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Mark Gallucci

Seven-Year Itch

If you think you’ve seen him in recent weeks—talking at a phone booth in Center Square, chatting up old friends in a bar, strolling around the grounds of the National Museum of Dance—your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Bruce Bouchard is back, and as always, he has big plans.

Seven years ago this month, Bouchard left his post as artistic director of Capital Repertory Co., boarded a plane to Los Angeles, and began a new career in artist management. And although he is originally from Southern California, Bouchard leaves little doubt that he considers his recent return to the Capital Region a homecoming—in more ways than one.

“First of all, let me tell you how happy I am to be home,” he says in the ebullient tone of voice recognizable to anyone who encountered Bouchard during his 14-year tenure at Capital Rep. “Sometimes you have to go away to discover where your home is. The intriguing journey of my life has been L.A.-New York-L.A.-New York.”

For Bouchard, coming home also meant letting go his ambition of making it in the rat race of artist management, and returning to work in the field he loves—theater. “I finally came to the realization that it just didn’t suit me,” he says of Los Angeles and the dog-eat-dog hustle of the entertainment industry. “The whole time I was there I felt an itch and a pull to come home, and to come back to theater—my first language.”

At a press conference yesterday (Wednesday), Bouchard introduced his latest venture: Saratoga Stages, a nonprofit professional theater that will present both full-scale productions and developmental projects in the Lewis A. Swyer Studio, directly behind the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs.

The idea for the new theater arose out of phone conversations between Bouchard, who will serve as artistic director, and Saratoga Stages cofounders Lewis and Pat Titterton, friends of Bouchard’s for more than 20 years (Lewis Titterton was a founding board member of Capital Rep).

“The common passion that we really share is for developing and engendering new work,” says Bouchard, who explains that the plan is to present theater at all stages: workshops, readings, staged readings, facsimile productions and full productions. “And both the full productions and the developmental work will embrace all styles and genres,” he stresses. “We hope to excite an audience equally about watching staged readings and full productions.”

Another key player in the genesis of Saratoga Stages is Herb Chesbrough, the longtime president and executive director of Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Chesbrough was enthusiastic about bringing theater back to SPAC, and suggested the Swyer studio, which is part of the SPAC complex and will be the new theater’s temporary home. The goal, says Bouchard, is to eventually find a permanent home “and control our own destiny.”

Bouchard has bittersweet recollections of Los Angeles: The company he cofounded, Gold•Bouchard, ultimately failed, and the cutthroat environment wore him down. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he says, adding that “the entire way that independent films get made shifted and changed right at the time I was really getting into that marketplace in a big way.”

But he has fond memories of working with several “wonderful clients,” notably the actors James Gandolfini, John Ortiz, Lorraine Toussaint, Donnie Wahlberg and Timothy Daly. “Perhaps most notable,” he says, “was bringing Jimmy Fallon from Saugerties to Los Angeles and helping to shape the beginning of his stand-up career.”

Bouchard says he has been busy forming and resolidifying relationships with other theater companies he hopes will come to Saratoga Stages for residencies and collaborations. One of these is New York City’s LAByrinth Theater, whose co-artistic directors are Ortiz and the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. LAByrinth will be in residence at Saratoga Stages June 10-23, doing internal workshops of new plays; though they will not be presented to the public during this stay, Bouchard stresses that the purpose of this activity is to nurture a long-term relationship. The end of the residency will coincide with the theater’s inaugural fundraising event, which will be held at the Saratoga National Golf Club on June 22.

The theater’s first full production, Bouchard says, will be The Dead Boy by Joe Pintauro, with an opening date to be announced.

In characteristic fashion, Bouchard makes no effort to conceal his excitement for the new venture—or his gratitude for those who have helped make it happen. “Everyone was so nice and so welcoming when I reentered the field,” he says.

And he is almost settled in—he has found a home in Saratoga, and his wife and two daughters—from whom he had been separated since December while he laid the groundwork for Saratoga Stages—are rejoining him in June.

“I’ve made a commitment to a home in Saratoga,” he says. “I love it here. And this new way of working is completely reinventing who I am and what a theater company may potentially be. We are not going to have a traditional subscription series. We will produce work, and present readings and workshops, and full productions when we have them to produce. And who knows?

“I truly believe this will be the last theater I will make, and the place where I will work for the remainder of my career.”

—Stephen Leon

Step It Up

“Dance is a weapon for social change.” This was the rallying cry of the New Dance Group, a coalition of performers and choreographers who shared a New York City studio and coproduced dance programs beginning in 1932. The group remained active until the straight-arrow cultural climate of the 1950s splintered their collective vision.

Their spirit survives among a generation of choreographers with long memories. Sophie Maslow, Donald McKayle and Daniel Nagrin, all in their ’70s and ’80s, are restaging their signature dances with dance troupes, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Limón Dance Company. These dances of social protest deal with poverty, homelessness and racism, and offer emotional catharsis through movement.

A cadre of younger dancers and dance teachers, members of the American Dance Legacy Institute at Brown University, are the catalyst for the resurgence of important dances that might have otherwise disappeared. “I feel like we’re the New Dance Group,” said Ruth Andrien. “We’re bringing back work of the highest order and presenting it so everybody can do it.”

Andrien, a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1974 through 1983, is now a teacher, coach and reconstructor of Taylor’s dances for companies around the world. She’s also the coordinator of the Repertory Etudes Project founded in 1993 by the American Dance Legacy Institute.

The Repertory Etudes Project puts students and teachers in touch with modern dance masterworks in the most direct way—by getting the choreographer’s moves and their meaning into the students’ muscles and bones. So far, seven études have been commissioned from master choreographers, with more in the works. Andrien is a coach for all of them.

Most of her coaching has been done in intensive summer sessions with high school students who are chosen by audition to study with the professional modern-dance faculty of the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs. The students have absorbed and performed dances by pioneers, from Katherine Dunham to Anna Sokolow, who made Rooms in 1955 for actors rather than dancers.

“Sokolow insisted that performers find the authentic motivation that would erupt in a gesture,” Andrien said. “Anything less, and she would say ‘That movement is a lie.’ She demanded of them the integrity and honesty of movement that she required of herself.”

Rooms is a riff on urban isolation and loneliness, set to a jazz score that’s punctuated with street sounds. It’s a composite of overlapping solos called Escape, Desire, Panic and Daydream, and it may also be the first modern dance with chairs.

In a first for the Etudes Project, Andrien will teach the Rooms étude to adults, who are encouraged to pass it on to their own students, from grade school through college, or to perform it with their own community groups. She will lead five daily sessions, Monday through Friday, May 20-24 at the Swyer Studios of the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs. Observers are welcome at all sessions; a free public performance is scheduled for Friday (May 24) evening at the studios.

The daily sessions are open to dancers, actors, teachers and students. Dance experience is not necessary. Participants can enroll for one or two days, or all five. Each day will include a technique class, a workshop on Rooms, and a follow-up discussion on how to use the étude in classrooms and with performers. Andrien said, “the one piece [the project] always has been missing is the local people. Communities have been getting the wrong message from the professional field that dance is a high art and not for them. We are bringing it back to them.”

—Mae G. Banner

The Repertory Etudes Project/Rooms étude will be taught by project director Ruth Andrien from 10 AM-4 PM May 20-24 at the Swyer Studios, National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs. The fee to participate is $150 for the week or $35 per session. Call the Dance Alliance at 885-7838 for more information.

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