Meet the Movement: Britney Tokumoto

I had a blast talking to Britney and the other members of the Schoen Movement Company. Keep in touch with them at http://www.schoenmovementcompany.com/, and don’t forget to check CMF’s website for upcoming shows!

How long have you been with the Schoen Movement company?

I have been dancing with Schoen movement company for a year and a half.

What is one of the best experiences you’ve had?

Definitely going to Jacob’s Pillow last summer. We performed at the Inside/Out performance series that happens every summer. She [Emily Schoen] had a couple of different pieces she showed there. I performed in two of the pieces, Complex and Robotic Love.

With that in mind, do you have a favorite piece that you’ve done?

One of my favorite pieces created by Emily was included in a series called Ten Tiny Dances. The face dance was very challenging and so much fun. I enjoyed dancing with my facial expressions.

Is there  a specific place that you draw inspiration from when you’re working with her?

Definitely. The group of people she chose to work with her are all very unique, I’m inspired by their individual voices as dancers. I think we all work really nicely together and that’s helpful. She gives us a lot of tools to work with and I really get to utilize my own sense of imagination while working with Emily.

What do you mean by tools, as in she gives you direction?

She gives us direction and also freedom within it. She gives us a task or imagery that she wants to work with, and then we create phrases based on our interpretation. We make the dance phrases and then she pulls movement or intention from what we’ve created.

You guys really do work pretty deeply together.SAM_0612 - Copy

Yes. Our first day of the residency was refreshing and we generated a lot of material. Being together in a new setting without the hustle and bustle of the city, I felt really allowed us to engage deeper in our creative practice.

What I just saw, was that from yesterday?

The beginning duet is actually from a series called Ten Tiny Dances.

I watched all of those, I love those!

Yeah, Ten Tiny Dances was exciting and really a great way to showcase the brilliance of Emily’s work. The ten dances were versatile and fun. They were released online every Monday this past January, and it was great to look forward to a new tiny dance each week. The duet you saw is called A Jointed Affair and we will be expanding on that duet into a longer piece.

Is it difficult to take such a short dance and make it into a full piece?

It can be difficult expanding on a shorter piece. But  the  duet, “A jointed affair” that we are working on, was not difficult to add on to. Emily is extremely musical and working with her on a new creation is really fun. She crafts her work efficiently and collaboratively, while still fulfilling imaginative and humanistic qualities in her movement vocabulary.

Do you have a favorite dancer, choreographer, or someone you look up to in the world of dance?

One of my favorite choreographers is Kate Weare. Her company Kate Weare Company is based in NYC. I admire her work and try to take her workshops often. I am drawn to the endless possibilities of conveying emotion in dance/movement and her choreography invites you to engage in those moments. Her dances are filled with daring and subtle nuances. It is a visceral and adventurous journey. I encourage you to check her out.

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Meet the Movement: Brandon Cournay

SAM_0607 copyHow long have you been with the Schoen Movement Company?

I am proud to say that I have been with Schoen Movement Company since the very beginning!

So you’ve been here a while! Can you think of a favorite piece that you’ve done?

My favorite piece is actually the first dance Emily created for SMC, titled “In One Ear and Out Your Brother.” There are so many textures within the piece it is extremely challenging and rewarding to dance. I am also LOVING the pieces we are creating here in the Catskills.

Is there a specific place you draw inspiration from while you guys are working?

I draw a lot of inspiration from my colleagues. It’s an honor to create with such an eclectic and ridiculously talented group of artists. The five of us have not worked together in a creative process like we have up here. I find it so inspiring discovering the nuances and qualities everyone brings with them. These dancers push me to investigate and discover more in myself.

It seems like you think of dance as almost looking into yourself.

I think it’s communal; I really believe that anyone can dance, and therefore, anyone can be a dancer. Everyone has their own physical qualities and traits; dancers are able to accentuate them above and beyond the means of physicality. Audiences go see dance to see a little bit of themselves on the stage, because you’re seeing humans moving in both recognizable and unrecognizable ways.

SAM_0603 copyDo you like the dancing or the choreographing more, or is it almost the same thing to you?

Dancing! Honestly, I struggle to find my own choreographic voice. I enjoy choreographing, collaborating and creating new movement, but with someone else in the driver’s seat. It’s so much pressure!

