ABOUT THE BLOG: Tiny Dancer | Big Words

I originally started this blog ten months ago as an Independent Study in my last year of graduate school at Hollins University. While earning my MFA in Dance, the amount of complexing and perplexing information packed into my brain and body is quite overwhelming; a few years will certainly pass before it all stops bubbling and settles in for, hopefully, good. But one thing I know for sure, in this moment, here at my desk in charming Main Hall on the steamy Hollins campus, is… I LOVE WRITING.

 

Like making dance, scribing about it has become a craft of curiosity; I rarely know what will happen when I sit down at my laptop or step in the studio, even if I have a small seed planted. What started out as a project has turned into a passion, and I must shout out to the incomparable Elizabeth Zimmer for igniting my spark. Creating this blog, curating its content, and navigating through the rocky terrain of being a dancer / maker / director / educator / critic / writer / generally friendly person in the cozy arts community of Charlotte, NC hasn’t been easy, but it has been a labor of love. Through conducting an assortment of dance reviews, previews, and interviews over last near year, I’ve collected a few gems, like…

  • Men in tights can be super smart, thoughtful, and funny.
  • There is more to UNCC than frat parties and highway pedestrian strikings.
  • Charlotte is lucky to have caught a few talented transplants, but let one go recently.
  • Unapologetic classicists are some of my favorite people.
  • Art and faith just MIGHT have to save the world after all.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to kick off your heels and step out of line, no matter what.
  • Race relations in dance is risky business, but thankfully, someone is doing it in our community.
  • Dance in Charlotte, just like anywhere, can be a mixed bag of hits and misses.
  • Durham, NC is the bees knees – for dance and food co-ops.
  • A well-organized and -executed dance festival is NOT a mythological creature.

It’s hard to summarize the landscape of dance in Charlotte… it’s always shifting. Some days I’m super stoked to be a maker and a mover in the Queen City; other days I’m ready to throw in the towel and start a goat farm somewhere off the grid. But generally, I’m honored to be one cog in the evolving, learning, and growing machine of performing arts under the 704. We’ve gotten a bad rap over the past few years – what with that disgraceful HB2, the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and subsequent riots, and a (thankfully gone) douchebag of a governor and all. But if I can contribute just a little nugget of insight, intellect, and reprieve by making / performing / watching / talking about / writing about dance (especially on the days it’s REAL hard to be a Carolinian, much less an artist in the semi-deep South), that’s enough to keep me in motion.

I certainly plan on continuing this blog beyond this Independent Study, and I hope you continue to read. There will be a brief pause while I present my (yikes!) thesis in a few weeks and consume a lot of bier and brezels next month. In the meantime, do me a solid and keep watching / taking / reading about / thinking about dance as much as you possibly can. Catch CPCC’s Summer Theatre, go see a show at the American Dance Festival, or subscribe to the Dance section of the New York Times. You might just see something you like… or not.

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ABOUT THE SHOW: Shelter

Incidentally, I attended opening night of “Shelter” at the Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square on the opening night of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5 storm expected to ravage much of the U.S. Southeastern coast. Despite most of the state (including Charlotte) suffering only light rain showers last Friday, I was glad to enjoy the haven of “Shelter”, the joint dance concert presented by Juliana Tilbury, founder and director of PLEXUS|dance, and Sarah Council, founder and director of Sarah Council Dance Projects.

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I became a fan of Dislocate when I saw the duet version at the North Carolina Dance Alliance’s Dance Swap in April. Choreographed by Sarah Council with the dancers, the quartet rendition in its Charlotte premiere brought back Sarah Ingel, this time with Charlotte Duncan, Breanne Horne, and co-producer Juliana Tilbury (spoiler alert… she’s in everything!). As the lights dimmed I tried to clear my memory of the earlier version, just to go into it with a clean slate. But as the four dancers entered, walking slowly in a single file diagonal line, this Dislocate already looked different. At times the women, wearing different shades and shapes of sleeveless collared shirts and leggings, moved communally; they partnered, supported each other, and breathed together (a lot). Other times they broke apart (most notably the closing solo by powerhouse Sarah Ingel), but their sense of unity was always apparent. Council’s crafted choreography, set to the music of contemporary dance favorite Mike Wall, was often gestural, but not minimal. The dancers moved with precision and fluidity (a cohesive quality that lingered throughout the show). My enjoyment was only interrupted by the hissy sound quality of recorded interviews with two international refugees (I only know this from Dance Swap) provided by Project 658.

