ecarte dance theatre continues tradition of modern dance

from left, Emma Massey of Felton and Gabrielle Beish of Camden will perform during Saturday’s écarté dance theatre winter concert at Delaware State University. (Solona Creative/Tracey Sanders)

DOVER — As she has done for the past 35 years, Judith Engelgau is busy choreographing performances and training dancers from the écarté dance theatre in preparation for Saturday’s winter concert.

“I start planning for the next concert sometimes before the first is even finished. It’s basically a way of life now,” Ms. Engelgau said.

“I have a catalogue of ideas and inspirations and once I hear the music that brings the two together, we have a launchpad.”

écarté’s concerts aren’t the typical ballet for sure. They are presented as an anthology of performances and center mostly on modern dance.

“One of the things I love about modern dance is that you’re not playing a role like you would in a ballet,” said Lisa Scott, a dancer of 35 years.

“It’s much more expressive. It gives you such a sense of freedom.”

Although the dances may be a freeing experience, the inspiration or messages behind them may be quite the opposite.

“I was initially inspired by the Orlando shootings for ‘Shout All Over God’s Heaven’ but there have been so many issues since, that I think by the time it was finished, it became a work about the injustice and ignorance that prevail,” Ms. Engelgau said.

Although the dances may be about specific events or issues, the dances themselves do not require a preface.

“I know the dancers embrace the choreography and when they perform with their mind, body and spirit, the emotion behind the piece will come through to the audience,” she said.

From left are dancers Lisa Scott of Woodside and Tricia Massey of Felton.

While Ms. Engelgau is inspired by events, for écarté’s ballet mistress, Tricia Massey who choreographs pieces for every concert, music is typically her starting point.

“When I hear the right music, the gears start turning,” she said. “It starts with just simple movements and I build from there.”

For Ms. Englegau and Ms. Massey, the right music doesn’t have to be traditional ballet or theater music.

“The music is one thing that I think makes the concerts interesting,” Ms. Scott said.

“You can have anything from The Who to classical and it’s always arranged, so it works really well.”

In this year’s performance, the music ranges from Kesha to Beethoven and features dancers of all age ranges and backgrounds.

“We are very inclusive at écarté and at our home studio, Dance Directions, we practice all forms of dance and we have dancers of all backgrounds that have just started, all the way to adults who have been dancing their whole lives,” Ms. Englegau said.

“For many people, dance is a life-long love.”

Both Ms. Massey and Ms. Scott got their start dancing at Dance Directions and have been good friends since their high school days.

“It’s my happy place,” Ms. Massey said.

“And over the years, Tricia and I have become like family,” Ms. Scott said.

All the dancers at écarté have come to call the company home and a place of comfort.

“I think that for all of us, it’s a safe place to express ourselves,” Ms. Massey said. “I feel able to take risks and maybe show myself more than I would in a different environment.”

“We encourage all our dancers to take advantage of the gutsy nature of modern dance and I think that for many, it gives them an outlet that they may not otherwise have,” Ms. Engelgau said.

Saturday’s 7 p.m. concert is at Delaware State University’s Education and Humanities Theater. Tickets are available at the door and are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writing living in Dover.

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