Dancing the little black dress

The founder of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, Caruso calls upon fashion to describe her choreographic aesthetic.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
June 26, 2019 08:58
3 minute read.
THE BODIOGRAPHY Contemporary Ballet in action

THE BODIOGRAPHY Contemporary Ballet in action. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Any self-respecting stylist will tell you that no woman’s wardrobe is complete without an LBD (Little Black Dress). A singularly important garment, the LBD is the epitome of versatility and class. Choreographer, educator and entrepreneur Maria Caruso is a true believer in the Little Black Dress, not only in her closet but also as an analogy for her art form.

The founder of Pittsburgh-based company Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, Caruso calls upon fashion to describe her choreographic aesthetic.

“I feel like ballet is, for me, a little black dress and that dress is such a staple in my collection because I have the ability to accessorize it in so many ways. Some days I can make it casual with flats and an easy hair style, some days I can throw on some glamorous stilettos and swoop my hair up to make it evening wear. Modern dance, ethnic dance and various other styles of dance become the accessories that shape it. The look has endless possibilities. Beauty emanates from it regardless,” she said over the phone recently.

Caruso speaks quickly and with great passion. She is forthcoming and immediately personable. Her life in dance includes the wearing of many hats, from performer to teacher to choreographer to business developer to chair of the Performing Arts Department at La Roche College. Through it all, Caruso stays true to a deep belief in the power of movement.

“We have the ability to make change and, at the very least, to just allow people to feel,” she said.

Caruso is gearing up to return to the Karmiel Festival. A sister city with Pittsburgh, Karmiel feels like a home away from home to Caruso.

“I love Israel very much. I feel like I’m coming back to family.”

Her first visit, in 2018, was a solo endeavor. Caruso, a veteran performer, took the stage with the solo work Metamorphosis, which includes Martha Graham’s iconic Lamentation. In Lamentation, which Graham premiered in 1930, she encased herself in a fabric tube, a metaphor for the confines of grief. For Caruso, Lamentation represents the potential the body has to emote. Though she was already established in her role as director of Bodiography, a job that includes building choreography for an ensemble of professional dancers, Caruso decided to seek out a license to perform this solo work.

“I’ve retired from performing five time already and always came back. I contacted the Graham company and asked if I could learn this work and they agreed, which is a very rare occurrence for people outside of the company,” she explained.

While learning the solo, Caruso was accompanied by two former Graham dancers, who helped her enter the mindset of the legendary choreographer.

“I’m a contemporary ballet choreographer. My whole career I was trained in modern dance technique like Graham, Limon and Horton. I think that the Graham works were so emotional. I worked to create ballets that had a narrative or expression. I was always thinking, ‘How do I deepen that?’ Lamentation was the embodiment of grief. It was the tenet of her technique. It was about how the body was so unbelievably expressive that it could resonate through this piece of fabric without even seeing the face. I felt that Lamentation was something I wanted to experience in my body in order to push forward as a solo artist and push my dancers forward.”

Caruso will return to Karmiel with nine performing artists. While in town, the company will perform Doors and Windows. This work showcases the finely honed technique of Bodiography’s dancers together with the emphasis on humanity that Caruso is known for. In addition, during this visit, Caruso will perform Lamentation.

For Caruso, bringing her nine company members to Israel is an opportunity to connect her team to audiences but also to connect them to community.

“The Karmiel Festival means so much to me. I want my company to fully engage with the festival while we are there. We will see the other performances and I will teach a class as well as adjudicate a few of the competitions. I want my company to see Israeli dance and see what other companies are doing. We’ll also visit Jerusalem and Nazareth while in the country,” she said.

Bodiography will perform at the Karmiel Festival on July 3 and 4. For more information about the company, visit www.bodiographybc.com. For tickets and more information about the festival, visit www.karmielfestival.co.il.

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