Newport Island Moving Company Artistic Director Miki Ohlsen Retires
NEWPORT — Miki Ohlsen, founder and artistic director of the Island Moving Company for 40 years, has decided to retire on August 31, but she has done everything to make her last year in the role a spectacular one.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years. It happened in a flash and it was a real labor of love.
Ohlsen and a group of other dancers founded the Island Moving Company in 1982 because they wanted to choreograph.
“We all wanted to start creating our own work and expressing our own voices through dance,” she said. “This opportunity did not exist in the companies we were working with at the time. I had space and a studio, so we just started getting together.
The Art Association of Newport, now the Newport Art Museum, heard what they were doing and invited them to put on a show. They did, and that was the start of the business.
Previously, Ohlsen, who grew up in Providence, started the Newport Academy of Ballet as a private company in 1979 after returning from the Netherlands, where she danced professionally for six years. She graduated from the Conservatory School in Amsterdam and began her career there.
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“It was fabulous,” she said. “I went to the Netherlands to complete my degree in French from (the University of Rhode Island), but I had been dancing all my life.”
She entered the Conservatory for a course, fell in love with the place, and transferred credits from URI, where she was also studying secondary education, to enter a new study abroad program.
“I had to learn Dutch very quickly,” she said.
Island Moving Company’s 40th anniversary coincides with the year of Ohlsen’s retirement.
“It’s been an amazing year for me,” she said. “I was truly able to do all the great things that I had wanted, all the desires of my heart.”
Upcoming events for the 40th anniversary celebration
Among the series of major events Ohlsen planned to host before his departure is an upcoming BMI performance at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, now known as VETS, in Providence on March 11.
The ballet troupe will perform a brand new rendition of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” presented in collaboration with the Rhode Island Civic Chorale & Orchestra under the musical direction of Joshua Rohde.
Ohlsen and IMC Associate Artistic Director Danielle Genest conceived and choreographed the work as a complete ballet. Chen-Wei Liao from New York is the set designer for the production.
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“Where We Left Off” is a second piece from The VETS program and is by renowned choreographer Nicolo Fonte. IMC commissioned Fonte to re-stage his seminal work for this production.
The first major production of the ballet troupe in the anniversary year, from September 1 to August 1. 31 exercise, was “La Palomba/Ascending” which was performed on an outdoor stage set up at the Great Friends Meeting House in October 2021.
The piece was conceived and choreographed by Ohlsen and Genest in collaboration with Simona De Tullio with the Breathing Art Company in Bari, Italy. IMC has worked with the Italian ballet company for the past four years.
Ohlsen was inspired to create the piece after a 2019 visit to La Palomba Sculpture Park which sits in an abandoned quarry 400 feet deep in the ancient city of Matera, Italy. She was on tour with the ballet company at the time.
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Renowned sculptor Antonio Paradiso has been selected as the only Italian artist among 9,000 artists who have applied for permission to turn parts of the destroyed World Trade Center into art. He chose 20 tons of twisted metal, beams and steel bars found in the rubble to create the park which also contains other pieces of his work.
Many of the sculptures have doves outlined in their rusty metal. A “palomba” in Italian is a female dove, for centuries a symbol of love and peace.
Ohlsen and Genest’s piece La Palomba premiered in September at the Italian Sculpture Park.
Following performances by The VETS, IMC will offer a repertoire program in May, then conclude the anniversary celebrations with a gala and dance festival in July.
“The project in Italy, then bringing the 9/11 project here to the main stage, and now Carmina,” Ohlsen said. “I will spend the next six months with great joy producing work.”
“I loved every minute of what I did”
IMC, located at Charles Street and Washington Square, is made up of 12 professional dancers, two artistic producers, eight administrative staff, and is governed by a board of 17 community leaders. The Newport Academy of Ballet has been owned by IMC since 2017. IMC executives are not yet ready to announce Ohlsen’s successor.
“I loved every minute of what I did and will remain deeply connected to the business,” Ohlsen said. “But it’s the right thing at the moment and there will be a wonderful person to replace me. There is a great transition plan in place.
Island Moving Company plans to stage many of its ballet performances in the coming years at a new IMC Center for Dance and Education to be built on the site of the former Triplett School on Broadway. The project is fully licensed by the city, but ownership of the plot has yet to be transferred from the city to IMC, according to IMC executive director Peter Bramante.
The city purchased the land from the Diocese of Providence in the 1960s and the title has not yet been cleared, he said.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to disappear,” Ohlsen promised. “I won’t be the artistic director, but I’ll be involved in the fundraising campaign.”
“I always wanted this business to survive beyond me,” she concluded. “It was never my business. The Island Moving Company belongs to all of us, to all the dancers who are here and to all the artists who work here.