Hamptons Dance Project IV, a live event that’s part of Guild Hall’s offsite summer programming, is set to make its exciting return to the Fireplace Farm in Springs August 12–14. This year’s performances will be quite unlike previous iterations due, in part, to Jose Sebastian, artistic director of Hamptons Dance Project (HDP), getting creative in response to a major shakeup to his company of dancers.
Building off the roster of the successful Hamptons Dance Project III, Sebastian envisioned the 2022 performances spotlighting about a half dozen male dancers and the same number of female dancers from American Ballet Theatre (ABT) — a more balanced company compared to some past man-focused performances.
“When selecting dancers, for me personally, it’s really about energy and the way that my friends and dancers synergistically work together,” Sebastian says.
Plans quickly changed when four of his male dancers had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts or injuries, leaving Sebastian with six female dancers — Skylar Brandt, Catherine Hurlin, Isadora Loyola, Ingrid Thoms, Sierra Armstrong and HDP newcomer Lauren Bonfiglio, — himself and Michael de la Nuez.
“I’ve always admired the group of people that Jose brings together,” Bonfiglio says. “He brings the cream of the crop together, so to be a part of it this year is an honor. And aside from that, the repertoire that Jose curates and the choreographers that he has come in are so unlike the work that a lot of us get to dance at ABT.”
With a drastically different company than was planned, Sebastian seized the opportunity to curate a unique choreography program to match — with pop, hip-hop, jazz and classical music, and an emphasis on female dancers. He invited choreographer Houston Thomas to create a “fun, spicy piece” for four women, which will make its world premiere alongside a new piece by Luke Hickey at Hamptons Dance Project IV. The three-day event also features pieces by Adriana Pierce, Jorma Elo, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck.
The upcoming performance of Peck’s ballet “Chutes and Ladders” can be considered a coming-full-circle moment since Hamptons Dance Project first explored it during their William P. Rayner Residency with Guild Hall earlier this year. While the pas de deux (dance duet) was to originally be performed by ABT dancers Tyler Maloney and Bonfiglio, due to Maloney’s unfortunate injury, Sebastian stepped in to learn to piece in time for its August debut.
“It’s been a great learning experience. In three days I think I learned the whole 10-minute pas de deux, and I thought my brain was going to explode,” Sebastian says of Peck’s piece.
“I had never danced anything by Justin Peck before, and everything goes against my initial instinct. It’s that constant process,” Bonfiglio adds. “When you do a pas de deux, there’s a lot more that goes into the partnership, and I’ve never done a pas de deux before — ever, I don’t think — so it’s definitely challenging in how I’m approaching each step in terms of my relationship to it.”
Sebastian notes how amazing it was that the Guild Hall residency gave Hamptons Dance Project an early start on rehearsing in the Hamptons ahead of the annual show, especially for Bonfiglio who had never experienced the area or performed in an HDP event.
“There’s a lot of growth in a short period of time because you’re being pushed totally out of your comfort zone, but it’s in a safe place,” Bonfiglio says, adding that Sebastian has been a supportive coach to her and the other dancers. “It feels good to know that there’s someone who’s there for you and has this Hamptons outlet to provide a lot mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Sebastian credits much of his wisdom in coaching HDP dancers to his lifelong personal mentor, Olga Kostritzky, who Pat Sebastian, Jose Sebastian’s mother and partner in HDP, describes as “the wind beneath a lot of the wings of the dancers.” It’s abundantly clear that Kostritzky instilled a passion for mentorship in Sebastian.
“I partly created this with the focus of it being opportunity, but the second focus being nurturing and growing,” he says. “ABT is 100 dancers, and you can imagine how hard it is with such little staff to nurture and help the dancers grow. So I’m trying to provide this extra outlet for them and help them grow as artists, as well as human beings.”
“… About opportunity — I see it,” adds Pat. “I see that he’s provided it. He’s provided it for dancers, provided it for choreographers, provided it for audiences, and the reception that we get from the Hamptons makes me almost cry.”
Like the third iteration of HDP, Hamptons Dance Project IV will take place on an outdoor stage at the Fireplace Lodge, a bucolic 20-acre farm overlooking Gardiner’s Bay. The 2022 program may be different from last year’s event, but Sebastian hopes to capture the same natural magic that made last year a success.
“The environment just elevated what we were already doing. The property does have this magical atmosphere to it, and any time people go on it, they’re taken to this other world,” he says. “I’m crossing my fingers for another successful season — we’ve had three so far — and I’m really looking forward to having another one, keeping this going, growing, developing and evolving.”
If one were to ask Kostritzky, world-recognized ballet teacher and recipient of the Senate State of New York Award, there’s no need to cross fingers to guarantee Hamptons Dance Project IV is a success.
“We are going to succeed,” she says. “We can’t go wrong, I think. I hope people are going to love it.”
Hamptons Dance Project IV takes place Friday, August 12 through Sunday, August 14 at 6 p.m., with one rain date schedule for Monday, August 15. Tickets range from $125 general admission (BYO seating) to $200 for VIP preferred seating and a pre-show cocktail party, and they’re available at guildhall.org.