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Terra Firma Dance Theatre settles down and heats up in New York City

By Leah Gerstenlauer.

How does where an artist is affect what he creates? While location isn’t everything to dance impresario Stuart Loungway, the connection between geography and artistry is playing a pivotal role in the development of his burgeoning company, Terra Firma Dance Theatre. Originally incorporated in Highland Park, New Jersey over a decade ago, the small non-profit will make definitive moves into Manhattan this fall, a transition that Loungway views as essential to the organization’s vitality.

“You have to place yourself in an environment that promotes risk-taking and supports capacity-building,” he says. “In terms of audience-goers and funders, there’s more latitude of perspective in New York City. The receptivity is greater than anywhere else.”

Having danced for the Joffrey, San Francisco and American Repertory Ballets before building a following as a teacher and choreographer throughout the Northeast, Loungway has certainly established a keen sense of when and where best to take an artistic risk. He is well aware that there is a certain responsibility inherent to any creative enterprise — that even the most groundbreaking art must invite rather than alienate in order to be meaningful.

“The company is devoted to demystifying the arts, ballet particularly. There are ways to promote accessibility that remain unexplored,” Loungway believes. “We try to challenge audiences while allowing them some sort of comfort zone — tethers to reach out to as their horizons expand.”

Terra Firma Dance Theatre performing pas de deux

Terra Firma Dance Theatre. Photo by Ted Kivitt.

One of those tethers is the company’s core group of dancers, whose classical training supports Loungway’s philosophy that ballet is an essential element to all choreographic endeavors. In generating contemporary work, his mission is not to demolish the traditions of dance performance, but rather to use its rich history to energize and challenge today’s audiences and artists. The intended result: a more sustainable, vital atmosphere for dance.

Loungway is particularly invested in paving the way for emerging choreographers who share his viewpoint on purposeful dance-making that both nods to the past and speaks to the future. Terra Firma’s spring performance at Middlesex County Performing Arts Conservatory in East Brunswick, New Jersey featured new pieces by Loni Landon and Manuel Vignouelle, two of the artistic director’s long-time students.

“Their choreography isn’t classical in any sense of the word,” Loungway says of his young collaborators. “Yet there’s an inherent structure to it because they both have superb ballet technique. I think it’s crucial for new artists to feel unconditionally supported, so I’m looking forward to providing a platform for their work again in the future.”

He will have an opportunity to do just that later this year when Terra Firma recreates the program from its East Brunswick engagement in New York City (exact date and location details will be announced this summer). In addition to Landon’s and Vignouelle’s compositions, the bill will include Loungway’s own recent world-premiere, Stagioni, featuring New York City Ballet Soloist Lauren King.

“I’m excited about our continued foray into the city dance market, about developing our visibility and reaching a broader audience,” Loungway enthuses. “There are countless curious and interested dance-goers out there, and I feel privileged to have this opportunity to make an impact.”

For more information on Terra Firma Dance Theatre, Stuart Loungway or the company’s fall performances, visit www.tfdance.org/bios.html.

Photo (top): Terra Firma Dance Theatre’s Izabela Szylinska. Photo by Marcin Szrot.

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