Category: Features

Southington native among dance luminaries highlighted in new photo exhibit



The history of dance in Connecticut will be illustrated with photographs.

And as part of an upcoming exhibit, which was organized by the Connecticut Dance Alliance and was due to open Jan. 19 at the Connecticut Historical Society, the opening night focus was to be placed on a Southington man who helped shape the dance world… not only in Connecticut but across the globe.

Bring up the name of Alwin Nikolais in casual conversation in his hometown, you might get a “Who?” or a blank stare.

But in the world of dance, his name looms large.

And he is one of the names that pops up in “Connecticut Dances—A Visual History,” was organized by the Dance History Project of the CDA.

Jill Henderson, the director of the Dance History Project, said Nikolais – born in 1910 and who passed away in 1993— was an important arts figure, not only in the Nutmeg state but across the globe.

“He had a small (dance) company in Hartford,” said Henderson. He was part of a dance troupe at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. And he was a figure on the international stage. (For example, his piece “Schema” was performed in Paris in 1980, the same time his choreography for an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti was performed at the Vienna Staatsoper.)

“He was very much a presence,” said Henderson. “He was a luminary of Connecticut dance.”

Describing the life of Nikolais, Henderson explained he arrived in the world of dance at an age much later in life than was typical for dancer.

When the Southington native graduated from Lewis High School (now Southington High School), said Henderson, Nikolais was a musician not a dancer. He played in the high school marching band.

But as a young man, he attended a dance performance. The performance was very different from the classical ballet he had seen before.

“He was very inspired,” said Henderson.

In a 1992 interview with Susan Beaucar Palmer, which was provided by CDA, Nikolais said, “I was born in Southington, Connecticut and I was taken to see Mary Wigman. She was Truda (Kaschmann)’s teacher. (Kaschmann brought modern dance instruction to the Hartford School of Music.) I fell in love with what I saw Wigman do.”

During his time in Hartford and Connecticut, Nikolais eventually worked with the legendary Chick Austin, who turned the Wadsworth Atheneum and Hartford into one of the THE places for the arts in the 1930s and 1940s. (In the 1992 interview, Nikolais said, “Chick Austin was the ‘big bad boy’ of the arts in Hartford… and a wonderful stimulation to all of the arts.”)

Nikolais also had his own theater in Southington (“We scraped down an old burned fish market and made a little theater of it. We did plays which didn’t require royalty payment. So along with Michael Adrian, I very often directed parts of things or whole little plays,” he said in 1992.) He worked with the Hartford Federal Theater in the 1930s as a choreographer— brought their by Adrian— who had been a Hollywood director at that point.

Henderson said Nikolais was a trailblazer in that he was one of the first “total theater” performers. He did everything. He handled choreography He created his own sound design. He created the light design  as well.

As a choreographer, said Henderson, Nikolais was unique in how he used his dancers. Typically, he used his dancers as objects to create “visually astonishing effects… so the dancers always became integral with what audience was seeing.” He used dancers, explained Henderson, more like props on stage.

Henderson said there were many possible figures in the world of dance in the state who could have served as a figure for the opening night of “Connecticut Dances: A Visual History.” But the decision was made to dedicate the opening to Nikolais because of his international renown and his radical and creative approach to choreography.

As part of the evening, the Dance History Project even invited the sole remaining member of the 1940-42 Nikolais’s dance company, Ruth Grauert, 97, to speak about the man. Also a former soloist with Nikolais Dance Theatre, Lynn Needle, was invited to perform Nikolais’s “Noumenon.”

The Connecticut Dance Alliance in partnership with the Connecticut Historical Society will present “Connecticut Dances- A Visual History” at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St., Hartford through March 4.

The exhibition is the culmination of a crowd-sourcing initiative “All About Dance in Connecticut” that documents the many facets of the history of dance in Connecticut through an on- line gallery collection of over two thousand photographic images submitted by members of the Connecticut dance community over the past two years. The total collection of images can be viewed at

“Connecticut Dances- A Visual History” eventually will travel throughout Connecticut. The tour listing as it develops can be found on

Midnight Orchid’s steampunk style comes calling



In addition to a variety of steampunk classes at the Brass Ring Academy this weekend and the steampunk flavored music cranking at the Brass Ring Cabaret on Saturday night, there will be steampunk influenced vendors all weekend at The New England Carousel Museum.

Ginger Seibert, the designer behind Midnight Orchid clothes, will be returning this year for the annual steampunk gathering in Bristol, Conn. Via email, Seibert spoke about her life in steampunk and as a designer.