What would you say to aspiring dancers?

See as much as you can. Expose yourself to things, dancing is SO much more than being in the studio and working on your technique. Educate yourself in every way; read, watch movies, go see shows, YouTube dance companies. Discover what you like and don’t like, and then try to understand why.

In what you guys do, is it a very technical kind of dance?

Emily’s movement is extremely technical! One of her greatest qualities is her versatility, she creates such a range of movement, we have to be ready for anything.

Do you think higher education in dance is important?

Absolutely! All of us in SMC went to college and have degrees in Dance. Higher education is the best way to expose yourself to new styles and take new risks. In college, you have the opportunity to mature as an artist and a person. It can be such a rich and formulative time.

Brandon will be working with CMF again soon for a residency with Keigwin + Company. Reserve your tickets here for their June 6th performance!

Meet the Movement: Kacie Boblitt

When did you get started with the Schoen Movement Company?

I’ve been with Schoen Movement company since its beginnings. Emily and I actually have a bit more history though because we went to the University of Arizona together. I’ve been doing her work since 2008.

That’s pretty cool! What’s a favorite performance that you’ve done?

My favorite performance was when we did In One Ear And Out My Brother at Jacob’s Pillow, in the Inside/Out Festival. That dance was one of the most challenging pieces of choreography I’ve had to learn – I had to go home and do my own homework.  It’s very musical and gestural. It was really rewarding to not only perform that work for the first time, but in such a beautiful outdoor venue. That was definitely a highlight for me.

SAM_0618Do you have any specific examples of what makes that stand out to you, or why it was challenging?

You would have to experience it. Have you ever been to Jacob’s Pillow, or seen it?

No, I’ve seen some footage of you guys there, but I’ve never been.

Inside/Out is an outdoor venue. A stage set in the middle of nature. It’s so beautiful, especially in the summer when the festival takes place. I found it really inspiring to be surrounded by that scenery.  The act of performing in itself is such an exhilarating and special experience, I guess you could say that the Inside/Out environment enhanced that. As for the challenge,  In One Ear and Out My Brother was a particularly difficult piece for me to learn. It’s not that dancing isn’t always challenging, but that dance is especially intricate. There was a lot of very specific, tedious, detailed movement that all had to fall on its appropriate count/part of the music. Working through that process and performing the piece for the first time was really exciting.

You mentioned counting; some other dancers have mentioned that dancing has a lot to do with counting. Did you sort of find another way to do it?

Yes; this piece of music that we were using was an original score [by Glen Fittin], and involves a lot of scatting. For example you might  hear a  ba da dum da dum gat, and we’d have maybe four different things happening in that small piece of music. So we would assimilate each movement with each sound that you were hearing.

I can remember being a percussionist in high school band, and you would have these enormous lengths of time where you have to count, and you don’t count, you just listen for the cues in the music. Nobody ever counted! I don’t know if dancing is the same thing.

I do find that we use a lot of  different approaches to “counting” music in Emily’s work and in dance in general. Its whatever makes sense to us for a particular piece.

What inspired you to pursue dance in the first place?

I started at a pretty young age with gymnastics. I really liked movement, and the power of propelling yourself through space.  My gymnastics studio also had a dance team.  I took a workshop that also happened to be an audition and  I got into this group that was a competitive team. I was nine at the time, and it seemed cool. I liked that I was good enough to get into this thing. It was a source of confidence that grew into a passion for movement in general. And the rest is history.

Alright! Are you familiar with the Catskill mountains; have you ever been around this area?

No, I would say the closest that I’ve been is Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires. This is my first time here.

So do you guys plan on exploring the nature around here?

The first day we actually went to the Kaaterskill waterfall, and that was really beautiful. I mentioned earlier that I went to college in Arizona. I got to experience so much hiking, and camping, and outdoor stuff there and I really miss it.  I value opportunities to do stuff like that, that’s why residencies up here are so fun. Being stuck in the city every day and being tied to that super urban environment can be stifling. I think maybe we’ll try to do more; it got cold though, so I don’t know how much we’ll end up doing this week. But I’m actually going to be coming back with Emily and Brandon for Keigwin and Company, which has a residency for three weeks. I definitely plan on doing some more hiking.

