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Rioult Dance NY Summer Camp for Kids: Five Days of Fun, Fantasy and Fundamentals

by Bonnie Rosenstock
August 11, 2014
Gibney Dance Union Square
890 Broadway, 5th floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 677-8560
The students quietly spread out across the wooden floor, perhaps a little nervous, but also in eager anticipation of the first day of class. There was no talking, no distractions, only concentration on the challenges ahead, already comporting themselves like the professional dancers they hope to be. These were the eighteen youngsters who participated in the Rioult Dance NY five-day Summer Camp, which took place from August 11 to 15, 10 am to 4 pm, at Gibney Dance Union Square in Manhattan.

The Camp, geared to ages 9 to 13 was billed as advanced beginner, although some kids had more experience than others. "We called it 'advanced beginner' because we didn't want to exclude kids who had some dance experience," said teaching artist Marianna Tsartolia.

Eleven of the bright-eyed youngsters were returning students; the youngest, at nine, already had a lot of training under her belt and understood the fundamentals; and a handful had worked with Rioult Dance NY before. "They performed with us and are very talented. We are doing more classes with them on a regular basis and developed a special connection of dance with them," Tsartolia said.

The first class, from 10 to 11:30 am, which I observed, was rooted in the modern technique that the company is trained with, explained Tsartolia. She was assisted by Anastasia Soroczynski, who demonstrated and mirrored the movements from the front of the room. Both went around to individual students to offer corrections and encouragement.

"It is Graham with the influences and diversities that [founder] Pascal Rioult teaches to us, stylized and adapted for children," said Tsartolia. "There are also some elements on the structure and rhythmical patterns that I use from my studies and certificate from the Merce Cunningham studio."

The technique class consisted of the same format throughout the week, becoming progressively more challenging, with longer combinations and more steps. "By the end of the week, they were progressing well, even those who joined for the first time," she observed.

During the short break, I spoke to Summer Camp veterans Sierra Glasheen, Feleesha Jones and Thomas Locke, all of whom danced with the company in a section of Rioult's "Views of the Fleeting World" (2008) on Gala Night at The Joyce Theater in June. The New York Season, celebrating the company's 20th anniversary, honored Rioult mentors Martha Graham and May O'Donnell. The theme of the Season was the past, present and future, with the children representing the future.

Glasheen, 10, has been flying in from California for the past three years to attend Summer Camp and danced the lead in Rioult's re-imagining of Stravinsky's ballet score of "Firebird" (2003) when she was seven. Back home she studies ballet, "but taking modern has opened my horizons," she said. "I like the contractions and all the different things we do."

This is also the third outing for Manhattanite Jones, 13, who said, "I love the way they teach and love the way they dance." She was in the company's five-borough tour of Rioult's "Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions" (2008), a family ballet inspired by Deborah Sacarakis' poem of a young boy's dreams of becoming a dancer, his father's disapproval and the dream world he escapes to. "Small Steps" actively involves local school students in the creative process through a series of workshops, giving them an opportunity to perform onstage with professional dancers.

Summer Camp "makes you more alert because you have to be able to learn fast," Jones said. "Whether you want dance as a career or just for fun, it's the perfect place to go."

Locke, 12, the only boy in the bunch, agreed that it's the ideal place if you want experience in modern and Graham technique. The budding Broadway dancer, who commutes from Islip, Long Island, also takes the weekly Saturday class during the year. "I love coming here," he said.

After the break, the students learned a segment from "Dream Suite" (2014), set to Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in C, which had its world premiere at The Joyce. In the work, three of the dancers wore animal masks, two birds and one bull, inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall. As an artistic activity, the last hour of their schedule was mask making, taught by Tsartolia and Soroczynski. "We worked on the 'idea' of the mask, not the three characters of 'Dream Suite,'" explained Tsartolia. "They all made their own mask that they wore for the first minute of the piece, and then it was choreographed to be removed. The only character we kept was the 'Dreamer' for which we used our nine-year-old."

Tsartolia, who holds a certificate for fashion design from the Parsons School of Design, said, "We are very resourceful."

After lunch, from 1:30 to 3 pm, the students worked on their own choreography, expanded from last year's camp, titled "Hellos and Goodbyes." They chose the name because the theme was about reuniting with old friends, meeting new people and saying goodbye at the end of the workshop. "We not only teach the technical part of dance; we also give them a great opportunity to learn how to create and express themselves," said Tsartolia.

Soroczynski added, "They challenged themselves and worked hard throughout the week and demonstrated a lot of creativity for the choreographic process."

The students received headshots, taken by one of the Company dancers, Holt Walborn, and learned how to write their own bios. They were displayed on the wall on the last Friday, when families and friends came to see the fruits of their dedication and hard work.

The upcoming season will be Tsartolia's seventeenth year dancing with the company. In addition, she is the Education Director of DanceREACH, their Arts in Education Program. Soroczynski has retired from dancing with the company after twelve years and will concentrate on teaching. She is the Education Administrator for DanceREACH and, along with Tsartolia, is collaborating on the development of the planned Rioult Dance Center, which has not yet found a permanent home.

"Our goal is to enhance creative minds and bodies, not just kids that are coming and going to a dance class. That makes us different," said Tsartolia.

Links to Summer Camp 2014 videos:

- Repertory "Dream Suite": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOurriMMo-k
- New creation, "Hellos and Goodbyes": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3AIpnOSbRs
- Demonstration, How the new piece was created: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEyjRFGh9nk
- Class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loC8EBn1VPI

Saturday classes for this age group at the same level will resume in September for two ten-week semesters. For information, contact Marianna@rioult.org, Anastasia@rioult.org, or call 212-398-5901. Information about Rioult Dance NY's other programs and performing schedule, go to www.rioult.org.

Photo © & courtesy of Sofia Negron


Photo © & courtesy of Sofia Negron


Photo © & courtesy of Sofia Negron


Photo © & courtesy of Sofia Negron


Photo © & courtesy of Sofia Negron

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