Something fresh, new and interactive moved through Siena during the third weekend of October, courtesy of Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre.
The show “Brave New Dances” was performed in the lower level of Foy Hall, transforming the classroom into a space for both professional and community dancers to showcase routines they describe as “hot off the imagination” in their programs. These dances were new, still in revision and rehearsed for only about six hours before the company of dancers performs them. At the end of each set of dances, the choreographers and dancers held a short session for comments and criticisms from the audience. This was a special opportunity for both the performers and the viewers to peek into each other’s worlds–for the audience to be a part of the creative process, and for the artists to have an outside voice telling them what works while the routine is still in creation.
This format of this show worked especially well because of the diversity on Siena’s campus during the weekend of Oct. 19. Besides the students in the crowd, there were active audience participants from preschool-aged kids all the way to people receiving a senior discount on their tickets. With this variety of audience members, there was a wide range of interpretations of these prototype dances.
The mixture of experiences could be clearly seen in the first dance of the night, titled “Record Player Vignettes Vol. II.” This was danced by four women to sounds varying from Richard Nixon’s inauguration vows to Sam Cooke and a few in between, all being played by the dancers manually switching old vinyl records on a record player onstage. This was a piece many of the elder members of the crowd connected to during the post-performance discussion, but the interpretations of the piece were vastly different. While some felt it emulated “American Bandstand” and others felt it more akin to Nazi Germany, each placing a different emphasis on the fluid and rigid aspects of the dance.
But with such polar opposite interpretations, what is the correct meaning? This was a question particularly on the lips of some of the younger audience members. When an elementary-school-aged girl inquired this of Maude Baum, artistic director of the event, she simply said: “Whenever you look at dance, whatever you think or feel, that’s exactly what it is.” To these artists, what is important is not their intentions behind the work but what each individual thinks and feels when exposed to it.
This was especially true in the format of this show, where the routines are not necessarily set in stone. During the discussion following a piece titled “Wind, Clouds, Water,” dancer Marianne Schultz candidly said that “most of the work is improvised.” These studied dancers mostly spent rehearsals under the guidance and vision of Baum, exploring the feelings and motions emulated by their inspiration for the piece, in this case, a seaside. While the two dancers for this piece generally knew most of the moves and the story they wanted to tell, aspects of the work were still decided on in the moment through connections between them. These moments of improvisation were exhibited all throughout the show. Beautiful and highly artistic dances alternated with almost amateur-theatre-like moments of childishly playing catch in the piece “Goofy.”
The key word in “Brave New Dances” is “brave”. The experience of performing something that isn’t quite perfect and hearing the audience’s comments immediately after is as nerve-wracking as an audience member staring a creator in the face and telling them what worked and did not work in their piece. Yet it’s safe to say that all in attendance bravely rose to these challenges, and had a unique experiencing in getting to see these dances before they were show-ready.