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5, 6, 7, 8: A new company takes the stage

09/14/2017 11:36AM ● Published by J. Chambless

The Board of Directors for The Company are (from left) Jacklyn Kossor, Drew Boardman, Beth McDonnell, Caleb Duffy and Erin Dixon.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Last year, when Chester Springs resident Beth McDonnell was in the beginning stages of forming The Company, a Chester County-based theater production group, she knew that its first production had to leave an ecstatic imprint, one with an exclamation point that leaves audiences with a lingering sense of having been through not just a show, but an experience.

Then she met Michael Nickerson-Rossi.

In 2008, Nickerson-Rossi founded his own modern dance company and became its artistic director, and the only really honorable way to define its impact is through the use of modern vernacular.

It has blown up.

Nickerson-Rossi Dance messes with convention. It takes the vision of its founder and spins it through the genres of modern dance, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. It is passionate and complex and emotional, and in every one of its productions and performances, it aims to take each audience member's senses and take them on a ride, and free them up and light them on fire.


The Company's first production will be a collaboration with Nickerson-Rossi Dance, this January in West Chester.

 So when Nickerson-Rossi first met McDonnell several months ago, it had all of the energy of a well-timed collision of like minds, both searching for the same thing. Since its beginning, Nickerson-Rossi Dance, based in Palm Springs, has also defined itself through collaboration, working with professional dance companies, universities, high schools and dance conservatories, both nationally and internationally. Now it is here in Chester County, serving as the resident dance company of Uptown! Entertainment Alliance in West Chester, with a goal to bring the same electricty to local audiences.

Immediately, the ideas between them began flying about, and the result of that collaboration -- 5, 6, 7, 8...A Cabaret of Music and Dance! -- will receive its premiere at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center this coming January 26, for a four-performance run. The show will merge together professional dancers from Nickerson-Rossi's company and a talented ensemble of amateur and Equity singers, for a tribute to Broadway musicals.

"When I was first thinking about starting a production company, I was referred by a colleague from the Chester Valley Dance Company to Michael," McDonnell said. "We soon connected, and when I saw his first production of Blueprints at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, I thought, 'This is amazing.' I was blown away by the level of his talent. We are so lucky to have teamed up with someone of Michael's caliber."

"I want to create a dance-centric theme, and I want to pay homage to the composer Harold Robbins," said Nickerson-Rossi, who will choreograph the production. "I think that this is an audience for it. I am creating contemporary dance, but I am also entertaining. Together, I'm confident that we will be able to bang something out. It will be big and full, and be accompanied by beautiful voices."

Chester Springs resident Beth McDonnell founded The Company with a mission to link audiences, venues and performers with opportunities for new and exciting theater.

 That two creative energies -- one established and the other emerging -- will soon find their way to the stage is not a new concept, but in the case of Nickerson-Rossi Dance and The Company, it's a local one. The board of directors all have their artistic roots deep in the Chester County arts scene. In addition to McDonnell, the board includes artistic director Drew Boardman, Erin Dixon, Caleb Duffy and Jaclyn Kossor, as well as members at large who have experience in every aspect of theater.

Nixon and Boardman met at Kutztown University, where they were both part of the school's theater program. Duffy, who was in the dance program at West Chester University, cut his artistic teeth by choreographing local productions. Kossor got her start in Los Angeles, later served as a makeup artist and hair stylist for Off-Broadway shows, and has worked in local theater for the past two years.

"I wanted to put these talented people into spaces and venues and shows that I thought they could step up to," said McDonnell, whose own career took her to Broadway, where she performed in several large-scale musicals. "I wanted to take the reigns of putting these people together and elevating their theater experiences.

"We recognized the commitment that we were giving to shows, so when it came to launching our own production company, we all thought, 'Why not create the idea of a collaborative effort, where we work individually on projects and also come together as a production team and partnering with shows?"

For now, The Company has no theater or performance space for audiences to come to, but that's intentional. Its mission is not to bring shows to them, but connect performance venues, companies and individuals to opportunities to co-produce musicals, plays and other theater-based events.

With its first production now in the works, the members of The Company are meeting with other theater groups and arts organizations in Chester County to hopefully plant the creative seeds of collaboration elsewhere. There is a proposed co-production scheduled for next year in collaboration with the School of Rock in Downingtown; and a production with the Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown that is in its early stages. The Company is also planning educational programs in theater, and will also produce improvisational shows.

If there is a plug-in, have talent-will-travel component about The Company, it is seen in the wide variety of theater skills and backgrounds each member brings to the group, and the wish to broaden those skills.

"Up until last year, I prioritized myself as an actor and as a performer," Dixon said. "When the light hits me, that's when I feel most at home. I've realized over the past year, however, that I also want to put the time in behind the scenes in order to make something that's bigger than myself."

"Theater is such a welcoming environment, and our mission is to be able to take people as high as they want to go," Kossor said. "That's what I think is going to define us -- creating the ability to bring in these people, all of whom are on top of their game, in order to make something that's amazing, while being able to put our stamp on it."

Nickerson-Rossi said that his dance company's collaboration with The Company is a product of his belief in community enrichment and development.

"I think it's very wise, artistically and in business, to work with another organization in order to create the overall product," he said. "What I appreciate most about dance is to trigger stimulators that confirm that we are all alive. I want to feel it and taste it. If you attack the senses, you can reach people on so many levels. I appreciate beautiful dancing, but to have that complete package of collaboration creates another avenue of expression."

The bottom line prerogative of The Company is to challenge audiences and uplift communities, McDonnell said.

"The arts, whether it be professional or community, is about emboldening an area. It's about bringing communities together. It's about offering enrichment that people normally wouldn't see," she said. "Art should push you to wake up and get in touch with something that's real and in front of you.

"And that's what we plan to do."

To learn more about The Company, visit www.thecotheatre.com, email info@thecotheatre.com, or call 484-341-8127.

The Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center is at 226 N. High St., West Chester. (610-356-2787). To learn more, visit www.uptownwestchester.org.

To learn more about Nickerson-Rossi Dance, visit www.nickersonrossidance.com.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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