That sounds good! From some other dancers, not only in this company but in other companies and other disciplines, they kind of talk about dance as a natural thing; like a first language. What are your thoughts on that?

I think that dance is a wonderful and universal way to communicate. As dancers, we’ve practiced this way of communicating for so long- It has become second nature to us.  I think we have really bonded a lot as a company because of how much we have been dancing together. We are getting to know each other not only through living together and interacting socially but we have this second level dialogue that accelerates our relationships in a way. A lot of times we’ll start rehearsal with some kind of improv situation, so we’re just thinking off the top of our head, and we use that technique to build movement.  It’s very instinctual to use movement to connect and have a conversation and the conversations are getting deeper every day.

Kacie’s closing statement:SAM_0594

I’m really excited to be a part of this company. Since we started less than a year ago, we’ve done so much, and we’re progressing so much artistically and as a business. I think Emily has such a business mind as well as an artistic mind, so it feels like a very…I wouldn’t say comfortable because the work is challenging, but a very professional and artistically supportive environment. I’m excited to see where it goes.

So in other words, expect big things from the Schoen Movement Company?

Verbatim. You should say that.

Meet the Movement: Tyler Phillips

Exciting news from the Orpheum: Schoen Movement is here! A few fabulous members of the dance company took time out of their lunch breaks to sit down for a few minutes and talk with me.

How long have you been with the Schoen Movement Company?

Technically since it’s inception. I was brought on a little late into the process when she was beginning to prepare for Jacob’s Pillow, which was the premiere of the company. Emily’s been creating work for a while on and off, but as far as for the company, we had our premiere performance with a couple of pieces that she had been working on for a while. I came in last minute to replace a dancer.

And it kind of stuck since then.

Yes, so technically since the beginning of the company, but I’d say I’m the latest to be added to the bunch.

Do you like the dancing or the choreographing part more? It seems like you guys all have a pretty big hand in that.

The great thing about Emily’s process, and it’s something that’s hard to find these days, is a lot of people are using your movement vocabulary. It’s a way to create new work, these days people will rely on their dancers to generate new material. Sometimes it can feel like you’re being stolen from; where your idea is so blatantly yours and not the choreographers, and they use it. But in this process it’s being manipulated in such a way, and she’s so directed in exactly what she wants from that phrase and what we’re creating to begin with, that you never feel like you’re being taken advantage of. You feel like you’re on this guided process of creating and collaborating together. I think I can’t really pick a side because dancing and choreographing with her are kind of all in the same sphere of things, it’s like a constant creative process in terms of when we’re generating movement together.

That’s a really interesting perspective. Can you think of a favorite piece that you’ve done with the company?

Oh, all of them. I’m really really stoked about our two new creations, I think they’re both entering two very distinct worlds. That’s nice because sometimes you can feel like you’re just repeating the same dance, but we get to really live in these two worlds right now. As far as going back to think about one of my favorite dances, I really loved doing this piece for the Ten Tiny Dances series with Kacie [Boblitt], even though it was freezing when we were filming it outside. It was really awesome to kind of develop this piece walking through New York and traffic and through a bunch of people. I really loved that, I think that was called City Run.

So in this dance, were you guys the only ones aware that you were doing this tiny dance, or was the public even aware?

No, we were just walking through people!

That’s great! I’m definitely including a link to that. What would you say to aspiring dancers?

It’s a good thing that you’ve chosen to do something physical and creative with your body. Know that it’s a job like any other, there are struggles and everything, it’s not like this complete escape from the reality of corporate America even though we kind of wish it was. Keep pushing and don’t stop being creative with your body, even to those who don’t even see themselves as dancers; like kids, they should feel free to be active with their body. Being creative in the physical sphere is incredibly important for manifesting a healthy lifestyle.

SAM_0593 less wideBranching off of that, do you think dance is important, not only for people who are into art?

Absolutely! I think dance is a vital part of our self expression, it’s definitely our first language. I think it’s incredibly vital to sustaining human relations, and to develop empathy with each other. Understanding our bodies, how that works, and communicating with each other; I feel like our bodies do a lot better job of that than our words sometimes. Words can be very veiled, and planned and precise, but our bodies are usually pretty honest about what we’re experiencing.

In that sense would you say that you prefer dance that is more honest and straightforward, opposed to dance that’s more veiled, and for lack of better words…sneaky?

