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Dance Company stop/time's Spring Show Celebrates 15 Years

And a one, and a two and a….

Now keep tapping until you reach 15.

The stop/time dance theater, resident dance company of Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, turns 15 this year. That’s six years older than Playhouse on Park itself. The troupe is celebrating by making its annual spring show, which runs March 14 to 25, all about that anniversary.

In a phone interview earlier this month, stop/time founder Darlene Zoller discussed the community-based troupe’s remarkable staying power: "stop/time started in 2003, though it didn't have that name yet. We did two performances at the old Park Road Playhouse, where Playhouse on Park is now. It was so well received that we did it again at Charter Oak. So I sat my dancers down and said "I know I said this would be a very brief commitment, but..."

"For our fifth year, we wanted to do an original show for the anniversary, now that we had a following. Then the theater closed. Our show had been designed for the three-quarter thrust at that space, so we didn't know what we were going to do.”

Zoller was just about to talk to the building's landlord about letting her reopen the shuttered venue for just those few nights when another plan presented itself. She, Sean Harris and Tracy Flater had been looking around for a space where they could to start a new local theater company. They were offered the Playhouse space.

"That's how we ended up at the theater," Zoller says, still marveling at the serendipity.

The relationship has been beneficial for both sides. The dance company has proven to be not just perennially popular at the Playhouse, but inspirational.

“When we first opened Playhouse on Park,” the choreographer says, “we wanted stop/time to be part of the regular season, but we didn’t think we’d have the subscribers to justify it. So stop/time was an add-on event for subscribers that year.”

They had underestimated the allure of local dance. The stop/time shows sold out and easily earned a place on the regular subscription season. Each annual stop/time show gets a two-and-a-half-week run at the theater. That’s exceptional for dance, and stop/time shows could run even longer were it not for the reality of all the performers having day jobs, families and other obligations.

Zoller says the company has “inspired a lot of people, especially older people,” to find joy through dancing. She sees through the teaching she does at dance programs in Hartford, Vernon and elsewhere, that when people experience stop/time’s shows they are often drawn to dance themselves. The stop/time troupe consists of dancers who might not otherwise have many chances to perform and the shows present dance as a community endeavor.

“It’s the Playhouse mantra, to provide as much opportunity as possible,” Zoller says.

“It’s all ensemble work. We’re all onstage all the time. We use every inch of the space.”

Besides Zoller, the 15th anniversary event features 15 dancers plus three singer/actor/dancers. There are numerous costume changes that keep the troupe’s longtime costumer Lisa Steier “very very busy,” Zoller says. Besides Zoller, who has choreographed and performed in all the stop/time shows, there are eight members who have been with the company since the beginning.

“People mostly think of us as tap dancers,” Zoller says. “That’s our most crowd-pleasing thing. But we also do jazz dance, Broadway style…”

Every stop/time show has a theme — last year it was fairy tales — and a narrative framework with scripted elements.

"We don't think people would come back time and time again for just a dance concert," Zoller says. "I'm not putting that down. I'm just a musical theater buff." Even for this year's show, when the 15th anniversary is the theme, there are scripted narrative elements. Plus, Zoller adds, "a happy ending. We never don't have a happy ending."

This year's show will revive old routines from stop/time's history but also offer whole new numbers, along with a storyline about, as Zoller puts it, "balancing dancing with other things in life."

"We always call ourselves the stop/time family, never the stop/time company. We've seen births, deaths, everything.”

STOP/TIME DANCE THEATER: CELEBRATING 15 YEARS is performed March 14 to 25 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $40, $17.50 for March 14 and 15 preview performances. 860-523-5900 and playhouseonpark.org.

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