An event that began as an experiment to mingle dance and nature has evolved into an annual spectacle, with Windhover Center for the Performing Arts preparing to present “Quarry Dance VIII” this weekend.
This summer’s performances return to where the first quarry dance was held eight years ago — oceanfront Halibut Point State Park at the northern tip of Rockport.
There will be four presentations over three days, from Friday through Sunday.
Lisa Hahn, executive director of Windhover, points to the power of a humble idea to celebrate nature. Her late mother, Ina Hahn, founder of Windhover, wanted to celebrate the quarries that have such historical significance for Cape Ann — as well as tremendous natural beauty.
Cape Ann, particularly Rockport’s Pigeon Cove and Gloucester’s village of Lanesville, boasted a bustling quarry industry in the 20th century, supplying granite for buildings and streets throughout the United States.
At Halibut Point, the state park was once home to the Babson Farm Quarry, an active granite quarry that was abandoned in 1929, thus opening the way to its life as a place of natural beauty.
“It seems like a lifetime ago when my mom started this concept, and little did she know it would take off like this,” Hahn said. “Halibut Point is where it gave birth, and it’s rooted in the sense of place and, for her, a celebration of this place.
“And there’s nothing like Halibut Point to start that trajectory,” she said. “My memories are so deep there, for my mother and the beauty of the quarry, sitting where it is next to the ocean. How rare is that setting, which becomes the backdrop of a proscenium stage — an amphitheater for dance.”
Over the past seven years, the dances have taken place at various public and private quarries of Cape Ann.
There from the start was the New York City-based Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre, which will once again create a site-specific modern dance.
The dancers will perform around the quarry and incorporate the unique features of the topography into the choreography as they move among the ledges, cliffs and glacier-strewn boulders.
“Dušan was part of the original concept, and he brought that idea to fruition that first year,” Hahn said.
For most of the troupe, the quarry dance at Halibut Point will be a new experience. Only Týnek and one other dancer performed that inaugural year.
“We reminisced about the first quarry dance, and there were people that came, but nobody had any idea what they were coming to see,” Hahn said. “They were the pioneers, the risk takers and the people who follow Windhover.”
Her mother was there to see the first four quarry dances, and she would have been thrilled to see the throngs of people who attended last year’s event at the Manship Artist Residency + Studios in Gloucester, Hahn said.
The Czech-born Týnek said that this year’s dance is like a homecoming because it was the site of the first quarry dance.
“It’s interesting to be back since not that many things have changed, but obviously, we have changed and have had different experiences,” he said. “The challenge is to be in same place that is so special and make it a completely different dance than it was eight years ago. I want to do something we haven’t done yet.”
Thinking back to that first quarry dance, he said he had no idea what he was getting into.
“It’s such a privilege and such a beautiful location, and it’s so challenging in so many ways and so different than working in a theater setting or a stage setting. I love doing it because it challenges you in a completely different way,” Týnek said. “The dancers love it because it’s extremely challenging and interesting for them and they get to use completely different parts of their bodies than they normally do. They always joke about having the best bodies of the year after quarry dance because of how they use their bodies to perform on the extremely challenging terrain.”
Týnek recalled when Ina Hahn approached him about her idea.
“I said ‘great’ and ‘why not.’ I had no idea it would go beyond that, but there was a hope that it would be successful,” he said. “I had no reference point because I never heard of anyone doing something like that, and I didn’t know it was possible then.
“Now, I know anything is possible if you have the people willing to help you and prepare the site and have a Lisa Hahn organize the whole thing and get the funding,” he said. “The logistics are sometimes overwhelming, so I love we can just come here and create something that has never been created and will never be seen again.”
Because the site is a state park, the dancers will not go into the water, which is prohibited. But from years past at other quarries, that does not daunt the dancers, who wow the crowd with their movements and colorful clothing.
In one instance, the dancers twisted to resemble pink starfish on the rocks. At Rockport’s Flat Ledge Quarry, they did a dance with red umbrellas on the roof of the pumping station.
Returning also will be Russ Gershon, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and band leader in the Boston area who will accompany all four performances, at times giving an ethereal effect to the outdoor dance event.
Lisa Hahn said that her mother was so sensitive to the potential for combining art and nature.
“There is such a need for it in our age,” she said. “My mother’s hope was that this will focus community attention on protecting these treasures for future generations.”
If you go
What: “Quarry Dance VIII”
When: Friday at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. Rain will cancel.
Where: Halibut Point State Park, Rockport. There is free parking in the field at Windhover Center for the Performing Arts Center (use 247 Granite St. as a GPS guide). Shuttles start one hour before each performance and will run for about 30 minutes after. It is about a 10-minute walk for those who wish to go on foot. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Chairs will be provided, or bring your own chair or blanket.
How much: Free, but donations accepted
More information: www.windhover.org