Artistic directors Jennifer McQuiston Lott and Brent Whitney, a Traverse City native, are bringing together professional dancers, apprentices, choreographers, and musicians for two shows at the City Opera House.
The vision for this project stemmed from a desire the two shared to create a professional dance company in a smaller, Midwestern city.
Given Brent’s upbringing and familiarity with the area and the Traverse City area’s long-standing enthusiasm for the arts, the duo decided to launch their concept here.
Then came the hard part: actually making it happen. “We talked about it for two years,” said Lott, a native of Indianapolis.
They finally decided to take a chance and the Traverse City Dance Project debuted in 2012.
“I was in graduate school in California in 2011 and decided it was the best graduate project,” Lott said.
The two had a Kickstarter campaign and raised enough money to put on the show in 2012, which was deemed a success.
But when it came to year two, Lott was finishing grad school and Whitney was busy in New York, so they passed on 2013.
Now they’re back, and their increasing familiarity with the region and its resources has Lott more excited than ever. She’s taught the past two summers at Interlochen; her colleagues are among those who will be providing the music, the bulk of which is live.
Musical director Steve Larson and conductor Matt Schlomer are both from Interlochen, as is vocalist Courtney Kaiser-Sandler.
Other musicians include Lott’s husband, Son Lux, with arrangements developed in collaboration with DM Stith; Jade Brings Plenty from Loch Lomond, who grew up in Traverse City; six string players from the area; and local musicians The Accidentals.
Dancers in the 2014 company include Lott and Whitney, along with Sarah Atkins, Marcia Hetrick, Seyong Kim, Justin Koertgen, Amy Saunder, Michael Spencer Phillips, Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe, Katelyn Somers, and Jeremy Zapanta.
A new addition to this year’s programming is the company’s apprentice program.
During the two-week rehearsal time, dancers from Interlochen Arts Academy, Dance Arts Academy and Ballet Etc. will join the professionals.
The company will be presenting two works. The first is a contemporary version of Henry Purcell’s tragic 17th century opera, “Dido and Aeneas,” with choreography by Lott, Whitney, and guest artist Nicola Conraths.
The second piece is Gerald Arpino’s classic masterwork, “Birthday Variations.” It is being staged by former Joffrey Ballet dancer Cameron Basden, director of dance at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Both performances will present modern takes on the pieces, said Lott.
“We use the stage differently,” she said. “The stage, the floor, plus we have live musicians. It’s wonderful.”
Lott said she is excited about the upcoming show as well as the region’s interest in dance.
“One of the surprising things to me is how many people have a commitment to dance in Traverse City,” she said. “It’s a vibrant arts community. Brent suspected [the interest], but hadn’t experienced it as an adult.
“There’s really great support for dance.” Lott says she is hopeful the performances will spark even more local enthusiasm.
“They should be prepared for a very immersive experience,” she said. “This is a chance to see dance up close. You can hear their breathing.”
Dance enthusiasts can also attend rehearsals to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how such a show is put together. Admittance to rehearsals is free, but seats must be secured in advance. To do so, email traversecitydanceproject@gmail. com. Lott says the best days for rehearsal attendance are Aug. 6-9.
The Traverse City Dance Project performance will take place Aug. 15 and 16 at 7:30pm at the City Opera House. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more, visit tcdanceproject.org.