I don’t know, it can be fun to be sneaky as long as you’re taking the audience with you and you’re not putting a black wall in front of them so they don’t understand anything that’s going on onstage. I do like honest dancing, for sure, but I think that all has to do with creating a world that all of the dancers can believe in. If all the dancers are completely present the entire time, it doesn’t even have to rely on a story. Really the audience isn’t going to care what’s happening onstage unless all the dancers are completely there.

So you have to be sneaky with the audience.

Yeah, it has to be a conversation; you can’t leave them out.

I like the idea of the conversation. You told me before you’re a huge nature guy; do you plan on exploring the nature around here? The weather’s hasn’t been exactly ideal, but still.

Definitely. You know our first day up here we actually went to the Kaaterskill falls and had a beautiful hike just before we got here, which was really grounding and relieved some of the city anxiety. For sure now that the weather is nice, I definitely want to explore more of what’s around here. It’s just nice to breathe fresh air and be able to make a fire again.

I assume you can’t make very many fires in the city.

Oh no, unless you have a backyard, and I’m not one of those privileged few.

One last question: is that a tattoo on your arm I see?

Yes it is.

Can you tell me the story behind that, or the meaning?

Yes, this is for my grandfather. He was a really important person in my life, and that’s actually my grandmother’s handwriting. A few days before he died, he sent my aunt and my mother, which are his two daughters, a quote that said, “happiness is being content with what you have. Too many people spend too much time looking for the pot of gold instead of stopping to admire the rainbow.” He was a really generous human being, always telling me to be fully present. I always wanted something for him, and eventually I just settled on this. I had to kind of pull it out of my grandmother to write it for me.

That’s really beautiful.SAM_0632

Tyler and the company will be performing a showcase this Friday, April 24th at 1PM. The show is FREE but make sure to reserve your tickets on our ticketing website! Stay tuned for more Meet the Movement!

 

The Awesome Emily Schoen

From the dizzying excitement of ending one show and preparing for the next, another intriguing interview arises! It was great to step into the wonderful mind of Emily Schoen, director of the Schoen Movement Company, which will be in residence soon at the Orpheum. We can’t wait for their FREE showcase on April 24th! In the meantime, take a look at what Emily has to say about storytelling, dance, and choreography.

What’s the first step in your creative process?

The first step in my creative process is usually either music or concept. If I have a good idea of what the music will be before I enter the studio, it’s much easier for me to use it as a roadmap for the piece. This is when dance-making happens quickest for me. If I have a strong concept before I enter the space, the music joins the movement as a changing variable, and I test out lots of options to find the right fit.

When you start out with a strong concept, is there a certain genre of music you find generally works best with your ideas?

hr_20140815_EmilySchoenMovement_EmilySchoen-TylerPhillips_ChristopherDuggan_013 - CopyMy music tastes are all over the board. I like choosing classical music, popular music, oldies tunes, and even working with composers on original scores. I think that using a variety of music makes for a more interesting dance concert.

You’ve got some really intriguing themes and ideas; for instance, how did you come across the idea of using podcasts in developing a performance?

I fell in love with podcasts a couple of years ago when I started listening to them during my commutes around New York City. Good podcasts feel intimate- they feel like the speaker is talking only to you, and you are having this personal experience in the middle of the swirling energy of a city workday. My favorite podcasts- This American Life and The Moth- share other people’s real life stories, so they make you feel connected to the humanity of others and in touch with society. I love storytelling and try to bring it to my dance-making, so it seemed natural to use podcasts as inspiration for dance works. I’m never trying to re-tell a story through dance, but rather use the themes that have inspired me to direct the movement vocabulary of the piece or the way that the dancers interact.

Out of all the pieces you’ve done, which is your favorite?

It’s hard to say which is my favorite piece. The one that I’m most excited about at a given moment changes. Right now when thinking over the repertoire, Robotic Love pops up as a piece I really like. It’s a male-female duet, made completely of staccato movement that describes a tender, yet mechanical and emotionally neutral relationship. Another piece that I keep coming back to is In One Ear and Out My Brother, which is set to a dynamic original score that I love.

Do you think dance is important?

