Finding movement at Canterbury Shaker Village

  • Dance instructor Sandy Zarotney-Keldsen leads a session on Isadora Duncan technique outside Canterbury Shaker Village on Tuesday. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • This year is the first Canterbury Shaker Village has held its Shaker Dance Revival Project, which took place in the historic Shaker Meeting House this past week.  ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Dancers take part in a summer intensive session held recently at the Canterbury Shaker Village. ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • The Canterbury Shaker Village Meeting House was the home for dozens of dancers during a six-day workshop held this past week.  ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Canterbury Shaker Village executive director Funi Burdick watches dancers learn Isadora Dunkin technique in the site’s Meeting House Tuesday.  ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Dancers take part in a summer intensive session held recently at the Canterbury Shaker Village. ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Sandy Zarotney-Keldsen leads her class full of young dancers Tuesday.  ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • A painting depicting the Shakers – also known as the “shaking Quakers” – sits on the wall of the Meeting House at Canterbury Shaker Village, where a six-day dance intensive was held this past week.  ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Dancers take part in a summer intensive session held recently at the Canterbury Shaker Village. ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Cassidy Schroyer (left) and Paris Mills (right) help London Mills (center) put on her scarf during a Shaker Dance Revival Project Summer Intensive session Tuesday. The young women were learning the techniques espoused by Isadora Duncan, who loved wearing loose, flowing scarves.  ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Dancers take part in a summer intensive session held recently at the Canterbury Shaker Village. ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/1/2016 12:06:08 AM

On an otherwise sticky, hot day, there was a quiet, ceaseless movement atop the green hills of Canterbury Shaker Village.

A suprisingly cool breeze blew through towering trees, past the white-washed fences, and over the old buildings. The wind gently passed in the open windows of the Shakers’ religious Meeting House where, earlier this week, over a dozen dancers gracefully twirled about the room.

They were there for the Shaker Dance Revival Project, which held six day sessions over the past two weeks.

On Tuesday morning, instructor Sandy Zarotney-Keldsen demonstrated the dance techniques inspired by late 19th-century “Mother of Modern Dance” Isadora Duncan. She encouraged her dancers to get in a circle and undulate their arms and chests, wave-like, as they moved in towards each other, and then to do the reverse as they backed out.

“You’re greeting everyone together,” Zarotney-Keldsen said. “You’re opening everyone together, being part of a community is part of it.”

In a quieter voice, she added, “Which is why doing this here gives me the chills.”

Zarotney-Keldsen was refering to the history behind the Meeting House, where the Shakers – or the “shaking Quakers,” a religious sect founded in 18th century England and eventually settled in colonial America – used to gather in prayer, and as part of that process, dance.

“It’s beautiful,” she said after finishing her two-hour session, which ended with a full dance and some Greek statue-like poses outside on the tree-canopied Shaker Village lawn. Over their tight leotards and spandex, everyone wore loose, colorful scarves, which were beloved by Isadora Duncan.

“Isadora Duncan believed dance comes from your soul,” said Zarotney-Keldsen. “This resonates so much with the Shakers because they danced to experience their spirituality.”

She added, “It was magical to be dancing in this Meeting House.”

That magic is exactly what Canterbury Shaker Village Executive Director Funi Burdick wants more people to experience. The museum has slowly been upping its visitor numbers over the past decade, and beginning in 2012, Burdick said Shaker Village took on efforts to connect with more people by translating the Shakers’ past into contemporary inspiration.

“We’re taking the Shaker legacy of creativity, simplicity and entrepeneurship and peace, really,” Burdick said. “What I’m hoping is that the museum remains, but that most of the site becomes a living laboratory.”

She said the first step toward this approach were taken four years ago with a call for an exhibit named, “Shaker Traditions, Contemporary Translations.”

“I asked people to submit creative works,” said Burdick. What she got was an abstract painting, a photo of farmer’s hands holding grain, a crafted tilt table, and other pieces.

“All of these different things came out of this and I started to see how moved people were by this site – not just spiritually, but creatively,” Burdick said.

The exhibition has continued with new submissions each year, and Shaker Village has incorporated other, contemporary elements there. To reinvigorate the farming once done, Luke Mahoney of Brookford Farm keeps cattle in the fields nine months out of the year, the Concord Food Co-op tends to productive vegetable gardens, and the Lakes Region Community College runs a culinary arts associates degree program at the restaurant.

Burdick said in order to bring music into the mix, she asked Kevin Siegfried of the Boston Conservatory to translate a Shaker composition into a contemporary performance, which he did with string instruments.

“Then it was art,” said Burdick. “Then it was photography.”

Then it was dance. This is the first year for the Dance Revival Summer Intensive, which was coordinated by resident dance maker Lorraine Chapman and ended its six sessions on Wednesday.

“We had always thought about the Shakers and movement,” said Burdick. “The site seemed to resonate with people who were dancers.”

Dance will continue to be done at the site, however – Canterbury Shaker Village’s August “Village Rising” event will be opened August 5 with a sunset dance performance titled “Released,” which will be choreographed by Chapman. The rest of the event, to be held Aug. 6, will allow visitors to explore all the other, present-day relevant aspects of the village.

Though there’s this practical goal of bringing more and more people to the Canterbury Shaker Village as a museum, what ultimately the site is about, said Burdick, is the racial and gender equality, the inclusiveness, the community-living and the encouragement to be oneself, all still relevant today.

“Once you step on this land, you can feel (the Shakers’) presence and connect back with yourself,” she said. When people are able to tap into and express their inner spirit, Burdick added, “Then we’ve achieved a great goal.”

Standing in the doorway of the Meeting House this week, Burdick smiled as she witnessed the unfolding of that goal. As the dancers – a group of young women wrapped in their scarves – filed outside, leapt across the grass and arched their arms up to the trees, there was an obvious stirring in the air not produced by the breeze.

Reflecting on their session over lunch, Manchester-based Dimensions in Dance dancers Chloe Streitburger and Hannah Olkovikas said they felt something, too.

“It kind of feels very peaceful – our studio is in the middle of the city,” said Olkovikas. “We get to dance outside and feel the earth.”

Streitburger said she’s enjoyed the open space of the Meeting House and letting in the different techniques of new instructors.

“It’s eye-opening, in a sense,”she said. “Isadora Duncan – that was really cool. That’s something I’ve never done.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)

Note: The print version of this story mistakenly referred to Isadora Duncan’s last name as “Dunkin.” This has been corrected. 

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