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The Dancer Becomes the Choreographer How Kate Skarpetowska created striking dances of her own

By LAUREN KAY

Buoyant, vivid movement; sensual partnering; and relatable themes have made Parsons Dance a New York staple since 1985. With his stable of sexy, muscular dancers, founder David Parsons has crafted 50 trademark works, often including of-the-moment elements like contemporary rock music. Through January 22nd at the Joyce Theater, audiences can catch both Parsons' work (including the premiere of his Round My World), as well as the choreography of a former company member, Kate Skarpetowska. "To be able to produce young artists is a complete joy," Parsons says. "For me, it's a part of dance."

In the haunting and aptly titled A Stray's Lullably (pictured above), Skarpetowska explores the world of the underdog. As car horns and street noise drift in and out, four dancers torque and twist in rounded phrases, hands reaching out and eyes focused down. They move in unison and then writhe separately, melting into hunched positions in slow motion as if floating in sea water. The two solos and duet tell the stories of four downtrodden pedestrians, each with yearning gestures and space-gobbling phrases.

In one moment, a woman sits on the floor. When her leg juts out violently in front of her, her body follows in resigned reverberation. In another, a couple moves seamlessly in unison through loop-like lifts and soft embraces. But despite this synchronicity, they're clearly and strangely in two different emotional worlds.

"I look at this piece as a series of personal, chamber-like portraits" says Skarpetowska. "The characters have been beaten by life and forgotten about: The first woman's desperately trying to find salvation in a higher power, the second man's disillusioned with partial success, and the duet couple is living with stale love in a state of numbness. There's no commentary necessarily, just opened windows on four lives. I'm fascinated with the underdog on the outskirts of society and how beautiful and vulnerable that can be. We're all that in some way."

Originally from Warsaw, Skarpetowska started dancing later than usual (at age 13). "Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, if you didn't get into the National Ballet School at five, there were no private schools," she says. When political shifts changed her opportunities, she began training with private instructors who collected and taught "Western" material. Then, in 1992, she booked Metro, a musical that brought her to New York. Though it "got slammed by critics," she was able to stay in the city with her parents, thanks to her father's position as a diplomat. As she scrambled to find a high school where she could dance, Skarpetowska realized she wanted to be a professional dancer as an adult. "You're born with talent and an obligation to fulfill it," she says. "There was no question. It was in my bones."

Eventually, she attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and went to college at The Juilliard School. Upon graduation, she soon worked with industry heavy-hitters like Parsons Dance, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Robert Battle, and Daniel Ezralow. Describing Skarpetowska as a performer, Parsons says, "She's an inspired artist, and her commitment as a performer was unique and rare.  I've always known Kate to have real emotional depth, and [she's] an artist that wants to convey that."

Currently, Skarpetowska is working with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and continuing to create her own works. "I've always choreographed," she says. "It's important for dancers to be able to sit on the other side of the picture and understand what a choreographer feels. You can then better help manifest their vision as a dancer."

Though she thinks her choreography is "more atmospheric and ambient than David's driving, athletic pieces," she adds that all of the masters she has worked with have informed her own movement: "You draw from what you know and then eventually your own voice emerges. I'm so thankful to David for opening up another way of showcasing new choreographers like myself."

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Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer based in New York City