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Changing Modern Dance: One Minute at a Time

23 Dances / 23 Minutes


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Bring Your Own Seat Series presents, Short Stories: 23 Dances / 23 Minutes, at the Pan Arts Studio in Arcata, which is fast becoming the home base for modern dance classes in the area. Director Bonnie Hossack has laid out a unique structure in this show by limiting her group of invited choreographers to one minute for each of their dances: "Fourteen choreographers accepted the challenge of composing dances or performances within a one minute limitation. This concept is based on the idea of a performance laboratory. The minute will allow choreographers to try out new ideas without the constraints of making a longer piece."

No, this doesn't sound like your ordinary dance concert, and yes, you do have to bring your own seat, or cushion, or pillow, or else you'll be sitting on the floor. (It's OK, it's a short show.) The studio will be set up with the audience on two sides of the performance space, which Hossack explains, "creates a unique viewing situation for the audience and an additional challenge for the choreographers." Like the popular theatre festivals that feature 10 minute plays, Short Stories is a series of condensed moments with much emphasis on quickly established form and attention to nuance.

There are 23 minute-long dances, some choreographers contributing more than one. Veteran CR dance instructor, Lisa Townsend-Schmitt, called the idea, "a brilliant construct -- putting it all out there in one minute, a very direct consistent framework."

"Having one minute inspired me to stretch the limits of what was possible. I wanted to explore exploding," said participant Nicolette Routhiere of the Dell‘Arte faculty, who brings her acrobatic skills to the show.

The informal showings leading up to the concert were extraordinary, with a studio full of modern dancers presenting these snippets of work to each other and then giving feedback about what they saw. "It's the first time it's worked ... dancers invested enough to stay around and watch others work, and talk," said Hossack, founder and former director of the successful Two Left Feet Dance Project, which never developed into the kind of lab she envisioned. After dancers stayed for nearly three hours last Sunday to offer supportive criticism, Hossack concluded there is, "actually better communication between dancers during a showing then you get after a performance."

Jandy Bergman, of the HSU dance faculty, echoed the significance of sharing ideas while in the process of making a dance. "Nicholette and I were whispering on the sidelines that having the chance to show each other work and talk about it, like we were doing today, was really the coolest and most important part of doing the show. It really is so enriching and community-building ... an end to the painful isolation of most modern dancers up here."

Bergman was able to use comments from her peers, about the connectedness between Shelly Brantigan and herself in a sinuous duet, to complete her piece. The first time the group saw Townsend-Schmitt's solo in silence, a struggle and search for release were evident. This time there was debate about whether the addition of lyrical piano music took away from the work or enhanced it.  

Stretching luxuriously on the floor until rising into a frenetic type of sleep-dancing, Stephanie Carter was encouraged to keep her eyes closed and take more risk. Leslie Castellano, director of Synapsis, and Dorothee Daester brought the endlessly fascinating partner-form of contact improvisation to the dance floor, wowing everyone.

There was no real modern dance scene here in Humboldt. Until now.

Last month's Small Dances in Small Spaces concert at Redwood Curtain Theater, the on-going classes at Pan Arts, along with the workshop atmosphere of Short Stories have prompted something Castellano calls, "a dialogue about contemporary dance."  

People involved in the Pan Art Studio are hoping for the dialogue to grow. For dancers, dialogue means not only conversation, but the dialogue found in the dances themselves. Modern dance ranges freely from dance with technique that remains indelibly linked to ballet vocabulary, to work with nary a pointed toe, and infinite ways of moving and making dances in between. That wide range is evident in the short pieces by the choreographers of Short Stories.

Concert-level dance has not been an art form determined by the artists, the dancers themselves. Outside standards are imposed upon the look of dance: Thinness, long legs, perfectly pointed feet and so on have driven the dance world since the '70s. The open forum that Hossack has initiated here could not only change dancers' lives, but change dance itself. There has not been a revolution in ages where dancers love and support each other, and don't starve themselves in the process. Why not here? Why not Humboldt County?

Bring Your Own Seat Series presents Short Stories: 23 dances / 23 minutes on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. at Pan Arts Studio, #C 1049 Samoa Blvd., Arcata (the blue warehouse). Tickets at the door, $5. Contact Bonnie Hossack, 601-1151 or for more information.




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