A&E: The delicate balance of life and dance

By on June 16, 2015

Relationships, personality explored in CDW performance

Contemporary Dance Wyoming performed an excerpt from  ‘Eyeing the Needle,’ during a summer preview last month at Tayloe Piggott Gallery. (Photo:  Jeffrey Kaphan)

Contemporary Dance Wyoming performed an excerpt from ‘Eyeing the Needle,’ during a summer preview last month at Tayloe Piggott Gallery. (Photo: Jeffrey Kaphan)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Years ago, before Babs Case even moved to Jackson, she was shopping in Salt Lake City when she noticed the telltale signs of a dancer in the store clerk.

The clerk explained she used to dance with Ballet West, but walked away from the company, unable to dance professionally and also to pursue other interests.

Case, now Dancers’ Workshop’s artistic director, saw it as a waste of a lifetime of dance experience. Yet it is a common story.

“There are so many dancers in the world that just walk away from what they do,” she said. “It’s so hard to make it and maintain it as a professional dancer and find a balance with real life.”

The woman’s story stuck with Case, and dancers like her, were part of Case’s inspiration when she started Contemporary Dance Wyoming, a professional modern dance company, in 1999.

Case dreamed the company would attract world-class dancers who wanted to continue performing, but also teach classes to provide students in a small Wyoming town a top-notch dance education.

Case has continued to grow Dancers’ Workshop including its curriculum and the renowned companies it brings in for residencies and performances. Alongside it, Contemporary Dance Wyoming has also thrived. On Thursday and Friday the company performs two concerts to kick off Dancers’ Workshop’s summer season.

The company now includes two new members: Rachel Holmes, who formally danced with Elisa Monte, and Francesca Romo, who danced with Gallim Dance.

“It’s raised the bar for everyone,” Case said of the company’s new additions.

Holmes and Romo will join established company members Kate Kosharek, Lindsay Larson, Cady Cox and Marissa Moeri in a concert that includes two pieces so physical they could only be performed on the Center for the Arts’ main stage.

“Eyeing the Needle,” is a piece choreographed by Case. The 33-minute performance is inspired by the choices we face and make in life. Those choices, when put all together, make up the texture and fabric of a person’s life, Case said.

The dance explores relationships and the people encountered throughout lifetimes in a metaphorical way. There are some soft and poignant moments, as well as some fast and physical jumps and leaps, along with complicated partnering. The piece vacillates between a feeling of lightness and sadness. The dancers were collaborators in creating the piece. The partnering is so complicated, Case relied on them to help bring her vision to life.

“It’s been an exploration in the process,” she said.

It’s a piece Case hopes to develop into a full-length performance and possibly take on tour.

Case also choreographed “Hellenic Physics,” which uses long red poles as part of the choreography. The company performed it before and the crowd loved it, Case said.

A third piece in the evening, “Body Riddle,” was choreographed by Jonathan Royse Windham, formerly of Gallim Dance.

It is inspired by the seven deadly sins and the seven dwarves, Case said. The piece is slightly autobiographical, exploring Windham’s different sides, from ambitious to apathetic.

There is no intermission, just short pauses between the three pieces.

Contemporary Dance Wyoming performs in the style of dance it shares with its name. Contemporary dance often uses multi-media, modern music and a movement vocabulary that deviates from classical ballet and other dance forms. It’s a bit like a three-dimensional, moving collage, Case said.

“Contemporary dance reflects our time,” she said.

The performances also reflect the growth of Case’s vision, which began in that clothing store in Salt Lake City.

She knew there were talented dancers who, like herself, wanted to live in a more rural area where they could teach and choreograph, but still perform. That opportunity afforded by Contemporary Dance Wyoming helped lure dance teachers like Holmes, who works as school director, and Romo, ballet mistress, who trained at the Royal Ballet, to Dancers’ Workshop.

While they were both ready for life changes, they weren’t ready to give up performing and Contemporary Dance Wyoming allowed them to continue while also teaching and exploring other artistic avenues, Case said. That benefits the school’s students, the company’s other dancers, and the residents of Jackson who see incredible local performances.

Contemporary Dance Wyoming’s performance kicks off the summer dance season. New York City Ballet returns to Jackson in July with performances, classes, and open rehearsals. Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company is in residence August 10 to 16 and dancers will perform a piece co-commissioned by Dancers’ Workshop. Tickets for both companies’ performances are on sale at the Center for the Arts.  PJH

Contemporary Dance Wyoming, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Center Theater at the Center for the Arts, $25/$35

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