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Strength in numbers
Local companies come together for Dancestravaganza

To paraphrase local dancer/choreographer Nathan Andary, Rhode Island’s dance community is only as strong as its bond to support each other in their artistic endeavors. In that spirit, several choreographers will present Dancestravaganza at the Carriage House this weekend (on Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m.; call [401] 831-9479) to benefit Theatre Expansion, founded by dancer and 2002 Rhode Island College theater grad Tim Rubel.

"We’re a company devoted to bridging the gap between theater, dance, and other art forms," Rubel explains. "I came into the dance world through theater. I fell in love with modern dance and wanted to include it in my work."

Rubel has performed with Fusionworks and is a member of the apprentice company Fusionworks II. For the Dancestravaganza program, he is presenting Bound for St. Vitus, with four dancers and one actor. Taking his cue from the dance mania that emerged in the Middle Ages called the St. Vitus dance (currently the name of an actual nervous disorder), Rubel looks at the historic Vitus phenomenon as a "subversive movement in reaction to the anti-dance laws of the church." Thus, those that danced themselves into oblivion (or even death) were mocking the authorities who had forbidden dance.

Providence-based choreographer Tovah Bodner will present a new work, The Magdelenes, that is also drawn from stories of repression by the Catholic Church. The Magdelene asylums in Ireland opened in 1766 and finally closed in 1996. They were workhouses for unwed mothers, slow-witted girls, rape victims, and even girls thought so pretty they might get into trouble. Families committed their daughters, as well as nuns overseeing orphanages. Bodner first learned about the Magdelenes while studying in Ireland (also chronicled in Sex In a Cold Climate and The Magdelene Sisters), and she has made a dance quintet that features five characters from the asylums, including an orphan unjustly accused of stealing a brooch. Though the focus is on the latter, each girl has a chance to tell her story. The dance is set to original music composed by guitarist/vocalist Jim Muro.

Another RIC grad, Nikki Carrara (2004, Dance Performance), has set a jazzy, modern dance piece, Patch Play, to Duke Ellington’s music. Wanting to create something fun for her five dancers, Carrara envisioned the work as children playing in a magical, fantastical garden. Carrara will performs with Andary Dance and with Daniel McCusker in Cambridge.

Andary Dance founder Nathan Andary has his choreography represented in a solo work, A Stream of Consciousness, danced by Kerrie Jean Hudson to music by Jude Georgensen. Hudson starts off reading a book but gets lost in her thoughts, as spiraling movements carry her through her daydreams. Picturesque epigraphs pop up as signals of emotional change throughout the dance phrases. Andary came to Rhode Island from Chicago’s Salt Creek Ballet Company, and has danced with Kentucky’s Ashland Ballet Company and locally with Fusionworks.

On a different dance track is Carol Buckley’s Into the West, set to the Oscar-winning song of the same title from Return of the King. Buckley’s choreography is hula, having learned from hula masters while studying linguistics in Hawaii. Hula appealed to Buckley’s fascination with words: "It’s a declaration of dramatized speech, with the choreographer illustrating text like a director visualizes a script. Auana is a very traditional form in which the hand movements go very precisely with the words." Buckley chose this song to connect East and West: its themes of spirituality and nature are often found in Hawaiian songs; its English lyrics make it more accessible to non-Hawaiian audiences.

Physical theater artist Joan Merwyn, who divides her time between New York and Saunderstown, will perform a solo work, Tangled (on Saturday only). With a background in corporeal mime, dance, experimental theater, and performance art, Merwyn has performed with many movement theater companies over the past three decades. In the four-minute piece, set to Nino Rota’s Fellini music, Merwyn gets herself tangled up in a lawn chair, her very own Fellini moment.

Rounding out Dancestravaganza is Brooke Young with Phaze II, dancing to Jennifer Lopez’s "Get Right." This is a new piece, using Phaze II’s characteristic high-energy hip-hop dance movement, and it was choreographed by all five dancers.

Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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