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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2019 3 weeks ago

Sarasota Contemporary Dance's 'Evolving/Revolving' looks back and ahead

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SCD's last show of the season honors company’s past and future.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

A yellow swing with blue chains hangs from the ceiling of a dance floor studio. It’s the kind we all wanted to play on as kids. The kind that a thoughtful parent would buy to hang from a thick, sturdy branch of a big, trustworthy tree and watch as the little ones pushed each other on it for hours in the backyard.

But this swing isn’t shrouded in a haze of nostalgia. Out of the context of our collective childhood memories, it’s more intriguing — it doesn’t seem to belong in this dance studio, lit by a mix of overhead lights and sunlight pouring in from a vertical window on either side.

When Melissa Coleman Sperber gracefully flips over and spins around the swing, it becomes something else entirely — a dance partner.

“It’s really like a duet,” says Sarasota Contemporary Dance Co-Founder and Artistic Director Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. “It takes on its own life.”

The piece, “By a Thread,” is one of four that will be performed in SCD’s upcoming “Evolving/Revolving” show, which will close out the season for the sixth year in a row to reflect on how far the company has come and what’s still on the horizon.

LOOKING BACK

“By a Thread” is a solo originally performed during the dance company’s first season, back when it was still known as Fuzión Dance. SCD Co-Founder Rachael Inman choreographed it right after she and Bolaños Wilmott finished graduate school at Florida State University, when Inman was exploring aerial and suspension work.

But the piece goes back even farther than the old Fuzión Dance days. It was originally commissioned in 2003 by contemporary dance company Of Moving Colors in Baton Rouge, La., who performed it live with Baton Rouge Symphony Chamber Orchestra.

Melissa Coleman Sperber and Claudia-Lynn Rightmire rehearse “wield/wielding/wielder.” Photo by Niki Kottmann

Inman, who’s currently artistic director at The Dance Foundation in Birmingham, Ala., choreographed the work right after the birth of her first child. She’s said retrospectively that the piece reflects a subconscious struggle with the fragility of life that often consumed her thoughts once she assumed her new role of mother.

Originally, it was set on a friend who was also in the middle of a life adjustment, which helped mold the choreography. Since, Bolaños Wilmott says she’s she’s seen it performed by dancers of various body types and backgrounds, but she’s particularly excited to see Coleman Sperber perform it because of her gymnastics background.

“She gets to have her own exploration,” Bolaños Wilmott says. “She’s made it her own.”

Coleman Sperber agrees, adding that creative opportunities such as this are what’s kept her with the company since 2013 — and led her to take on the position of SCD general manager last year.

“I get bored really easily,” Coleman Sperber says. “But every day is different here — we’re used to doing a range (of dance styles) and I’ve learned to trust Leymis. She knows where I need to grow.”

Pamela Pietro’s “wield/wielding/wielder” is an abstract work oriented around shape. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Bolaños Wilmott nods.

“I like to push them in different areas,” she says. “But then others (gesturing to the swing) are right up their alley.”

BACK TO BASICS

Another piece in the show, Gerri Houlihan’s “Between Angels,” pushes the company to retreat back to the foundation of all dance styles: classical ballet.

This piece — by the FSU professor emerita currently teaching at the American Dance Festival studios in North Carolina and as a guest artist at Elon University — was originally created to celebrate the dancers in Houlihan’s company, Houlihan and Dancers, in its early years.

“I get bored really easily,” Coleman Sperber says. “But every day is different here — we’re used to doing a range (of dance styles) and I’ve learned to trust Leymis. She knows where I need to grow.”

Bolaños Wilmott first saw the work as a high schooler at New World School of the Arts in Miami, where Houlihan’s company was then based. It was the first time she remembers being exposed to the complexity and beauty of classical music.

Like Bach’s music, the piece is classical in its movement. It’s highly technical — more so than the company is used to. But Bolaños Wilmott is quick to add that it’s a technique in which all her dancers are still well-versed.

“It highlights the company’s ability and highlights each dancer’s strengths,” Bolaños Wilmott says. “I think the company is known for athleticism and dramatic elements but this shows we’re versatile. In our company you need a strong ballet base but you also need to be a creative thinker.”

Company member Charlotte Johnson agrees. She says the ballet shapes the dancers are encouraged to flow through during the piece are a retreat from the norm, but a good refresher.

“It’s a challenge in a good way,” Johnson says.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Pamela Pietro’s work, “wield/wielding/wielder,” is vastly different than Houlihan’s.

SCD artists Rachel Lambright and Melissa Hull Rummel rehearse. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Pietro, an associate arts professor at New York University Tisch Department of Dance, is currently exploring themes within the #MeToo movement through choreography.

Bolaños Wilmott says this piece questions how women see themselves through the lens of this new movement by using deconstructed gestures associated with women and girls. These are familiar to anyone who grew up as a girl.

“The work is centered around relationships, action and interactions,” Pietro says in the program book description of her work. “The women using the space connect/disconnect and cohabit from within, and disclose the raw power of being a woman and the challenges faced and displaced.”

Company dancer Claudia-Lynn Rightmire says learning this choreography, which is rather abstract, from Pietro was fascinating because of the specificity required of it.

“She didn’t just set choreography on us, she set intention,” she says.

LOOKING AHEAD

Rightmire choreographed her own solo in SCD’s “Voices” program earlier this season, and she says that gave her the confidence to create her first-ever group work, which will debut at “Evolving/Revolving.”

The piece, which is currently untitled, has no music. It’s a story told via movement and spoken word.

She started with a (self-described “dark”) story that she wrote over the course of about two months and made into script form, requiring the five dancers in the piece to memorize their assigned spoken parts.

The pieces in "Evolving/Revolving" are all by choreographers with connections to the company — mainly past teachers and artistic partners of Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. Photo by Niki Kottmann

“I have to try to help them find their voices within what I wrote but also layer movement on top of that,” Rightmire says. “It’s really pushed them to find another layer of physicalization and connecting word and movement.”

She says the text and the choreography are so connected that they couldn’t stand alone, because throughout her creative process, the two elements were constantly informing each other. This is sort of a metaphor for group dance, she notes, because every dancer is an integral part of the whole piece.

The piece is about someone losing control and the spiral effects of that, Rightmire says. It’s an exploration of the choices people make when that control is lost, and she’s presenting this narrative by making every dancer a storyteller dressed in all neutrals.

“It’s very much about human experience within a state of panic,” she says. “And how one person’s choice might not be the right choice for someone else, but you have that choice.”

Throughout the process, Rightmire says she’s learned how to explain movements and feelings to other dancers because what works for her body doesn’t always make sense for someone else.

“Allowing room for that play within a choreographic setting — that’s been equally rewarding and challenging because obviously two minds are better than one,” she says. “It’s like a telephone game — I found more in myself because I gave them more to do.”

Rightmire looks forward to applying these lessons in future projects, while also remembering her place in the company’s history — the epitome of “Evolving/Revolving.” 

Correction: The print version of this piece incorrectly named "Between Angels" and incorrectly identified a quote by company dancer Claudia-Lynn Rightmire

I'm the Managing Editor of Arts & Entertainment here, which means I write, edit and share stories about our multifaceted A&E scene in Sarasota. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism and a French minor. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 356

See All Articles by Niki

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