clothed figures move, fluid ease, gliding. Golden faces, golden
hands, yes those hands, expressive, conversational, reaching to
communicate, desiring to speak. Those magical window-framed figures
with talking hands move amid festive lights and decorations, gifts
and wrapping, chestnuts roasting, horse drawn carriages and children,
always children, eyes filled with wonder.
For the past five years, one of the highlights of Hudson’s
Winter Walk has been the mysterious figures inhabiting the Warren
Street shop windows. Usually decked out in Victorian finery, or
other magical attire, their magnetic mechanical behavior is irresistible.
I thought it appropriate to introduce the woman responsible for
creating these fascinating characters; meet Abby Lappen.
Abby was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father owned a furniture
store. Little Abby loved the store, loved playing in the rooms filled
with furniture. To her the store was a set and the furniture, props.
She loved climbing on, over and under the furniture, but most of
all she loved to dance around it. When she was six or seven a local
radio station held a live broadcast from the store’s front
window. Abby sneaked into the window and danced for the crowd gathered
She loved dance, modern and ethnic movement and rhythms that attracted
her, so she studied Martha Graham and Haitian dance. She studied
Cunningham in Junior High and became a dance theatre major at Antioch
College. Following graduation she moved to New York, “I wanted
to be in the artistic hub of the world.”
She refused offers to join dance companies, “I wanted to make
up my own work instead of picking up the tricks of someone else.”
It takes a lot of courage to go your own way, to cut your own path
in the dance world. “I don’t like doing someone else’s
work and calling it mine. Inventing and reinventing as you go along,
constantly letting the process unfold, that’s creativity.
I mean, are you there to mirror and appease or to shape and shake
it up?” She pauses a moment toying with the string on her
tea bag, “I give up me by not doing my own work.”
Abby and her husband Martin Baumgold, whom she met at a dance rehearsal
space, have been married for twenty years. In 1987 they moved to
Columbia County. In 1992 they purchased the old Dutch Reform Church
in Mellenville and established the Amble Dance Movement Arts Center.
Abby teaches dance of all kinds, even tap, holds movement workshops,
private classes, open-mike coffee house nights and rents out the
space as well. It’s hard work, but she’s driven by the
need to create.
Abby is passionate about dance. When she talks about dance excitement
involuntarily overtakes her, eyes brightening. Several times during
our conversation at a local restaurant she jumped up from the table
to clarify or illustrate a point.
“What is dance?” I ask.
“It’s about energy that flows from your center. How
it flows is where the movement varies.”
Communicating with people through her work is important. In past
years the Winter Walk characters she choreographed were mechanical
figures. “In the mechanical ones I was trying to look into
the soul. I wanted people to ask, is it real or not?”
This year she was inspired to take a risk; this year her dancers
would speak. The language would be that of the American Sign Language,
their voice would be their hands. Four weeks of rehearsal ensued
to choreograph the ten minute sequences each window dancer would
perform. Affected by the events of September, Abby also wrote the
script. You may have watched these extraordinary dancers without
knowing they were speaking to you. Even without knowing, I’m
certain they moved you.
At our lunch, Abby demonstrates the sign gesture for magic and I
am instantly affected, I smile, the movement so uplifting and expressive.
In part, here is what those golden, talking hands were saying:
Maybe we mean something and maybe we don't.
Maybe we have something to say and maybe we don't.
Maybe we have a story, and maybe if you look deep inside
you might find you have a story too, more alive and revealing than
Come celebrate life with us, with lights and peace and love.
“What’s your dream?”
“To be okay, to be who I am,” falls out then she thinks,
puzzled. “Music,” she’s been spending time with
her guitar writing songs. “I want to make a CD, maybe audition
for Falcon Ridge.” She also wants to write and says she may
give up dance. I don’t believe her though, about giving up
dance, that is. I figure Abby could do just about anything creative
she put her mind to, but not to dance, not to move, not to choreograph?
No, that’s impossible, like Fred Astaire selling used cars.
To steal a line from Joni Mitchell, “It’s in your blood
like holy wine.” Thanks, Abby, for holiday dance, for the
joy you bring us all.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.