18 from dance studios in Queensbury, Saratoga Springs, and Albany, who auditioned and got the opportunity to work with her company dancers.

“It’s a way to introduce kids to concert dance within the modern dance idiom,” Sinopoli said.

Their dance explores sound from conversational rhythms and call and response with a partner to how movement can change the air around them whether the air is as thick as peanut butter or as light as helium filled balloons.

There’s also a pre-performance talk at 7:15 p.m. with Sinopoli, Lewis and Vanyo.


Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday April 12
WHERE: The Egg
HOW MUCH:  $25; $12.50, students/seniors
MORE INFO: 518 473-1845; www.theegg.org

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