Q: How did you get introduced to the world of steampunk?

A: Honestly I was chatting with a vending friend and she said, “Hey, you should do this event and so it began.

Q: What did you find appealing about it?

A: I do enjoy the diversity of the steampunk society. It really is a great mix of all ages, families, and imagination

Q: What are some of your favorite dimensions of the community?

A: Again it is the variety. I love seeing what everyone’s imagination merges into. It really is a great community of people.

Q: How did you get into designing clothing for the steampunk community?

A: I started making clothing when I was a young girl for Civil War reenacting. My parents were Sutlers (civilian merchants who sold to goods to the army) and my mother taught me to sew. I won my first historically accurate dress competition at 9 years old. From there, my mom and I moved into the (Society for Creative Anachronism) and I began making belly dance clothing and performing. That was really because there was not much natural fabric clothing out there for a tall girl. Steampunk really fell into my lap and gave me a way to diversify my designs— along with an outlet for some of my crazier ideas that have no real place in say Goth, belly dance, SCA, Civil War, etc.

Q: Describe your particular fashion voice… what is your individual vision for steampunk fashions?

A: I am not really sure that I have a direct fashion voice. My main staple hitcher skirts and boleros sets were built to accommodate all shapes and sizes. From there, the other items I make are built from found objects. That for me is the challenge. An example would be my husband’s old army uniforms, which we have repurposed into crop jackets, shorts, and chap shorts or the World War II Army scarves that I have turned into hooded shrugs and neck warmers. I even work in upcycled kimonos and obi into dresses and tops. Just to name a few things.

Q: What is the challenge in creating steampunk fashion as compared to something that’s more over the counter?

A: I would not say it is a challenge. I enjoy that I can work in alternative mediums and create more wearable art. The biggest challenge for my company is, almost all of our items are one of a kind, which makes posting them for online sales a lot of work.

Q: Who do you see as your particular customer?

A: For me, my customers are everyone. I love that I can make a mother feel beautiful and due to adjustability many times they can share the pieces with their daughter. The men love our steinkirks. It gives them a fun way to express themselves or tie in with the tie vest their wife is wearing. Even our Kimono dresses look wonderful on all shapes and sizes and varieties of layering.

As part of the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret, a fashion show—featuring the guests at the event as the models—will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Seibert was asked to provide some guidance for those attendees looking to be selected for the sartorial showdown.

Q: For you, just as a fan of Steampunk, what are some musts for Steampunk attire?

A: A must would be an idea and time to build it. Don’t just put a gear on it. Make that gear do something. Don’t just wear a corset make it a base layer to a whole outfit. Basically if you can dream it you can work towards building it or having it commissioned. This really is a make your dream idea come true kind of group.

Q: As someone who designs for the steampunk community, what kind of tips would you give to those attending the show and wanting to be featured in the Brass Ring Fashion Expo?

A: I feel just give it a try. Any effort is appreciated. Otherwise bring or wear the piece you love and come visit me at the booth and I will help finish your outfit.

For more information or to buy pieces from Midnight Orchid, visit them at the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret or go or

The Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret will be held Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 7 and 8 at the New England Carousel Museum, 95 Riverside Ave., Bristol.

The Academy is Saturday, Jan. 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is all ages.

The Cabaret is Saturday, Jan. 7, from 7 to 11:30 p.m., and is 18 plus.

The Workshop on Sunday, Jan. 8, is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is all ages.

For more information, go to

Cassidee Knapik of Bristol wears Midnight Orchid’s over skirt and bolero jacket at last year’s Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret at Bristol’s New England Carousel Museum.

A garment from Midnight Orchid is worn on the runway at last year’s fashion show held at the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret held at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol. The Academy and Cabaret return this weekend.

Picking up that cute holiday outfit (or 2 or 3) on a $50 budget



If you’re directing the purpose of your spending dollars on finding the right holiday gift for your loved ones, you probably aren’t prepared to focus some of those dollars on finding the right, fashionable outfit for your itinerary of holiday parties.

And your gift-giving dollars can be pretty high. Consumers are reported to spend an average of $935.58 on their holiday shopping this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Although the temptation is to focus on the pricey stores at the mall for that evening party look, you often can find gently used designer wear at local thrift stores that is just as stylish.

To prove the point, Savers provided $50 in gift certificates for a shopping jaunt at their 657 Farmington Ave. store in Bristol. And Bristol’s Taylor Plourd, 16, was told to find some outfits, preferably two full outfits, with that $50.

