Tag Archives: MCCC

‘She can make you a dancer…

. . . even if you never danced before. ‘

That’s a quote from the “Rate my professor’ page for Janell Byrne, who quietly retires as director of Mercer Dance Ensemble after, by my count, 36 years at Mer2016 5 toxiccer County Community College. (Her 30th anniversary concert was in 2010).

I’ve attended almost all of these concerts and this stands top of the list. Perhaps I’ll have time to explain why later, but I’m sending this out now because the final performance is today, Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. at Kelsey Theatre.

Here is the list of MCCC dancers: Amy Annucci of Ewing, Kayla Johnson of Wrightstown, Caitlin Kazanski of Robbinsville, Diego Montealegre of Lawrence, Terrell Moody of East Windsor, Sabrina Rahman of Lawrenceville, Brianna Rapp of East Windsor, Victoria Smalls of Hamilton Township, and Kourtney Tremaine of Trenton. Alumni and community dancers include Rebecca Brodowski, Nicole Colossi, Maleek Colvin, Jennifer Gladney, Delany Hoffman, Maria Laurenti, Stephanie Maher, Danielle Marchant, Ashley Miller and Taylor Miler.

Few choreographers have had Byrne’s opportunity — and burden — to produce, every year, handfuls of imaginative works on dancers of various body types and abilities. I love to see how she does it, how she makes dancers out of people who never danced before.



Plucked from Obscurity: Lou Draper at MCCC

draper girl

I may have written the first ever first press release on Louis Draper’s photography at Mercer County Community College. I was working in MCCC’s PR department at the time, 1981 to 1984. Now an article on Draper is among the most emailed stories in the New York Times.

Entitled “Louis Draper: Plucked from Obscurity…” the article credits Mercer County Community College’s Gary Saretzky with jumpstarting the attention to Draper’s photographic eye.

At the time of his death, his extensive collection of photographs, negatives and slides was not an archive in any meaningful sense. It was an unorganized mass of material that nearly overwhelmed his office at Mercer County Community College, where he had led the photography program. The task of bringing order to chaos fell to his friend Gary Saretzky, an archivist and photographer, with the assistance of John Sunkiskis, a colleague at the college.

He taught at MCCC for 20 years. We at the college knew we had a treasure. So did his students. He told me then that “The Family of Man” was his inspiration and the photographs in the forthcoming book will be show that.

Photo by Louis Draper, date not known

Janell and Jennifer: 30 years Later

For a choreographer, it’s all very well to work with good amateur dancers, but it’s really special to make work for an artist, who can take your movement and make it better than you’d thought it could be.

Janell Byrne, in her 30th anniversary concert for the Mercer Dance Ensemble (Kelsey Theatre, May 29), did that for Jennifer Gladney (shown right, photo by Pete Borg). A superb dancer, Gladney sometimes seemed more “Janell” than Janell. It’s been a gradual process, exciting to watch.

In Byrne’s “Confluence,” Gladney joined Andrea Leondi, Brianne Scott, and Kaitlyn Seitz – four sun goddesses in flowing gowns, with warm sidelighting (lights were by Sean Varga).

“Jig and Reel Stew” was Gladney’s home hoe-down turf. She and the above dancers, plus guest artist Karen Leslie Mascato, wore red and black in a lively evocation of different folk traditions, like syncopated slapping on the stage floor to reference the German Landler dances, where boys slap their thighs and feet. Then Gladney surprises with an off balance slow extension into a rond de jambe, a lyrical contrast to the down-home fun, and she makes the most of it.

Byrne challenged Gladney to go Spanish-sultry in “Tangos,” (her star turn was to music by Anja Lechner, but there was an Astor Piazzolla section as well). Gladney uses her shawl as weapon, as a semaphore, as a bullfighter’s cape. She was Byrne’s altar ego. She took the stage.

Byrne has a mystical streak, and her “Sacred Space,” to music by Morton Feldman had seven dancers (Danielle Atchison, Ian Conley, Charlene Jamison, Alexandra Pollard, Michael Quesada, Brianne Scott, and Scott Walters) treading with caution into devout, pilgrims, treading one organism. Evoking a mystical mood, it was my favorite piece on the program.

Gladney and Han Koon Ooi each contributed two works. Though they were good, I think it’s fair to say that they showed the contrast between a young choreographer and a mature one. Byrne simply knows how to do the most with less material and how to move dancers around the stage in out of the ordinary ways that are true to the dance’s message. That’s what the 30 years were about.