On Thursday-Saturday, February 29-March 2, 2024 at 7:30 pm, the New York based Buglisi Dance Theatre will present Leaping In… 30th Anniversary featuring choreography by Artistic Director Jacqulyn Buglisi. The program will include Buglisi’s Frida (premiered in 1998: a multi-media work inspired by the life and art of Frida Kahlo set to the music of Tobias Picker, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Arvo Pärt), Caravaggio Meets Hopper (premiered in 2007: a study in contrasts, isolation, and human relationships, with a music landscape by Nino Rota, Jelly Roll Morton, and John Corigliano) and the world premiere of Buglisi’s A Walk Through Fire (set to music by Dead Can Dance). A Walk Through Fire is about overcoming grief and loss as humanity finds itself on the precipice of all life changing, while recognizing the power of love. The concert is in partnership with and performed at Chelsea Factory. Leaping In… 30th Anniversary will be performed by a very diverse and multi-generational cast of dancers including four guest artists. Tickets are on sale now.

Jacqulyn Buglisi - Photo (c) Sylvain Guenot.

Jacqulyn Buglisi – Photo (c) Sylvain Guenot.

Buglisi has enjoyed an extensive career including performing with Pearl Lang and Joyce Trisler, and as a Principal Dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company for 12 years. There, she performed the classic roles and those created for her by Ms. Graham. In 1970, Buglisi founded the first school of contemporary dance for the community of Spoleto, Italy and was the Master Artist-in-Residence at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park and the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

She has taught for the Dance Aspen Festival, the Julio Bocca Center in Argentina, Victoria College Melbourne, the Chautauqua Institute and Festivals, and Prague International Dance Festival. Buglisi has been Chairperson of the Graham Technique Department at The Ailey School for 33 years and on faculty at The Juilliard School and the Graham School, among others.

Buglisi Dance Theatre was founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Jacqulyn Buglisi, Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin and Donlin Foreman, former principal dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Table of Silence at Lincoln Center - Photo by Paul B. Goode

Table of Silence at Lincoln Center – Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Buglisi’s list of accolades is long and includes 2024 Martha Hill Award, 2022 Juilliard President’s Medal, Bessies Awards 2020 Special Citation Honoree for the Table of Silence Project, 2016 Fini Italian International Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014 Kaatsbaan International Playing Field Award, American Dance Guild Award for Artistic Excellence, Fiorello LaGuardia Award for Excellence in the field of Dance, The Gertrude Shurr Award for Dance, to name only a few. You can read her entire biography by clicking here. (hyperlink)

On February 8th I had the honor to interview Jacqulyn Buglisi on Zoom during which I was both humbled and inspired by her wealth of knowledge of all the arts, not just dance, and the world in which she lives. The room that she sat in during the interview was lined with bookshelves filled with books and I have no doubt that she has read each and every one of them, some more than once.

Buglisi also has a connection to California. She has created works for dance students at University of California, Santa Barbara and California State University, Long Beach. It was former Graham dancer and then chairperson, Susan McLain Smith, who commissioned Buglisi to set her masterwork Requiem on CSU, Long Beach dance majors. Buglisi’s son attended Chapman University in Orange, CA. and consequently two young male dancers from the Chapman University Department of Dance did intern residencies with Buglisi Dance Theatre.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in "Threads Project" - Dancer in center Aoi Sato - Photo by Kristin Lodoen.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in “Threads Project” – Dancer in center Aoi Sato – Photo by Kristin Lodoen.

After congratulating Buglisi on the 30th anniversary of her company, I asked how that felt. “It feels like 30 years,” She answered. “But it even feels like longer because I’ve been teaching Graham Technique for fifty years.”

It was in the late 1960s when Buglisi graduated from the High School of Performing Arts and traveled to Italy. There she was hired by the mayor of Spoleto, Italy, home of the former Spoleto Festival, to open the first school of contemporary dance for children in 1971. She had been forced to take a year’s hiatus due to an injury and chose to travel to Perugia, Italy where her brother had been attending the Università per Stranieri, to study language and art. Buglisi ended up spending five years there. There were no modern or contemporary dance classes in Italy at that time, but because she was a foreigner, Buglisi was able to teach and help open the first school of Contemporary dance in Rome in 1972.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in "Iluminations" - Guest Daniel Bernard Roumain, violin - Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in “Iluminations” – Guest Daniel Bernard Roumain, violin – Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

Before joining the Martha Graham Dance Company, Buglisi performed and choreographed with Teatro Danza Contemporanea di Roma. “That began all this magic with Elsa Piperno from London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Bob Curtis from Dunham Technique, and Joseph Frontano from Paul Sanasardo” she said. “And so we had this incredible merging of four people.”