I do. Engaging in art raises the morale of society, ignites creativity, and charges the workforce. Dance, specifically, speaks to our biological understanding of movement. Toddlers know how to physically respond to music without ever being taught. Dance works therefore are inherently pleasing because they are based in something so human.

SchoenMovementCompany-Kacie Boblitt IO Pillow shoot - Copy

The Schoen Movement Company will perform a showcase of their latest work at the Orphuem Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 24th at 1PM. The show is FREE, but make sure to reserve your tickets here in advance for a guaranteed seat!

A Moment with Victoria Rinaldi

Victoria Rinaldi and Valentina Kozlova have teamed up to present “American Dream” at the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 11th. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Victoria about dancing, art, and the upcoming show. Talking to her made me really wish I could dance! – Maggie

What’s the driving force behind American Dream, was there a specific inspiration for this program?1391600_10152431049926581_1670946518490736431_n

Yes. I am working with a very talented, local male dancer (Justin Valentine), who in order to get to the professional level needed help, because none of the schools up here could really get him technically to the place he needed to be to compete. He approached me a year and a half ago to coach him, and did very well; he gained admittance to one of the most competitive summer intensives last year at American Ballet Theater, and he wanted to continue on. This year I wanted another set of eyes on him, so three days out of the week I coach him at the Red Barn in Hunter, and the other three days he goes to my dear friend Valentina Kozlova’s school in New York City. Valentina is a Russian defector; her students compete internationally, they are the absolute highest quality in their age group and most of them will go on to have major careers. They were all invited to participate in the Dance Open Festival in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which is a very prestigious invitation. So basically this program, is a combination of what they will be doing in Russia, and also the solos that they will be competing with internationally, so it’s like a big gala evening. Valentina picked the name, I said, what do you want to call this thing? And that’s what she wanted to call it.

Well that’s quite the story behind it!

Yes; now when Valentina defected she had the most impeccable Russian dance pedigree ever. She was first in her class at the Bolshoi, and she defected in Los Angeles when the Bolshoi was on tour in 1979, and her desire was to be able to dance a much wider repertoire of ballets. Another factor to this evening is the choreographer Margaret Sappington will be presenting a lot of her work. One of the reasons why Valentina wanted to defect  was to be able to dance a lot of different pieces, like what will be in the second act. Basically we’re presenting an entire evening of the best solos and pa de deuxs, the absolute classics in the first act, and then cutting edge choreography by one of our favorite choreographers in the second act. The evening will be closed with “For Ella,” which is a favorite piece of both of ours. We danced the premiere at the Joyce Theater in 1996 by Margaret Sappington who is also a local resident; she has a farm in East Durham.

Do you think ballet has changed since you started and over the years?

Absolutely. When I started my training, it was strictly classical ballet, and classical ballet is the root of all performance dance, even Hip Hop. If you are a classically trained ballet dancer, you tend to be able to pick up all different styles very easily. You need to be able to be a chameleon these days. It’s not enough just to have good technique, you need to be able to dance seamlessly between styles, and look like that is your main genre of dance. Nowadays when a choreographer comes in, he’s not only looking for superb technique, superb physical attributes, turns, jumps, and whatnot, he needs to be able to push the envelope further because everything’s been done, and everybody’s trying to outdo one another at this point. They want something new, they want something different, they want as many colors in their paintbox as they can get to paint with. You need to be able to give a choreographer what they want to work with – not only that, but to inspire them to create something spectacular for you.

Do you think that ballet is important for just dancers? What about all artists and musicians, or the general public?

Yes, I do think it’s important on several different levels. As far as art forms informing one another, there’s a huge history in art and ballet inspiring one another. Margo Sappington for instance has used Rodin’s sculptures as a basis for a very famous ballet she did; she also did another ballet based on Rousseau’s paintings. Of course (Edgar) Degas loved to paint ballet dancers. When I was at the Met, there was an Alexander Calder piece, also David Hockney did the costumes for Parade; they go hand in hand. Of course there’s plenty of ballets that are just lights and tights, but many times you need to be a multifaceted person, and have a complete understanding of other art forms to be a good ballet dancer. People don’t want to just see a paper doll up there that makes beautiful positions, you are a dancing actress. That’s something that a lot of dancers don’t realize until they’re into their career, they expect you to have something in your head other than counts.

