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Indiana Dance Festival

Urban Bush Women, Susurrus, Motus Dance and many others head up three-day festival of contemporary dance

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


During the weekend of April 13, one of the most exciting places to be for contemporary dance in the Midwest is Fort Wayne, when nationally-recognized dance companies and dance professionals converge on the city for the Indiana Dance Festival.

Hosted by the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, the three-day event draws in the talents of some of the best dance companies working in Indiana, as well as the return of the New York dance company Urban Bush Women, a nationally recognized, award-winning company that stunned the crowd at last year’s performance.

Students and dancers will have the opportunity to participate in some of the workshops being offered. “We’re offering about 15 different workshops,” says Erin Stewart, the FWDC’s Outreach Director. “They’re open to the public. The focus of the workshop is usually on a specific subject. There’s Latin dance, ballet, jazz dance, movement for self-healing… there’s one that focuses on the relationship and parallels between the dancer and the athlete, and how one can inform the other…”

Participants in the workshops won’t only be learning from some fantastic dancers; they’ll be learning right beside them. In addition to participating in the dance showcase during the event, dancers from the Surrus and Motus Dance companies in Indianapolis, and from the Indiana University Contemporary Dance Theater will be attending the workshops.

The Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s Lisa Tsetse, one of the festival organizers, says one of the main goals of the Indiana Dance Festival is to provide an event for students, dancers, and professionals to come together to exchange ideas and gather inspiration. In the metropolitan areas on the coasts, the dance community is regularly in touch with each other. “In Indiana, there tends to be a lot of good work, but it’s insulated from each other,” explains Tsetse. “That’s not by choice, but everyone is just working on their own process and vying for the dollars. With the festival, we’re saying that if we’re going to collaborations, lets do it with a capital “C.” Let’s do it on the state level, so we know where we are in the Midwest.”

On another level, Tsetse says it’s also a great opportunity for dance students in the area — who often can’t afford to travel — to meet and gather ideas from other practioners of their craft.

Many of the companies participating in the festival lean toward the experimental side of dance, incorporating many different styles into their work. Katie Kaspar, the founder of Indianapolis-based Motus Dance, says her company likes working with upcoming choreographers to develop new original work. The company is comprised of six core dancers that serve as the artistic directors. For dancers, Motus draws from the Indianapolis dance community. It’s a relatively small group, Kaspar says, but Butler University’s ballet program means there’s a lot of talent. “The work that we do now really doesn’t owe much to ballet, but they all have a very strong technical background,” Kaspar says.

Motus will perform “Yarn” during the showcase, part of a work they originally performed at the 2006 Indianapolis Fringe Festival. Kaspar says they are looking forward to performing in Fort Wayne and participating in the festival. “We’re coming to take the workshop and get a chance to network with other dance companies and share some strategies and creative inspiration with them,” she says, adding that in 2006, they had to pull their performance because of injury. Other than that, however, it was a good weekend. “It was definitely one of the first things we put on our calendar for this year.”

Another Indianapolis-based dance company, Susurrus, is also performing and participating in the workshops. An experimental dance company founded by Melli Hoppe in 1993, Susurrus (it’s a real word and it means rustling or whispering sound) also does a lot of multi-disciplinary work — sometimes using visual elements and spoken word — and educational programming in schools.

“Current,” the piece Susurrus will perform at the Indiana Dance Festival, is set to an original composition. “(The composer) created music for this piece by processing and synthesizing found sounds,” says Hoppe, who also participated in the Indiana Dance Festival last year.

“(The dance piece) was inspired by some of the imagery I read in the Lewis and Clark journals and the falls of the Ohio where Lewis and Clark met,” Hoppe adds. “So there’s a sense of rocks in the piece and it has a river’s flow to it. It’s a slow moving piece, very organic.”

One of the festival’s highlights will be a show by the award-winning Urban Bush Women on April 14 at the Arts United Center. The Brooklyn-based dance company was a hit at last year’s festival and will be performing several works in a showcase concert, as well as leading a master class on Friday.

The Urban Bush Women was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, who continues to serve as their artistic director. A wide range of dance and art forms weaves its way through the work the company’s work. “Much of the movement vocabulary is a synthesis of both western concert dance forms — ballet, contemporary dance — and dance forms of the African Diaspora, like west African dance, Caribbean, Afro-Cuban,” explains Paloma McGregor, who has been dancing with the Urban Bush Women for about a year and a half. “On top of that, we also do some singing and speaking as part of the concert work.”

“The overall mission of the work is to use dance to tell under-told stories,” McGregor adds. “In the way that some companies focus on shape or space, or a ballet company might work on classical work, we focus on contemporary dance to tell stories — women’s stories, stories of the African diaspora.”

Among the pieces the Urban Bush Women will perform is “Walking with Pearl: The Africa Diaries.” A tribute to dance pioneer Pearl Primus, the piece is an ideal showcase of all the elements the Urban Bush Women incorporate into their work, combining music, dance, as well as text from the diaries Primus kept while traveling in Africa.

McGregor describes another piece in the program, “Here We Go… Again,” as a fun piece about an adventure or a quest and the ways in which a group of people deal with one another when they’re all looking for the same thing. Though the Urban Bush Women usually create their own work for the company, “Here We Go… Again” was choreographed Camille Brown, the result of a program the dance company facilitates to encourage and commission work from emerging female choreographers.

Another piece in the Urban Bush Women concert is “Batty Moves.” “’Batty’ is a Caribbean slang term for ‘butt,’” laughs McGregor. “It’s a piece about celebrating who you are and the range of bodies that are in the company, which is pretty far-reaching. It’s about celebrating the idea of our individual and collective strengths.”

The Fort Wayne Dance Collective has no plans to host a third year of the Indiana Dance Festival in 2008. According to Lisa Tsetse, they would like to see the festival move around Indiana; having it in the same area year-after-year defeats the purpose of the festival. “Our desire is to have it move through the state so that dancers don’t work in an insular fashion in one part of Indiana,” Tsetse says. “So we are nurturing IU in Bloomington to take this on next year, and then maybe it can go on to South Bend and then maybe Indianapolis or maybe Terre Haute, etc.”

For ticket prices, event locations, and other information, please visit indianadancefestival.org

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