The contemporary dance group will kick off its new residency with The Ringling at Ringling Underground Nov. 1.
When The Ringling called Leah Verier-Dunn to ask if her dance company wanted a residency in the museum’s new studio, the answer was a resounding “hell yes.”
“I lit up when they asked us,” says the artistic director and co-founder of Moving Ethos. “I was really moved by their efforts to make use of this space … to create a program for some local artists to create work and have an effect on the community.”
The residency program is the first of its kind to be housed at the museum — more specifically in the new studio inside The Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion.
Moving Ethos will have a six-month residency with the museum in which its dancers will use the space to create and rehearse a full-fledged dance-theater piece called “girlwoman.” That performance will serve as the culmination of the residency April 12-13 at Historic Asolo Theater.
The company will also perform at two Ringling Underground events (Nov. 1 and March 7) and lead a master class (Jan. 26) and lectures (Nov. 20 and March 23) throughout the residency.
Verier-Dunn says she’s honored to have this opportunity.
“It exposes us to a wider audience we normally can’t reach because of budget and just how far our hands can reach,” she adds. “When an organization that’s this big and well-respected decides to take on a smaller arts organization, it validates the company.”
Verier-Dunn believes Moving Ethos is creating a different type of art than other local organizations because it’s an intimate form of movement that’s based in dance theater. She says the dancers can offer Ringling patrons a fresh artistic experience because the range of subjects explored and the way each story is told pushes audiences to engage with and ponder the work rather than just be entertained.
She adds that dance is often a purely aesthetic experience for people who have never studied the art, so the goal of Moving Ethos is to be more relatable and reach a new level of depth by touching on emotions everyone has experienced at some point.
“I always say I want people to leave thinking about a piece a week later,” Verier-Dunn says. “I try really hard to help people trust themselves and let them know their thoughts matter, and also the performers work really hard to say, ‘... We’re just here to be a reflection of the things happening in our world and around us.’”
By addressing current events and sentiments through movement, she says the company gives audiences a space to confront and deal with reality.
For their first Ringling Underground performance, the dancers will grapple with a question Verier-Dunn thinks is particularly relevant at this moment: What does it mean to truly share a space and make a connection with another person?
Moving Ethos’ “Slow Dancing with a Stranger” addresses this by doing what the title implies — slow dancing with complete strangers at the refreshed Ringling Underground event Underground Turned Around.
The way it works is simple. The four company members will stand and wait for consenting attendees to approach them for a slow dance. It’ll only last a couple minutes, and there’s no talking allowed, so the hope is to make a connection through movement and eye contact only.
“It pushes us past our boundaries but reminds us to have a quiet moment inside of a really loud world,” Verier-Dunn says. “And share it with someone we’ve never met before.”
The other work, “Painted,” is also an audience-driven improvisational piece. A giant canvas will be taped to a dance floor set up behind the David statue (the new location for Ringling Underground), and four colors of paint will be laid out waiting for a creative eventgoer to approach.
There is no choreography, just paint and dancers for brave souls to create a painting.
“We’re really putting ourselves in the hands of the audience,” Verier-Dunn says of her idea. “We have set clear structures in other improv pieces but with this we’re really playing with this idea of chance and this world of the unknown. I think that as it goes it’s going to get more and more exciting.”
Rehearsals are impossible with a piece like this, she adds, so they have no idea how slippery the paint will be or if they have enough paint to last for two 45-minute sessions.
But she’s not worried. She’s confident the young-adult driven event heavily attended by local students will be the ideal atmosphere for a piece that craves an imaginative audience (who then double as directors).
She also thinks “Painted” is the perfect challenge for the company members.
“I think when you’re dealing with dancers of this caliber this is what keeps things exciting,” Verier-Dunn says. “To add that element to the plate as they’re creating.”