Award-winning dance company finds a new home in High Falls - BlueStone Press
July 1, 2022

Award-winning dance company finds a new home in High Falls


A contemporary dance company has expanded to the Hudson Valley and the founders, self-professed “dance nerds” Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein, bring decades of dance experience with them.
Hailing from Boston and New York City respectively, Ryan and Wendy have been dancing since childhood, with roots in hip hop (Ryan), and ballet (Wendy). The two met at Brown University, where Wendy was studying French literature, and Ryan was a double major in French and theater arts. The two were paired by a choreographer in a dance class - a decision that would spark a years-long friendship.
After graduation from Brown, Ryan decided to move to San Francisco “on a whim,” and Wendy invited herself along on the trip, thinking she would just visit for a week. Within that week, the friends loved the area so much that they found an apartment and signed a lease.
“I think that a lot of people think we are a couple – we actually are not. We used to joke that we were the Will and Grace of the Bay Area, and that defines everything about our relationship – including our sexuality and Wendy’s red hair,” Ryan says, laughing. “We finish each other’s sentences,” adds Wendy.
The duo soon found a strong dance community in the Bay Area, and, longing for a dance “tribe” they could collaborate with and call their own, founded RAWdance (RAW, for Ryan And Wendy) in 2004.
Eventually, the pair found it was easier to bring dance directly to audiences instead of relying on filling theater seats, and they started staging RAWdance’s unique, diverse performances in parks, restaurants, and even storefront windows in the Bay Area. Audiences were hooked.
After 16 years of award-winning performances in San Francisco, and 22 years dancing together, the friends saw an opportunity to expand their company and collaborations - and get a little closer to home. Wendy’s parents moved to High Falls 11 years ago, and she has been visiting the area with Ryan ever since.
“Part of what drew us here is about how passionate and how strong everybody’s ties to the arts are, both visual and performance. And that it’s really woven into a lot of the culture and the towns, and that appreciation is really there, and that’s something we felt early on. But when we were thinking about this [move] more seriously, we came and talked to as many artists and makers and presenters as we possibly could and there was this general vibe of like, ‘Yeah, move! There’s space, it’s great, we’ll coordinate things, and there was this welcome-ness that I think was both just beautiful and very refreshing as well,” Wendy says.
“There’s an amazing generosity within the arts community here,” adds Ryan.
The pair also felt the Hudson Valley was a perfect place to build partnerships and collaborations between Hudson Valley and New York City dancers, choreographers and composers. A third co-creative director has stayed on in San Francisco to keep the company going strong, while Ryan and Wendy build the second half of their new, bi-coastal venture.
Part of that strategy includes continuing RAWdance’s innovative CONCEPT series, which they define as an intimate, informal salon of contemporary dance. The series gives the company and its peers an opportunity to share work at any point in the creation process. Inspiration for choreography and music comes in many forms, including social and cultural issues, which resonate deeply with company dancers - and audiences.
“It often draws on historical themes, and we’re both research nerds,” says Wendy.
“It’s important for us, artistically, to be intellectually inspired while creating as well, so I think investigating cultural trends tend to inspire us. It also does come down to that we want things to be felt,” says Ryan.
“We always bring it back to some sort of personal experience, or the ‘humanness’ that people can relate to,” Wendy adds. The discovery process of interpretation and choreography, they say, is ever evolving.
Since the pandemic, the company has introduced the CONCEPT series: Digital Edition. Online performances include the RAWdance at home video series, in which dancers are fluidly choreographed around furniture in their homes, melting around one piece to the next.
“I think it was realizing that you could be creative in any space, and I think that is important. We could all be shut down and turned off by this reality, or we can find a way to stay creative and active and inspired wherever we are,” says Ryan. The online project also allowed the company to provide work to its dancers, who have had contracts and gigs cancelled during shelter in place.
When asked what hopes they have for RAWdance in the Hudson Valley, Ryan says, “We’re looking forward to exploring performances and live events outside of just the festival circuit. And I think we want to be an active part of the local community. We’re also very conscious of the fact that we are new, we don’t know the history here, and we don’t know everyone. So we’re trying to enter this community by learning more. We’re really dabbling, creating and starting to explore more of what it means and what this community needs and what it would benefit from.”
Ryan and Wendy will host a RAWdance CONCEPT series: Digital Edition dance event via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 14 at 9 p.m. The event will feature a mix of short dance films, as well as works-in-progress, followed by a DJ’d dance party, which gives the audience the chance to connect, move together and show off their best dance moves. The event is pay-what-you-can, and the suggested donation is $10-$25, which will be shared between RAWdance performers.
“I do think it’s really important to think about in this time, that while we’re all struggling, and there is so much stress, that dance is an opportunity to provide a little bit of escape and a little bit of beauty and I think we can provide community - and that is essential,” Ryan says.
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