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Dance ensemble is first for festival

July 22, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Dancers Kitty Clark and Sharon Mansur moved together Monday like they were holding a conversation in body language.

Their bodies spun together and moved off each other on the hot, muggy, shadowy rehearsal stage.

A dance move by Mansur led to a reaction by Clark as they improvised a routine.

This is the first year for the Contemporary American Theater Festival Dance Ensemble, but the dancers said they believe their modern dance performances have been well received.

So far, all of the performances in the 99-seat theater have been sold out.

There are two performances remaining, a 12:30 p.m. show Saturday and another at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Modern dance is an American invention and is to ballet what jazz is to classical music.

The movements are less rigid and more open to improvisation and interpretation, Clark said.

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As Clark and Mansur worked out their performance, other dancers commented and also offered their suggestions.

"Look at that stretch," one of the dancers said.

"She's got nice extension," another replied.

Audiences are sometimes intimidated by the idea of modern dance because many don't understand it, the dancers said during a rehearsal break.

There is no reason to be intimidated. The show is family-friendly, they said.

Unlike ballet or other forms of dance that usually tell a story, the pleasure of modern dance is frequently just watching the dancers move, said Mansur, 28, of Washington, D.C.

The question-and-answer sessions after the shows have been popular with the audiences, they said.

"People have been curious in a good way," Clark said.

Clark, 31, is the director and choreographer for the dance ensemble. About two years ago, Ed Herendeen, the CATF producing director, told her he wanted to have a dance ensemble.

Clark, who also works in publicity for the theater festival, told him she could put it together.

The festival brings together actors, directors, play writers, puppeteers and other artists in a celebration of the arts, she said.

The CATF has had other dance ensembles before, but this is the first year the festival has had its own group in residence, with the dancers living in dormitories and receiving pay for rehearsals.

Frequently the dancers have to hold down other jobs and rehearse after work.

By being at the college, the dancers said they feel they have been able to focus more on their work.

Clark, who grew up outside New York City, said that being in a small town that is so supportive of the arts also has been exciting.

Bridget Kelly, 23, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, said that being at the festival has been like being on a retreat.

Instead of having to worry about how to make a living at being a dancer, she said she's been able to remember why she got into dancing.

"You get back to realizing why you got into dance because it's fun rather than how am I going to get by doing this?" Kelly said.

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