In a crossover world in which dancers may do ballet one season and ballroom or Broadway the next, the Purchase Dance Company is ready for anything.
The company, formerly the Purchase Dance Corps, is made up of students whose skill in performance belies their status as apprentices. Many go on to major dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Dance Company as well as Broadway and Hollywood. Among its most acclaimed graduates is Terese Capucilli, a Graham principal dancer who was one of the last to be coached by Graham herself and who is now artistic director laureate of the company.
“The dancers are versatile and strong technically so that they can do contemporary dance or ballet,” says Nelly Van Bommel, acting director of The Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, the company’s home.
That versatility will be on display Dec. 6 through 9 when the company performs at the college’s Dance Theatre Lab. The program will include a piece by Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), an early Graham dancer who went on to create sociopolitical works and help found The Actors Studio in Manhattan. Also on the bill are two contemporary dance works — one by Rena Butler, a 2011 alumna who is now a choreographic fellow with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, assisted by Ailey dancer Chalvar Monteiro; and one by Romanian ballerina Ana Maria Lucaciu, most recently of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
“So works by three women, and I insisted on that as many choreographers are male,” Van Bommel says. “We try to shine a spotlight on female choreographers as much as we can.”
Rounding out the program will be a contemporary ballet by Norbert De La Cruz III, who danced with the Joffrey Ballet.
Students audition for the fall and spring concerts and, typically, about half (90 to 100) wind up performing in them. (There are 180 women in the program and 35 to 40 men.)
“Last spring, there were nine guest artists and every single student performed,” Van Bommel says.
The company takes advantage of other performance opportunities as well. This past May, Purchase was part of New York Live Arts, described on its website as a Manhattan “center of diverse artists devoted to body-based investigation that transcends barriers between and within communities.” It’s led by Rockland County-based choreographer Bill T. Jones, co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. In the fall of 2017, 10 dancers from the Purchase Dance Company were selected to perform at the Kuandu Arts Festival at the Taipei National University of the Arts, which has an exchange program with Purchase College. In Taiwan, Purchase Dance Company members attended lectures, participated in and led workshops and performed two works, including Conservatory of Dance alumnus Doug Varone’s “Lux.”
Van Bommel describes Purchase dance students as “academically strong and driven.” They have to be. Given that this is a professional training program, the emphasis is on dance but not exclusively. So the day may begin with academics, two technique classes then rehearsals and more academics and choreography in the evening.
“Many go on to performing, choreographing and directing,” Van Bommel says. “They’re extremely entrepreneurial. We give them the best possible tools to be the best, because today you have to create your own opportunities.”
For more, visit purchase.edu/dance.