“Right now,” said Plourd as she began her trip down the aisles at Savers, “I’m looking at sweaters… and maybe pair (one) with some jeans or some leggings. That would be a cute little Christmas outfit. Then I’m going to go down to the dresses and see if I can find something there.” She also had plans to find some shoes and accessories.

Plourd, who describes herself as pretty frugal, said “I think I’m going to get a lot for $50.”

Ten minutes later, the shopping trip in full gear, Plourd already had an armful of finds from Savers. “I have a lot of stuff.” And the individual items fit within her imposed $50 budget, she said.

“I picked up some very high end brands,” said Plourd. “I found a Calvin Klein dress (for $15 dollars).”

When the shopping was over, the dressing room test run was complete, and her final choices were made (Calvin didn’t make the cut), Plourd said, “I was definitely shocked. I found a lot of different holiday colors and a lot of holiday trends. I’m really excited about it.”

Plourd said her most exciting find at Savers was a bluish green peplum dress. “It was only $8. Very in style. Very flattering on the body. It was a great Christmas look.”

In the end, Plourd said, “I bought many items for $48.85. Just about right.”

“I enjoyed (the shopping at Savers) a lot,” said Plourd. “I enjoyed experimenting with a lot of different clothing items. It’s just a great experience.”

Going to Savers, which supports Big Brothers and Big Brothers, would be something Plourd said she would recommend to her friends. “Not a lot of people know what good things they can find in here. It’s definitely fun to shop around and find them.”

As a side note, Plourd intended to donate the clothes back to the Bristol Savers so the money provided via the gift certificate could be put to good use.

For more information about Savers and to find locations near you, go to

For more photographs and a video of Taylor Plourd’s shopping trip, go to www.

Showcase of Stars continues to shine but with new purpose



The Holiday Showcase of Stars lost its reason for existence in June.

The annual event was launched as a fundraiser for St. Anthony School. However, after decades of existence, the school was shuttered before last summer.

But as the adage says, the show must go on. And the Holiday Showcase of Stars returns on Saturday, this time as a fundraiser for the city’s two remaining elementary parochial schools.

Debbie Schur, the longtime organizer of the holiday variety show explained, “With the closing of St. Anthony School a decision had to be made and our core group all agreed that Catholic school education in Bristol would continue to benefit.”

She explained, “Parish priests and principals at both St. Joseph and St. Matthew were extremely enthusiastic about supporting and promoting the event, as well as keeping the tradition going.”

“Bristol is blessed with wonderful public and parochial schools,” said Schur. “It is our belief that our citizens have a right to choose which schools are best for their individual children and so we will continue to support the Catholic schools in Bristol.”

Even though the beneficiary of the show’s ticket sales has changed, Schur said the show itself hasn’t.

“Quite honestly, it feels like it hasn’t missed a beat,” said Schur. “Besides initially adjusting to a new rehearsal venue (since St. Anthony School wasn’t available anymore), it has all fallen into place.”

“The toughest part is that a few of our showcase family were unable to take part this year and that has proven to be more of an emotional hurdle for me personally,” said Schur. “But we have new faces and voices and new people have stepped up to assist and that has been encouraging and gratifying. The show itself has a basic format that we play with each year.”

The theme this year reflects, however, the transition that the event has had to made.

This year, the Holiday Showcase of Stars is called “Can’t Stop the Spirit.”

“When St. Anthony school closed, we were all approached by numerous people, about the show ending,” said Schur. “Quite honestly for our tight knit group, that was never an option. Combine our group’s ‘fight instinct,’ if you will, with all the unrest in our country and in our world, ‘Can’t Stop the Spirit!,’ in some ways became a battle cry.”

This year’s Holiday Showcase of Stars is its 13th year as a holiday entertainment tradition in Bristol.

“I think the heart and spirit of our cast help create a very contagious atmosphere and tradition for people,” said Schur. “For many it is their kick off to the Christmas season and it is fun entertainment for the entire family.”

Holiday music endures because it is a tradition, said Schur. Plus, she said, “With different performers performing different versions, even though you always know the song, there is always a spin or surprise.”

The showcase organizers have long prided themselves on the talent of the children in the show, many who return show after show.

“That is one of the things I personally look forward to each year,” Schur, “watching them grow, not only in stature but in their personalities and characters is such fun. We have a set of twins, the Porcaros, that have been with us since age 3, almost their whole lives and their mom told me they are moving. I am heartbroken to see them leave. They have been a part of our family. So, it’s tough to see them grow up or move on.”

