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Moving to the music

Dance fans are in heaven. They have a big weekend coming up.

Saturday night, New York-based Parsons Dance Company will perform a New Orleans Ballet Association-commissioned world premiere featuring Allen Toussaint and his orchestra at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, New Orleans’ own Good Dance Since 1984 will also perform to live music at the Marigny Opera House.

Dance audiences have long bemoaned the fact that most visiting companies perform only to recorded music. Diehard fans say there’s a completely different level of energy when the music is live. On Saturday night, the New York-based Parsons Dance Company -- with New Orleanian Allen Toussaint playing piano --  will exhibit that energy. On the local front, award-winning director/choreographer Donna Crump will be creating her different kind of energy down in the Marigny.

But here’s the big news: The movers and shakers at the Marigny Opera House have decided New Orleans needs to keep its own kind of music and dance collaboration going year-round. So they are creating a permanent resident dance company that will present only world premieres and perform only to live music.

Dave Hurlburt, owner and creative director of the Marigny Opera House, is a self-confessed dance fanatic. In the three short years he has been in New Orleans, he has transformed a former Marigny church into a vibrant performance venue, offering the space to numerous dancers and choreographers. He’s the one organizing and supporting what will be this city’s only locally-based professional modern dance company.

Big Easy Award-winner Donna Crump, who will be performing there all weekend, couldn't be happier. A native New Orleanian born and raised in Hollygrove, she started dancing when she was 4 years old. After a few dancing school lessons, she went on to the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and then to Long Island University in New York.

But it was cold up there, and expensive, too. So she came back and got her Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in dance from Tulane University. Then she started her own company with the strange-sounding name.

“We’re a contemporary company, but we also do classical ballet, modern dance, hip hop,” Donna says of Good Dance Since 1984. “Any sort of dance, we can do it.”

And that name?

Good Dance Since 1984, well, of course I was born in 1984,” Donna says. “I’ve been a dancing machine ever since. The name, it’s original. It’s long, but you won’t forget it, that’s for sure.”

 Donna says her company’s performances this weekend will run about an hour each, with a program that is designed in three parts. And while each of those parts will be danced to recorded music by Tchaikovsky, Nina Simone and her favorite artist, Kanye West, there will be one more final work featuring live music.

“At the conclusion of this show, we are actually performing Keeper of the Flame, which premiered at the New Dance Festival last year,” she says. “There will be all live music in this piece that is based on the Mardi Gras Indian culture. I am a Mardi Gras Indian Queen with the Guardians of the Flame. So I thought it would be a good idea to put that kind of culture on the stage.”

Tickets for Donna Crump’s Good Dance Since 1984 performances this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 PM are purchasable online or at the door ($20 / $10 for students and seniors).

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]