There was a slight disconnect in Dislocate, as four Caucasian (at least looking) women dancing to the heavily accented voices of African (at least sounding) refugees seemed a bit disparate. But when I shifted my gaze and just watched the dancers unfold in this thoughtful work without overthinking the context, I found myself savoring Dislocate with more ease. The piece concluded with the dancers again walking slowly, this time to stage left, suggesting traveling or moving forward. One hopes that these bodies/voices find a home and sense of belonging, where ever they land.

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Juliana Tilbury reprised That Belongs to You, Dear (2011), which she this time danced herself with Eric Mullis, who returned to the role. By default their two long, thin, and tangling bodies, coupled with the piece’s title, suggested a romantic rapport. Yet there was nothing sexual about the duet; on the contrary the two dancers beautifully conveyed the awkwardness and struggle that accompanies any intimate relationship, especially long term. They had a sort of cat and mouse exchange, purposely never timing their connections quite right. When they did unite, spooning on the marly or in a effortless lift, Mullis and Tilbury surrendered to each other with a sense of fleeting tenderness that we would all be lucky to experience. That Belongs to You, Dear faded into the night with the couple still dancing (different phrases) close to each other, but not connecting.

Two trios filled the space between Dislocate and Dear. Tilbury’s Four Walls made its debut in “Shelter” (coincidence?). E.E. Balcos (Associate Professor of Dance at UNC Charlotte), Jackie O’Toole (Assistant Professor of  Dance at Johnson C. Smith University), and the choreographer moved with strength, confidence, and ease, in contact and alone. Their intended relationship was not entirely clear, although I didn’t mind. Inspired by watching this trio of seasoned and sure dancers move with abandon and grace, I almost wasn’t ready for Four Walls to close as Tilbury wrapped up a riveting solo, walking slowly off stage as the lights faded.

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Council presented an excerpt of Staring at Stones (2012) to the Appalachia music of Donna Ray Norton and others. Duncan, Horne, and Tilbury were captivating in their powerful movement and the rag tag chic costumes by Mandarin Wu. I secretly subtitled the piece Oh, Sister, Where Art Thou (if the sisters were angry, badass, prairie wives, fed up with the misogynistic, condescending, and abusive behavior of their male counterparts who were probably gallivanting about, waiving their rifles in the air, bullying native tribes and grabbing women’s pussies. Ok, maybe I let my imagination run wild… or I just watched the second presidential debates.) But these women WERE wild – with passion and conviction to their dancing and characters. Stones was the clearest piece in “Shelter” in terms of intent and personality. When they wiped their hands to the side of their skirts, looking off in the distance, you knew what they were thinking; when they partnered and repeated tableaus, their supportive bind only strengthened. These four women (as I am including the choreographer) left me feeling empowered and grateful. My only regret was that Stones was the third piece in a row to conclude with the dancers, again, walking slowly into the dark – a beautiful image, but we had seen it before… twice.

So, thank you Juliana and Sarah for “Shelter” – shelter from mediocrity, from excessive virtuosity, from work that is under rehearsed. Thank you for not spoon feeding us or being too obtuse. Thank you for your engaging, thoughtful, and skillful dances and dancers. As I walked out of “Shelter” into Matthew’s drizzle, I felt refreshed and hopeful for the forecast of dance in Charlotte. I’ll certainly be on the look out for your next landfall.


photos: PLEXUS|dance, Sarah Council Dance Projects, and PTM Photography