Dance training is excellent for almost everyone. A kid that has dance training will carry themselves differently, and will have a discipline that will help them in almost every other instance in life. You have to be able to work well with others, to take direction, to take criticism;  you have to be able to have an aura that when you walk into a room you are something to be looked at, because that is something that you absolutely need on stage. These are all things that are good for you in other walks of life. Dance appreciation is a fabulous thing. Ballet is an artform, it’s been handed down from teacher to student, from coach to mentor to performer for centuries, and it should be protected. All of our classics should be protected, and some of what I’m presenting in the first act would be exactly the same as someone doing a Shakespeare soliloquy. That sounds very dry and boring, but these are pieces that are historically accurate and come from a very valuable place that should not be lost.

Bonus content:

David Hockney is a British artist, you see him in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s a quirky, modern artist. He did the costumes at the Met for the ballet Parade. The ballet Parade originally came from a statement on Europe after World War I. Ballets can be a commentary on social subjects, like the Green Table for instance, it can be as timely as it can be quite jarring.

It’s not all sugarplum fairies, I guess.

No it’s certainly not all sugarplum fairies, but that’s usually most people’s first exposure to ballet. There’s some that’s quite shocking, there’s some that’s quite thought provoking, it’s not all Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Those are very beautiful, those are the classics. Valentina and I will be presenting a Nutcracker this December. It’s usually everyone first exposure to dance, and I will be looking towards the community to do some of the roles in the first act. Some of the party guests, the parents, this would be very easy dancing that anyone could do, but they will have an opportunity to be on stage and be part of a cast of highly trained dancers in the second act. I’m hoping to get the word out there and to really make it something that people want to try. They may not like it and they won’t have to do it a second year, but everyone should have the opportunity to climb into costume and give it their best shot.

Reserve your seats to American Dream on our ticketing website today!

What is American Masquerade? (Part I)

A Canadian law quietly enacted in 2013 specifically bans people from wearing any sort of mask or face covering during an “unlawful assembly”.

GuyFalkesmask

Under current Canadian law, a maximum ten-year sentence is being threatened against anyone convicted of concealment of one’s face. This law includes protesters despite earlier promises by Canadian politicians and law enforcement officials that the new law would not be used to target law abiding citizens or protestors. This does not only apply to the now-iconic Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, but includes those who would wrap their face in a scarf or “neck sock,” or even religious face coverings. While Canadian law had already enacted a ban on covering one’s face during a criminal act, this newer law is said to be aimed directly at activists who wear masks at protests. In Oklahoma, lawmakers are planning to introduce a similar bill.

Newlywedswithmasks      Masks are used for protection, and  in sports, hunting, feasts, and war. They can be used as sacred, practical, or playful things. Masks play a key part within world theatre traditions, particularly non-western theatre forms. They also continue to be a vital force within contemporary theatre, and their usage takes a variety of forms. Masks can also be used to hide behind.

Masks weren’t originally meant to conceal. From their beginning in ancient times, they were used for protection or ornamentation. It is believed that masks were used first to transfer supernatural power or call up “the gods”.

Masks were used in ancient Roman festivals to signal that the necessity for polite behavior was not necessary and people were free for a short period of time to engage in “merry-making” beyond their rank or status. At the Carnival of Venice, which dates back to 1268 AD, all are equal behind their masks. -Even the Jewish Purim festivities make use of carnivalesque masks.

The Iroquois Confederacy of North America used masks to heal. Himalayan masks acted as go-betweens with supernatural forces.     Native Alaskan Yup’ik masks vary in size from three-inch finger masks to twenty pound masks that need several people to carry them.

Whatever their use, masks have played an important part history and in helping us to understand what it means to be human by masquerading as something other than ourselves. The masquerade motif even appears in the Bible as an attempt to fool people and an attempt to fool God.  Judaic ritual forbids the “fashioning [of] a statue or a mask”, as marked by the Second Commandment. Men'sCheapSilverpartymask

This spring, Mainly Greene, a partnership of four Greene County, New York based non-profits, will explore the masquerade motif in a joint exhibit, “American Masquerade.” Using as its core, the Anti-Rent War of New York State, 1839-1845 The so-called “war” was actually a tenants’ revolt in upstate New York during the early 19th century, beginning in 1839 with the death of wealthy landlord, Stephen Van Rensselaer III.