While touring in Rome, Buglisi was invited to have coffee with Pearl Lang who had seen her perform. Lang told her that if she returned to New York, she would give Buglisi a job in a play called “Hard to be a Jew” which would later be presented at the Eden Theatre on 2nd Avenue. Buglisi did return to New York and danced with Pearl Lang and Joyce Trisler while studying with Graham. It was with the Trisler company that she choreographed her first ballet in the United States.

It was also around this time that Graham would soon be presenting her work Primitive Mysteries at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre. The company did not have enough dancers and Carol Fried, who was helping to set the dance, asked Buglisi if she could do this particularly difficult leap. “They asked me to do these giant jumps where you bring your arms way up behind your back,” Buglisi said demonstrating as she spoke, “and then you extend the front foot way up in front of you and you have to leap like 48 leaps around in a circle like that.”  Being an excellent jumper, Buglisi got the part. That was 1977.

Buglisi met and married her husband Donlin Foreman while they were dancing with the Joyce Trisler Dance Company and danced together for the first time on tour at the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival. Around that time, she was learning Graham’s Primitive Mysteries at the MG studio and was invited to join the company. As it turned out, Donlin auditioned and also got invited into the Graham Company. This occurred right after they were married, so both danced together at Graham’s Lunt Fontanne Theatre season, along with guest artists Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fontaine.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in "Suns and Future Imaginings" - Dancers (R) Isabella Pagaano, (on ground) Zachary Jeppsen and Jessica Sgambelluri - Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

Buglisi Dance Theatre in “Suns and Future Imaginings” – Dancers (R) Isabella Pagaano, (on ground) Zachary Jeppsen and Jessica Sgambelluri – Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

When I asked Buglisi about how she came up with the performance’s title Leaping In…30th Anniversary, she said that it evolved out of thinking about this being Leap Year and how everything has to be recalibrated every four years. “It just had to be Leaping In…” She said emphatically.

One of the artists who has inspired Buglisi is the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. She drew inspiration from one of Rilke’s poems to create one of her first works, “Threshold” “A lot of his poems are in the “Book of Hours” and “Duino Elegies,” she said before adding. “It was that touching, of the realm, of the divine and always being spiritually involved, for me, definitely the realm of that space that Thomas Moore calls the liminal space that we come to experience many times, and we stand in that liminal space before we actually step through that threshold. A lot of my work hangs in that space. Sometimes I manage to finish them and sometimes the endings don’t make sense to all of you as I would hope.” This last part drew laughter from both of us. Other artists that Buglisi gives credit to for inspiring her range from John O’Donohue’s “Anam Cara” and “The Invisible Embrace of Beauty,” all the way to people like Adrienne Maree Brown who wrote “We Will Not Cancel Us.”

Buglisi has made a series of dances for her Moss Anthology which were inspired by studying the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of “Braiding the Sweetgrass.” “All my Moss pieces were from studying her work and poetry – in her whole way of seeing life, embraced and involved with the moss, the beauty of the moss and how the moss brought oxygen to the planet 40 million years ago which allowed everything to become balanced,” she said. “And in that balance, all living beings began; the soil, the trees, everything around the Earth.” It was around that same time that Buglisi read Al Gore’s book “The Inconvenient Truth” and her Moss Anthology became a big project for her.

Our conversation shifted to working with mentors and how that currently appears to not be happening so much in the dance world. After much discussion Buglisi spoke beautifully about the human condition. “I feel inside my heart is restless,” she said. “What I learned a lot from Martha is the human condition. You have to feel a thing and that’s the thing that is coming from Adrienne Maree Brown.”

Buglisi Dance Theatre - "Frida" - Dancers (l-r) Fang-Yi Sheu, Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin - Photo (c) Nan Melville.

Buglisi Dance Theatre – “Frida” – Dancers (l-r) Fang-Yi Sheu, Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin – Photo (c) Nan Melville.

