Dancer Hanna Satterlee had made up her mind to leave Vermont, again, last spring when Lorraine Neal, owner of the Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio in Montpelier, approached her with a crazy idea. Neal was about to embark on a sabbatical in New York City, her first extended time away from the studio since she founded it 36 years ago. Would Satterlee consider taking over her role as artistic director?
Satterlee, 26, a Montpelier native who learned to dance in Neal’s studio, had spent time over the past three years in San Francisco, dancing professionally and teaching yoga. Frustrated with the limited dance scene in Vermont, she had all but ruled out staying here for the long haul.
Until Neal planted this notion in her head.
“It became really clear really fast that this was a great opportunity,” Satterlee says. “Here was my chance to sort of just build the dance community that I hope to have, something that I think can really thrive in Vermont. I can’t expect it to come out of nowhere.”
She’s already hit the ground running.
Classes began at the Montpelier studio this week with Satterlee at the helm. But she’s got a lot more than dance lessons planned. For starters, Satterlee is rolling out a regular guest-artist workshop series featuring professional dancers from around the state who will teach everything from street jazz to movement-storytelling, from improvisation to Butoh. Artists scheduled for fall workshops include Kelly Sturgis, Ellen Smith Ahern, Lida Winfield, Sophia Emigh, Tiffany Rhynard, Selene Coburn and Kellie Lynch, many of whom Satterlee connected with while working on a N.A.S.A. grant project at the Flynn Center last fall.
Studio administrative director Allison Mann says Satterlee is breathing just the kind of new energy into the studio that Neal had hoped.
“When Lorraine decided she would take the job in New York [developing an integrative-arts program at an alternative high school], she realized it would be an opportunity to let go and reshape the studio,” says Mann.
Satterlee graduated from Goucher College in 2006 and spent the next few years dancing with San Francisco companies, returning home periodically to perform with, for example, Vermont’s All Purpose Dance Company. Now, she’s also teaching weekend workshops at the new Burlington Dances at the Chace Mill and performing with Tiffany Rhynard’s Middlebury College-based group Big Action Performance Ensemble, aka Big APE. Satterlee envisions the Montpelier space evolving from just a studio into a performance center. She’s planning some salon-style works-in-progress evenings for later in the fall, and will present a solo by guest-artist Smith Ahern during the capital city’s Art Walk on October 15.
“There’s a real booming 20-to-40-year-old population here in Montpelier,” Satterlee says. “It’s not just about providing dance classes but about providing evening dance performances and lectures.”
Ultimately, she’d love to bring in dancers from around the country to lead workshops and perform.
“That’s how I’ve structured my own training,” Satterlee explains. “I’ve found out who I thought was interesting, and I’ve gone to where they work and [learned] from them.”
But for now — until she finds more funding — Satterlee will stick with dancers who live close by. As it turns out, there are more of them than she initially thought.
Her biggest challenge right now, Satterlee says, is getting the right lighting into the studio space to transform part of it into a theater.
“I have these lights, but I don’t know if the building can even hold the wattage,” she says. “I’m dreaming big.”