Gemma Bond's "The Go Between" was danced by Kyra Coco and Finnian Carmeci at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park. (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
wI’m a dance critic. I review dance, not the venues they are presented in.
But I can’t contemplate the marvelous Limon Dance Company who performed a challenging program with American Ballet Theatre Studio Company on Saturday night, until I put down my distressing thoughts on Kaatsbaan Cultural Park.
The venue, a decades-old incubator devoted to dance, has changed. It’s changed a lot. And not for the better.
Sometime during the early months of 2020, its co-founders, Greg Cary and his late husband Bentley Roton, who made the then Kaatbaan International Dance Center, their lives’ work, were ousted by the board. The reason is unclear.
But since then, not only has the name of the venue changed but so too in how it presents dance -- outside only – a baffling move as Cary and Roton built an intimate 160-seat, well-equipped black-box theater.
Being outside was a problem on Saturday night as the Hudson Valley temperatures hovered in the low 60s and upper 50s. And it was raining. It was no night to sit outside in an open meadow. It was no night for dancers to be performing on an open-air stage.
Now a lot of venues are outdoors, which is usually lovely in the summer months. Think Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Jacob’s Pillow. In Saratoga, the show can go on in the rain and patrons who bought lawn tickets to dance and classical music performances are often invited inside the amphitheater. At Jacob’s Pillow, they cancel shows when it rains on their outdoor stage.
Then there are places like PS/21 in Chatham. For years, dancers performed under a tent, similar to the one now at Kaatsbaan. But patrons were also under the tent, which help stopped some of the rain from inundating the stage.
Moreover, at both Jacob’s Pillow and PS/21, seats are provided. Not at Kaatsbaan. Audiences must bring their own chairs or blankets, which they must haul about a half mile to the stage. There are golf carts that can give ticket holders, many who are seniors, a bumpy ride down to the stage located in one of the meadows within its 153-acre complex.
Once there, ticket holders can’t just plop down their chairs. They are divided into premium payers, $65 on Saturday night, or $45 general admission patrons who sit farther back. The only amenities for the audience are sales of Millbrook wine, snacks and Kaatsbaan swag. That’s fine, but they could consider some comforts. For example, PS/21 always supplied its patrons blankets on chilly nights.
In the fine weather, I’m sure it is grand. But on Saturday night, it was miserable for all. There was a delay to the start to towel down the stage. Once the dancers finally took to the boards, there was another delay after a rained heavily during George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” Audiences scrambled as the dancers kept going in this technically taxing ballet, to their own detriment as it’s dangerous to dance on a wet stage.
The program also had to be cut because darkness was approaching and there is no lighting to guide audiences along the paths back to the parking lot.
This is all a shame as both the Limon Dance and the ABT Studio Company, a feeder to the main American Ballet Theatre, are wonderful.
For example, the versatile Savannah Spratt was commanding in company Artistic Director Jose Limon’s “Chaconne” to Bach and delicate and vulnerable as the Moor’s wife in his “The Moor’s Pavane,” the night’s highlight. Based on Shakespeare's "Othello," the dance, to music by Henry Purcell, centers on the deception and betrayal that ends in death. Eric Parra as the Moor and Joey Columbus as his conniving friend oozed a toxic intensity that cut through the surrounding misty air. The cold air was fitting.
The Studio Company’s highlight was a divine rendering of Kenneth McMillian’s gentle “Concerto” pas de deux with dancers Kyra Coco and Finnian Carmeci. Unlike many young dancers who are concerned about getting the steps right, they emoted a connection underneath the slow, simmering dance to Shostakovich that was beautiful.
They deserve better and so do Kaatsbaan audiences.