Arts and Entertainment | Dance

Mazzini Dance Collective brings rep to New York

Before Annmaria Mazzini took her final bow for Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2011, the New York Times’ Gia Kourlas wrote that “her rare intensity has long emitted a palpable spark from the stage.” Her premature departure from the group was in part because of her impending hip replacement, though she was also expanding her horizons, looking outside of the dance bubble to the possibility of a family. 

But she was far from finished with her vocation. She said she was just gaining a maturity that allowed her to reach new emotional heights in her craft. So, after retiring from Taylor, she formed her own troupe to fuel her choreographic ambitions and to give young professionals a venue to perform modern repertoire.

“I was finding a new voice for myself, being a wife and a mother and ... having my second chance at having a career onstage,” Mazzini said in a recent phone interview. 

Now, three years after its inception, the Mazzini Dance Collective is gearing up for its first New York season at Ailey Citigroup Theater this weekend. 

Mazzini’s creations are cross-disciplinary. Whether she’s the subject of a photo series by Sarah Sterner or featured in a film by John Walter, her oeuvre navigates the visual and performing arts, eschewing boundaries between genres. 

“I’ve been in a dance studio for most of my life, and I don’t know a lot about film. I know what I like,” she said. “I don’t know a lot about how to do photography, but I know what I like. I’m inspired by it.”
Her most recent partner is composer-in-residence Robert Paterson, the current composer and artistic director of the American Modern Ensemble. 

“There’s a lot of drama and conflict within his music that I feel really lends itself well to the kind of movement and stories that I like to create in my work,” Mazzini said.

Paterson’s composition “Elegy for Two Bassoons and Piano” scores Mazzini’s new piece “Playing with Angels,” which is one of five numbers on the bill for the New York season. The tune’s theme is grief. Though it was originally commissioned by a bassoonist whose father had passed away, Mazzini found her stimulus for “Playing with Angels” in her dancer’s mourning process after the death of his mother, as well as from the birth of Mazzini’s own child. The dance reflects on the relationship between mothers and sons. 

Her second debut, “Criminal Commoners,” is set to more known rhythms, including songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, St. Vincent, and Cold War Kids. Often when choreographers venture into popular culture, their motions become cheap and laborious. However, one of Mazzini’s dancers, Johnny Vorsteg, noted the finesse within her aesthetic no matter the music. 

“She is able to find some really layered, some very rich and satisfying movement phrases and patterns and fit it into some very contemporary, fast eight counts,” he said. “There’s a lot of nuance with arms and the shape of an elbow, or the curve of a wrist spiraling around the back, or an over-crossed knee.”

Mazzini’s “Tower,” which concludes her portion of the program, premiered last fall and functions vertically to preserve horizontal space. 

While Mazzini is the primary choreographer for her company, she has invited guest artist Orion Duckstein to stage two works. Their paths have been intertwined since 1995, when they both joined Taylor 2, another of Paul Taylor’s companies, during the same season. After dancing together for 15 years, Duckstein retired from Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2010 to teach at Adelphi University. 

“Annmaria and I had a huge connection on-and off-stage,” Duckstein said. “So to get to dance with her again—it’s kind of like coming back to your home and your parents did something to ... the living room, but it’s a better living room for it.”

The duo will perform a pas de deux titled “When We Rise,” which, according to Duckstein, is named for the feeling he gets when he partners with his colleague and longtime friend. 

“That’s what happens when we rise. We wake. We dance. This is our lives,” he added. 

His other work, “Introducing Mrs. Stephen P. Baxter,” is a reflection on his grandmother, who was a Marine and an engineering graduate from Rutgers before she married and had kids. With nostalgic tunes by Les Baxter, the dance is interrupted by dialogue and interviews from male actors who intrude on the feminine sphere that Duckstein has constructed.

“Mrs. Baxter is a satire parody on the ’50s housewife, sort of the archetypes of gender in terms of women being the cult of domesticity and ... men being the breadwinners and the good husbands,” Vorsteg, who will play one of the Mr. Baxter types, said. 

While the Mazzini Dance Collective is primarily devoted to performance, it is also a means for aspiring artists to learn from the organization’s founder—and the dancers seem to be enjoying themselves in rehearsals before opening night. 

“There’s some lush, adagio-esque qualities in some of the pieces,” Vorsteg explained. “There’s some romance and some playfulness. But there’s also some darkness and, you know, some weightiness—some meat—and that’s fun to express and physicalize, those two parallels of opposing energy.” 

The Mazzini Dance Collective will perform at Ailey Citigroup Theater on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 7 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25. 

alexandra.villarreal@columbiaspectator.com | @allyevillarreal

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