Movement in the orchard: Ballet and theater come to Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton

  • Members of the Re/Emergence Collective rehearse at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton for their theatrical performance in June at the property. Photo by Olivia Holcomb

  • Members of the Re/Emergence Collective rehearse at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton for their theatrical performance in June at the property. Photo by Olivia Holcomb

  • Amelie Stevens rehearses with other members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Director Tom Vacanti works with members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet during a rehearsal for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet rehearse for a production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” this weekend at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton. It will be the first live performance in a year and a half for the ballet company. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Back left, Director Tom Vacanti watches as members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet rehearse for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sophie Calkins rehearses with other members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelie Stevens and Alma Rondina rehearse with other members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Yosola Dawodu rehearses with other members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Director Tom Vacanti works with members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet during a rehearsal for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sophie Calkins rehearses with other members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Members of the Pioneer Valley Ballet rehearse for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2021 1:15:56 PM

Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton has hosted the popular “Art in the Orchard” exhibit, the outdoor installation of standing art, five times in the last 10 years and is set to do so again beginning in August.

But that’s not all. This month, the orchard will host two other live arts events that aim to combat the past year of enforced isolation from COVID-19.

Pioneer Valley Ballet, which hasn’t presented a live performance in a year and a half, is returning to the “stage” on June 4-5 with a ballet based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

And for the second two weekends in June, a theatrical ensemble with connections to the University of Massachusetts Amherst will present “Re/Emergence,” a show using movement, music and some dialogue that aims to take stock of the past year, such as by reflecting on how people’s lives have been upended, or in some cases riven with grief, by the pandemic.

Thomas Vacanti, co-artistic director of Pioneer Valley Ballet, says the school’s last live performance came in December 2019 in its annual production of “The Nutcracker.” The pandemic forced the cancellation of PVB’s spring show last April, and since then the Easthampton school has been limited to holding Zoom-based classes and then, starting last fall, reduced-size live classes with social distancing.

“It’s been an interesting experiment,” Vacanti said during a recent interview. “It’s been hard for students not to have that theatrical element — live performance — to look forward to. The challenge for them has been how to stay motivated.”

He and fellow co-director Maryanne Kodzis, uncertain when an indoor show might again be possible, began planning this past winter for an outdoor ballet for spring or early summer. When some potential venues still were uncertain when they could host a show, the two turned to Park Hill Orchard, where PVB students had previously given short performances during special events at past Art in the Orchard exhibitions.

Orchard owners Alane Hartley and Russell Braen “were totally open to having us come back and do something a little longer,” said Vacanti.

PVB’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be presented primarily in six separate scenes, each about five minutes long, with audience members moving between sets; the entire performance lasts about half an hour. However, the first performance on both June 4 and 5, at 4 p.m., will take place in one location for any audience members with mobility concerns.

Considered one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a comic fantasy about four lovers who find themselves bewitched by fairies and have to reckon with love, jealousy and marriage. It was first presented as a ballet in the early 1960s and scored with music by Felix Mendelssohn.

Vacanti, who has choreographed PVB’s version of the ballet and also performs as the key character of King Oberon, says the production involves about 50 people, including community members, faculty and staff at PVB, and some of PVB’s youngest students. The core performers are the school’s older students, he says.

He notes that rehearsals have until now have taken place at PVB’s studios but recently were held at Park Hill Orchard. The change from dancing on hardwood floors to uneven, grassy ground “might mean we need to restructure some of the choreography,” said Vacanti.

Performances take place every half an hour at the orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, on both June 4 and 5, from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Rain dates are June 7 and 8. Tickets are $20 general admission, $10 for children and seniors, and can be ordered at pioneervalleyballet.org. Audiences will be limited to 30 people; face masks are required.

More art in the orchard

“Re/Emergence,” which takes place June 11-13 and June 18-20, will be presented in a similar fashion. Jennifer Onopa, one of the core members of what’s called the Re/Emergence Collective, said the performances comprise a series of vignettes that include movement, music and thematic structures, with all scenes staged in separate parts of the orchard.

The audience will move between five scenes, each about 10 minutes long; some have an interactive theme designed to engage audience members.

The core group of eight ensemble members, most of whom are graduates of the UMass Theater Department, have been trying over the past several months to devise “a creative response to this time,” said Onopa, theater director for Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School (PVPA) in South Hadley.

“This isn’t art therapy,” said Onopa. “But our idea was to try and respond to how unprecedented the past year has been and how it’s affected people, how it’s changed us.”

Onopa noted that ensemble members had initially met via Zoom to design the production but that the actual performance “was not something we felt we could do online. We needed to be physically together, and [Park Hill] is such a wonderful place to do that.”

Aside from support from the orchard, Onopa said, the production has also received help from the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Easthampton Cultural Council, and individual sponsors.

Each scene of “Re/Emergence” features a different set, as well as performers in different costumes, and is designed to reflect major themes that emerged in the past year, such as personal loss as well as the rise nationally of calls for social justice. And, noted Onopa, the overall performance “looks at what we’ve learned and what we might do differently … and what a better future might look like.”

Three performances of “Re/Emergence,” each approximately 50 minutes long, will take place each night at 6, 6:50 and 7:40. Audience members are required to maintain social distancing and wear face masks, and all tickets must be purchased ahead of time — no walk-ins — to allow for contact tracing if necessary.

More information is available at reemergencecollective.org; tickets, with prices based on a sliding scale, can be purchased there. In the event of rain, the collective will contact ticket buyers about a new date, and information will also be posted on the group’s website and Facebook page.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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