If February’s arctic blasts and icy roads have left you in need of a lift, you’re in luck. For the first time, Baltimore County’s Commission on Arts and Sciences, in partnership with the Gordon Center for Performing Arts and Baltimore County’s dance community, is presenting “Take a Leap,” a month-long celebration of dance in the Baltimore area.
“On behalf of the Gordon Center and the JCC, we are honored to be partnering with the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences and leaders of our local dance community on our first-ever dance celebration month,” said Randi Benesch, manager of arts and culture at the JCC. “We are shining a bright light on all of the many incredible dance programs that already exist in the county.
“And we are thrilled to feature such an incredible internationally recognized company in Company E. Their focus on celebrating cultural diversity is a perfect fit for our community center.”
Company E was founded in 2011 in a rain forest in Peru, said Paul Gordon Emerson, the company’s executive director. Though based in Washington, D.C., the repertory company spends much of its time traveling the world. In the past year alone, Emerson said, the company has performed, choreographed, filmed and collaborated with artists in Kazakhstan, Argentina, Spain, Italy and Tajikistan.
“Because we live in D.C. at the hub of the U.S. State Department, we can create programs in conjunction with the embassies,” Emerson said. “Our collaborations with the diplomatic community, both overseas and in D.C., foster everything we do — it’s why we can make it happen.”
Most recently, Company E used its diplomatic connections to commission a new work for debut at Baltimore County’s dance celebration. “Pulver,” created by Italian choreographer Walter Matteini, will be the centerpiece of Company E’s “Other Voices” concert at the Gordon Center on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.
“By putting this [celebration of dance] together, Baltimore County and the Gordon Center are doing something really courageous and important and necessary,” said Emerson. “We made a strategic decision to put our best foot forward and present something new for this concert.”
In addition to the world premiere of “Pulver,” Company E will present works by Spanish, Kazakhstani, and Israeli choreographers.
“Alma,” a dance choreographed by Tel Aviv-based Israeli choreographer Rachel Erdos with music composed by Alberto Schwartz, is one of the works to be featured.
“In many languages the name ‘Alma’ means ‘apple,’ ” said Emerson. “It is also a girl’s name in Hungary. The piece has 100 green apples on the stage. The dance is fun for me and perilous for the dancers. From my vantage point, the finest choreography in the world is coming out of Israel. The dance scene there is really a melting pot, and [I think] one of the reasons it is so rich is because it takes advantage of so many cultures.”
In addition to “Other Voices,” Company E will present “Jungle Book,” a family-friendly dance production based on the classic children’s story, on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Gordon Center.
“A big part of our conversation has been about wondering, ‘How do you bring contemporary dance onto people’s radar screens and make them not afraid of it — especially young people?’ That’s a big concern for us,” said Emerson. “ ‘Jungle Book’ lends itself to dance, and what’s been the most fun [about this production] is that we’ve populated it with children from Towson University’s dance department. We have the children dancing right alongside the professionals.”
Company E’s role in Dance Month is not limited to performance. They will also be artists-in-residence for Baltimore County’s Public Schools during their visit to Baltimore.
Other upcoming highlights of Dance Month include “Meet the Artist,” with Nilas Martins, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, performances of “A Gershwin Rhapsody” and “The Firebird” by the Baltimore Ballet and a free screening of the dance-themed documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom.”
Fronda Cohen, director of the Commission on Arts and Sciences for Baltimore County, said Dance Month has “ignited a creative spark in the arts community.” In fact, said Cohen, artists who work in other mediums such as the visual arts have gotten involved in Dance Month by creating interdisciplinary programs such as the visual art exhibition “Move! A Celebration of the Human Figure in Motion” from the Towson Art Collective.
“The program was developed in part to showcase the strength and variety of dance that already exists in Baltimore,” said Cohen.
“We saw that dance was a bit under the radar, and there was a role we could play in bringing together all of these companies. There is really a lot going on [with dance] in Balti-more County. We have 15 different companies participating.”
“We made Dance Month a real priority in our season this year,” added Emerson. “It’s been very powerful to get this going, and we hope to see it happen year after year.”
For tickets and information, visit jcc.org/gordon-center/dance-performances.