The adults also all donate their time to the show. “That unto itself is probably what separates this show from the rest,” said Schur. “People are willing to give their time, their talents and their hearts to this event is so rewarding. And I think it sets a good example to the kids and teens in the show.”

“Every person is blessed with some kind of talent. And I’m sure we all know people who hoard their talents. When God shines a light we don’t hide it under a bushel basket,” said Schur.

“Hopefully, in our show we make people comfortable with sharing their gifts,” said Schur. “And year after year, God sends us who and what we need to produce this show.”

For those who turn out this year, beyond the cause, Schur said they should expect “great talent, great fun, great memories, and of course, great spirit.”

The Holiday Showcase of Stars presents… “Can’t Stop The Spirit” on Saturday, Dec. 3 at St. Paul Catholic High School, 1001 Stafford Ave., Bristol at 7 p.m.

‘Legends’ still doesn’t disappoint



Tribute shows tend to have a bad reputation. And tribute shows that arrive via Las Vegas have a definite cheese factor that stick to them.

But, I’ve seen “Legends in Concert” a number of times over the years at Foxwoods Resort Casino and I’m never let down. There is nothing cheesy about them.

I was able to catch the opening night (Nov. 25) of the current run, which sets up shop in Connecticut until Jan. 1, and had a blast.

First of all, as is the case with its current incarnation now playing at the casino, the performers are real performers.

Yes, they work within the framework of paying homage to Elvis (Bill Cherry), Michael Jackson (J Lucas), Prince (Frank Moore), Whitney Houston (Cynthia Minx), and Taylor Swift (Elizabeth Scarborough). Their singing voices will offer inflections that reflect those stars. Their dance moves will be based upon the originals. And they will do what they can to look like their chosen stars.

But the bottom line with most every Legends cast member I’ve seen is that they are top notch performers.

I’ve seen Cherry before as Elvis. And his 1969 Elvis is spot on. His voice is right. His movements are just right. And he looks the part. But more importantly, however, is his performance has an ease of someone who knows how to embody the character fully. When he speaks to the audience, it’s not mimickry, it’s more improvisation. He is also confident enough to select a set list that strays from the obvious. For instance, “CC Rider” was never a signature Elvis tune, but Cherry attacks it with aplomb. And if the song wasn’t the Elvis aficionados’ favorite track, he made them remember it and reconsider it.

J Lucas as Michael Jackson also was—from a dancing point of view—one of the strongest tributes to the King of Pop I’ve seen. His dance moves are explosive and aggressive, giving a clear indication that his training is top notch. Even if you weren’t a Jackson fan, Lucas’s dancing was hypnotic.

Moore was one of the evening’s performers who actually looked like his chosen celebrity, Prince. He had the appearance down pat. But, he also had the musical chops to match the appearance and he did a great job with tracks like “Little Red Corvette” and “I Would Die 4 U.”

Cynthia Minx stepped out on stage as Whitney Houston. Of the performers, she probably looked least like her chosen star. But Minx also was probably the most musically talented of the performers of the night. Her vocal were impeccable. And she demonstrated her skill on Houston’s technically difficult and emotionally draining, “I Will Always Love You.”

Elizabeth Scarborough was charming and endearing as Taylor Swift. She also, at least for this evening, the only performer tackling a contemporary artist still alive and breathing. (Tony Kishman, who played Sir Paul McCartney, did not perform at the opening night show at Foxwoods.) She probably offered one of the most physically trying performances of the evening as she sang “Shake It Off” with all sorts of cheerleader moves. (Lucas really moved a lot but his performance didn’t require him to sing and dance at the same tim as he evoked Michael Jackson.) She also offered up a performance that the real Taylor Swift would approve of.

Secondly, aside from the “stars,” Legends works because they have a crackerjack band on stage. The musicians really push the songs, and inject them with an incredible energy that is more in the spirit of a live pop performance than just a tribute to a star. The backup singers also do a great job tackling a variety of genres to give the songs more vocal depth.

Thirdly, the dancers are fabulous. Again, like the musical performers, they don’t just go through the motions. They push themselves and several of them were breaking into some serious sweat on Nov. 25.

At the end of the evening, the audience clearly had enjoyed themselves… offering up a standing ovation to everyone involved.

“Legends in Concert” takes the stage on Tuesdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. until Jan. 1. For tickets, go to

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