STORY WRITTEN BY JARREAU FREEMAN
For Digital First Media
The studio pulsated with the scurry of ballet slippers sashaying across the floor at the Metropolitan Ballet Company headquarters in Jenkintown. A group of young dancers moved gracefully from one beautiful movement to the next as a recording of Faurè’s Pavane in F-sharp minor, Op. 50, performed by the Settlement Music School, fills the room.
On April 1, the dancers will be accompanied live by the Settlement musicians for the annual Variations/ Collaborations: An Evening of Music and Dance performance at William Penn Charter School. But for now, the Metropolitan dancers move freely to the recording with each gesture lovelier than the last.
This gentle piece, choreographed by Lisa Collins, the founder and artistic director of Metropolitan, was inspired by the soft melodies weaved throughout the composition.
“The Pavane is a really delicate piece of music, especially when performed live with a string ensemble,” she said. “The company is comprised of dancers ages 11 through 18 and I choose some of the younger dancers, who tend to be artistically quieter, to create a really feminine and delicate piece.”
For 18 years, Metropolitan and Settlement have joined forces to celebrate the power of music and dance, while highlighting the blossoming talent being groomed at their institutions. This year the Pennsylvania Ballet II, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s second company, is also set to perform. They will bring to the stage a classical pas de deux, as well as “Aloha,” an ensemble work recently created by ballet company member, Alexandra Hughes.
Collins’ piece will be one of many neo-classical dances featured in the show, but there will also be a selection of contemporary work, that is sure to challenge, as well as move the audience. One of those pieces, “The Deep Down Basic Wherever There Is” choreographed by Metropolitan alumna and instructor Sarah Mettin, explores the interconnectedness of humanity.
Clothed in all white, Mettin’s dancers take to the floor with a literal interpretation of a lecture recording of philosopher Alan Watts. At first their movements are stiff, and precise as Watts states, “What I am involves what you are. I don’t know who I am unless I know who you are.” As the performance progresses, Watts’ voice fades into an instrumental composition and the dancer’s movements become fluid and intertwined.
“Watts’ lecture really drives the dance,” Mettin said. “I found this lecture at a time when I was feeling a disconnection in my own life. When I heard it, I was moved by it immediately. When people see this piece, I don’t want them to just say, ‘That was a great dance,’ I want them to have a personal connection to it like I did.”
With approximately 36 Metropolitan dancers gearing up to take the stage next month, they’re also preparing to bring to life works by other notable chorographers such as Tommie-Waheed Evans, who is an artist-in-residence at Philadanco; award-winning Ohio-based chorographer Ashley Walton; and former Pennsylvania Ballet alumna and Metropolitan instructor Denise Somrack D’Angelo.
For 21 seasons, the Metropolitan Ballet Company has provided dancers with a unique take on classical ballet training that places an emphasis on performance while giving students the freedom to contribute to the creative process.
Variations/ Collaborations is a special performance, because it gives the pre-professional artists the opportunity to put their skills and creativity on display, while sharing this meaningful experience with friends, family, and other aspiring dancers.
“This is our grown-up show, where we feature new work, and the dancers have more artistic license in their performance,” Collins said. “The dancers also have the opportunity to work with familiar chorographers, as well as brand new chorographers, which is a great learning experience for them. I want people to come and see what beautiful dancers we have. I would be so thrilled if people took a chance on us.”