There is more than one way to tell a story, and Confluence Dance Project embraces that idea as well.
“Each piece is a separate, stand-alone work of art,” said Ariella Brown, artistic director of the production and a UW-Eau Claire lecturer of theater arts-dance. “It’s kind of like going to a museum.”
The performance will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, and Friday, April 5, in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s Jamf Theatre. It will feature the choreography of eight students, Brown herself and a guest artist.
Taken in total, those discrete works form a broad spectrum of what contemporary dance encompasses, and many of the individual works are fusions of different styles, Brown said.
Guest choreographer Amy VanKirk, for instance, took jazz vocabulary and the tango vocabulary and “kind of fused them together,” Brown said.
“It’s a really cool piece, and it’s really challenging for the dancers just musically because every step has a specific beat that it goes to, and if you mess up just a little bit it’s really noticeable,” Brown said.
Brown received a grant from the UW-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs that allowed VanKirk, who is an assistant professor of dance at Radford University in Radford, Va., to visit Eau Claire on a long weekend. That time entailed “three intensive days of rehearsal for eight hours a day,” Brown said.
Elizabeth Schwab, who is among the UW-Eau Claire students dancing in the piece, said she has enjoyed the challenge.
“That one’s been really cool because I’m mostly a modern contemporary dancer, but this piece is pushing me out of my comfort zone,” said Schwab, who will also be dancing in her own composition as well as two other works on the program.
“It’s very intricate movement,” Schwab added. “If you’re off by 1 millisecond of a beat, you’re really off and you can tell.”
Serious and fun
Brown’s two works also reflect the varied nature of the Confluence Dance Project.
In “The Thinning,” she explores the “us vs. them feeling” that has become pervasive.
“(I)t kind of explores the idea of really polarizing people within society, which then eventually tears us down and apart,” Brown said.
The other work, “After Hours,” she described as “definitely way more fun and upbeat than the other.” This dance tells the story of four people at a bar and how their drinks affect them.
“I wanted to do something to balance out the serious nature of my first piece,” she said. “So it’s more lighthearted mostly just to get some joy out of the audience.”
Schwab’s composition is titled “Deep Blue Duluth.” She initially created it as a solo for herself, but the new staging features six dancers.
The piece includes an untitled poem by one of her friends, Gretta Peterson, and works in the song “Transformations” by Sleeping at Last.
Fulfilling the role of performer and choreographer at rehearsals can be difficult, Schwab said, but recently she watched a video of a rehearsal and was pleased.
“(I)t was really cool to see that my vision did come to life,” she said. “I was super happy and proud that it came together as well as it did.”
As for what it’s about, Schwab said it pertains to “kind of those moments in life where you don’t get to say those things you want to say to that person, or it’s like leaving open-ended answers to those people and those moments of you want to say something but instead you decide just not to.”
But she is comfortable with her dancers interpreting it differently, which is why she didn’t give them her explanation.
“(T)hat’s what makes the piece so special is I really emphasize them putting their own personal story within the piece rather than just having them dance off of what I tell them to dance off of,” she said.
Taking the stage
The Confluence Dance Project ensemble members are looking forward to performing in the city’s marquee performance space.
The production will have a guest lighting designer, Brown said, and she’s eager to utilize the equipment at Pablo Center.
“Even just the fact that all the lights are state of the art, brand new, it’s going to be exciting, just through technology and capabilities they have,” she said. “If anything, I’m excited to see what the space has to offer and what we can do going forward.”
The hope, Brown said, is to present the performance every year; it already has been scheduled for next year.
Brown also is delighted that Pablo Center has booked two internationally known dance companies: Ailey II last Oct. 27, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo on April 16.
Such programming helps her in teaching dance appreciation. She said she likes to have her students see a dance show, but that wasn’t always possible in Eau Claire.
“So now I feel like maybe I can work that back in,” she said. “They’ll maybe get a chance to see live dance instead of reading about it or watching it on video.”
Schwab is well aware of the opportunity Pablo Center presents for performing artists like herself. Last year, before the arts center officially opened but after tours had begun, she performed the solo version of “Deep Blue Duluth” in a practice room.
She especially appreciates the chance to perform her work and others in front an audience there.
“It’s such an honor being one of the first dance showcases in the Pablo Center,” she said.
Brown put the program together with care, keeping in mind the number of students dancing and choreographing.
“Honestly, a lot of it is just a logistical thing because they have to have enough time to change costumes,” she said.
Aside from that challenge, she added, “I try to start the program in a way that makes an impact on the audience and end the program with another sort of impact.”
For instance, VanKirk’s piece will be in a closing spot.
“Her piece is very intense and upbeat and it’s an intense feeling, and so I wanted to put it at the end because I don’t like to end programs with a more serious piece or that creates a sense of maybe even sadness within the viewers,” she said. “I don’t want viewers leaving really sad from the concert.”
In total, Brown said, “they’ll have moments of happiness but also moments of maybe contemplation and sort of thought-provoking moments.”
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