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Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre hosts free public dance festival in Middle Village

Susie McHugh + Dancers perform "The Rat's Lab for the Haunted" at the Queens Outdoor Dance Festival 2021 at LaRussa Studio on June 6, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre (SLDT) hosted its 12th Queens Outdoor Dance Festival at LaRussa Studio in Middle Village on June 5.

The free event took place in the backyard of LaRussa Studio, where eight dance companies and choreographers showed off their skills in front of a limited live audience ranging from modern to classical dance.

The six dancers of the improvisational Open Dance Ensemble created a piece titled “When We Connect,” highlighting the internal connection between the body, mind and spirit. The dance had taken on a new meaning after the COVID-19 pandemic, asking humans how they treated the body, mind and spirit connection during isolation and what they learned from it.

The Open Dance Ensemble performs “When We Connect” at the Queens Outdoor Dance Festival 2021 at LaRussa Studio on June 6, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Choreographer Emma Holtzman explained that they started working on the piece in January of 2020 and worked on the dance virtually throughout the pandemic.

Holtzman, who has been dancing for 20 years, admitted that she cried when the dance troops met for rehearsal in person.

“I had gone 14 months without being in a studio and just being with people. That first rehearsal made me cry. It was such an amazing feeling,” Holtzman said, with her fellow dancers Luca Villa, Devyn Ciccio and Sara Pizzi chiming in “that it was beautiful to be back in the studio.”

Performers Ellen Mihalick and Billy Blanken of the Sheep Meadow Dance Theatre danced “Sonata” to Bach Cello Suite 3 Prelude performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

Sheep Meadow Dance Company performs “Sonata” at the Queens Outdoor Dance Festival 2021 at LaRussa Studio on June 6, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Blanken, a choreographer who founded Sheep Meadow Dance Theatre in 2016 as a medium for exploring movement through socially engaged dance practice with a repertoire ranging from site-specific performance art to classical ballet, shared that on June 22, the dance company will present an original full-length evening of dance titled “Season III: Sleeping Beauty.”

Blanken’s spin on the classic “Sleeping Beauty” is one of healing and rebirth combining artwork and life dance, and the dance company “is excited to share this living dance film as the New York theater and arts community reawakens after a challenging year.”

The event, which is supported by the Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre and the Sanctuary Roosevelt Island, will be live-streamed from the Culture Lab LIC at the Plaxall Gallery, and audiences can purchase tickets via Eventbrite.

Other performances included “The Rat’s Lab for the Haunted” by Susie McHugh + Dancers, “Exhalation in Exile” by the Shayna Maydela Project, “Feet can’t fail me now” by the Mari Meade Dance Collective, “About Zamba” by Dance Action, “Arsenic” by Leigh Ann Gann and “Emotion” by Indy Caudle.

Dance Action performs “About Zamba” at the Queens Outdoor Dance Festival 2021 at LaRussa Studio on June 6, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

SLDT’s artistic director and choreographer Salvatore LaRussa was thrilled to announce that the free dance festival will now happen twice a year — in June and October — and that SLDT, which is in its 12th year, had already secured funds through the Queens Council of the Arts for next year.

LaRussa said that they were transitioning safely back into in-person classes after a year of virtual classes.

“We also offer private voice and piano lessons that we started right before COVID. And now we’re just doing more. In the new year, you will see informal showcases where we pick five choreographers to show a work in progress, which would be inside the studio. And we’re creating a sort of art collective with other artists,” said LaRussa, whose dance company also produces at Alvin Ailey in Manhattan.

The nonprofit, which also receives support from state Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Robert Holden and the NY Department of Youth and Community Development, offers dance lessons ranging from ballet to modern dance and hip hop as well as playwriting and drama instructions for students ages pre-K and up.

For more information about the SDLT’s academy, visit sldt.org/the-academy.

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