Examining, Shattering Notions of Beauty

By on June 13, 2018

Dancers’ Workshop show traverses clearer, sharper path in its messaging and motives

Caricatures of beauty take center stage during ‘Stealing Inward.’(PHOTO: lindley rust)

 

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Choreographer Bill T. Jones once asked Babs Case, artistic director of Dancers’ Workshop, what inspires her programming.

“I realized it’s my way of coping with mediocrity in the world,” she said.

Jones reframed it for Case. It’s a type of resistance, he told her.

That struck Case, who is also founder and artistic director of Contemporary Dance Wyoming, the professional modern dance company based in Jackson, and inspired the troupe’s latest production Stealing Inward.

“We’re exploring the idea of beauty as a form of resistance,” Case said, echoing Jones. “In the process of exploring that, we are realizing that beauty and truth—or at least a deeper truth—have a strong connection to each other.”

The contemporary modern dance performance is more of a “collage” than a single long concert piece, or shorter individual dances, Case said. The entire production explores our culture’s infatuation with beauty, she said.

Case started work on the production by asking the dancers to write about beauty. Words like truth, authenticity and real kept appearing in their writing. That also helped drive the production.

It opens with a beauty pageant and includes the talent contest. Dancer Kate Kosharek’s talent is saying tongue twisters and dancer Michaela Ellingson says the ABCs backwards while in a variety of positions. Some of the comedic elements of the scene were created when professional clown Aitor Basauri was in residence in Jackson earlier this year.

“There’s humor and text and talking, and of course the beautiful physicality in the dancing,” Case said.

The fake beauty is stripped away as the dance progresses to reveal the contestants are human.

The last piece in the performance is called “Dedicated to one who is incapable of love.” The piece is a duet between dancers Luke Zender and Francesca Romo.

The show features references to writing, from Chekhov to limericks to Shakespeare. Even the title, Stealing Inward, is a nod to writing. It is derived from the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “As we grow older, beauty steals inward.” Also referenced in the performance is Emily Dickinson’s poem I Died for Beauty, where Dickinson talks about truth and beauty being the same.

Case is drawing new inspiration from language. Increasingly, she sees its value in dance performances. “I’m finding dance more abstract than what I’d like to say,” she said. “I’d like to be more direct in what I want to say and language is helping me do that in this show.”

‘We’re exploring the idea of beauty as a form of resistance.’ – Babs Case, Dancers’ Workshop (PHOTO: lindley rust)

The production takes place in Dancers’ Studio No. 1, in part to save money on space to help with Case’s new commitment to paying the dancers for rehearsal time, but also because it allowed her to use the mirrors that line a wall in the studio. The venue is intimate and provides a way for people to see the show up close too.

The show, which Contemporary Dance Wyoming is developing to perform at New York Live Arts next spring, is unlike anything the company has tackled before, Case said. “I think it is one of the most exciting pieces of work we’ve ventured into.”

The visuals and sounds are part of that.

Dancers wear bright costumes and massive colored fake lashes. They are meant to be a caricature of beauty, Case said. The dancers will perform to live music composed by local musician Leif Routman.

It also is thought provoking: “I hope people walk away from the show examining their own relationships to truth and beauty,” Case said.

Contemporary Dance Wyoming’s Stealing Inward, 6 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Dancers’ Workshop Studio No. 1. $35; $10 students.


About Kelsey Dayton

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