Later this month Buglisi will be awarded the Martha Hill Mid-Career Award which has been presented to such dance artists as Ronald K. Brown, Doug Elkins, David Dorfman, Fredrick Earl Mosley, Heidi Latsky, to name only a few. “Martha Hill –  who she was and her integrity and building something that Juilliard stands for in our country for dance and for the arts,” Buglisi said. “To receive this is really so humbling.”

Buglisi’s newest work, A Walk Through Fire relates to what is happening in our lives today regarding Climate Change. “Every day I feel like I’m walking through fire. I can feel the heat through my feet. I can feel my whole body as I walk to teach at Alvin Ailey. In the sense that I, we cannot ignore that all around the globe we have dangerously diminished the blue circle of oxygen that is left,” she said while holding two fingers about a half inch apart. She went on to describe how children around the world are being forced to starve and to suffer due to crops failing because of years of drought, and war. “They’re suffering to death,” she added.

Buglisi Dance Theatre - "Caravaggio Meets Hopper" - Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

Buglisi Dance Theatre – “Caravaggio Meets Hopper” – Photo (c) Kristin Lodoen.

A Walk Through Fire is set to music by Dead Can Dance; Lighting Design: Jack Mehler, Costume Design: Márion Tálon de la Rosa. Featuring company dancers Jai Perez, Isabella Pagano, Zachary Jeppsen, Ane Arrieta, Lauryn Rickman.

Buglisi said that she loves the music by the Australian band Dead Can Dance and that they appeared in her company’s first work Runes of the Heart performed in the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center. “My belief in amplifying the spiritual feeling of the earth, its mystery of life and our beautiful planet,” she added. “Is what that album does.”

There are several dancers who have been with the Buglisi Dance Theatre for the entire 30 years. Two dancers, Co-Founder/Principal Dancer Terese Capucilli and Co-Founder/Principal Dancer Christine Dakin will be performing in Buglisi’s Frida along with internationally acclaimed Taiwanese Guest Artist PeiJu Chien-Pott. Regarding Frida, the press release states “Frida is inspired by the life and art of Frida Kahlo, a heroic woman of extraordinary passions, extreme magnetism, and originality. An artist whose sensual vibrancy came from her life experiences; her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution, her devastating accident at eighteen which changed her life forever, and her turbulent and public marriage to artist Diego Rivera. Buglisi conceived the text from Frida’s personal letters and diary to create this story ballet.

Hot Peppers from "Caravaggio Meets Hopper" - Photo (c) Joseph Schembri

Hot Peppers from “Caravaggio Meets Hopper” – Photo (c) Joseph Schembri.

In the company press release Jacqulyn Buglisi states that Caravaggio Meets Hopper is “a study in contrasts, I juxtapose these artists’ styles to explore human relationships that reveal the bold visceral strength, humor and exquisite vulnerabilities of ordinary men and women while amplifying the hyper theatrical lines of Caravaggio and phlegmatic stillness of Hopper.”

Buglisi is very concerned about the future of our planet and ended the interview with this wonderful quote and statement: “Looking into the future, our sense of home is in evolution as a reflection in the aerial photographs of the Earth that we are witnessing as a giant organism, a microcosmos. One experiences a paradigm shift in the nature of the life force. Water as it travels in the serpentine way, humanity finds itself at the precipice of all life changing.”

I believe that dance transcends all boundaries and has the power to transform lives. Its images allow us to recognize within ourselves each other, our ancestors and the natural world, Buglisi wisely stated. “One step at a time we can change the world.”


WHAT: Buglisi Dance Theatre Leaping In…30th Anniversary
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday, February 29-March 2, 2024 at 7:30 PM
WHERE: Chelsea Factory, 547 West 26th Street, NYC
TICKETS: $35 / $20 seniors & students (with Code STUDENT or SENIOR). ALL TICKETS ON SALE AT: https://www.chelseafactory.org/buglisi-leapingintothefuture    Tel: 917-281-6369
Gala Performance & Champagne Reception on Thursday, February 29, 7:30
Tickets for Gala and Reception: $100-$150

For more information about Buglisi Dance Theatre, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Buglisi Dance Theatre in Illuminations – Photo by Kristin Lodoen.