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Beginner's Luck

Choreo Collective gambles on an inexperienced choreographer and comes up smiling

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Yes, dancers and choreographers sometimes pool their resources to rent rehearsal space and share the burden of putting on a show. But there's a lot more to a dance collective than that. Its members are gambling on synergy. They're speculating that a configuration of multi-talented people will result in cataclysm, not gridlock; that hive mind will give them more resources and critical insight, and not more excuses; and that the group dynamic will push them to unique forms of expression--as opposed to the same level of mediocrity.

It's a complex critical and artistic filtration project, a finely balanced equation in stability and growth, flexibility and feedback. Since the chemistry is crucial, new collaborators are generally chosen with some care.

So it's interesting that Choreo Collective--that habitually intriguing but still not quite ready for prime time crew of regional dance makers and performers--chose this past year to collaborate with someone with no background whatsoever in dance. It's even more interesting that they weren't thinking of teaching her how to dance. Instead they wanted her to create and choreograph a work on them instead.

Most interesting of all, "The Firm Believer," the new--and first--modern dance piece by middle school teacher Kathy Colville, not only worked, it distinguished itself as one of the stronger pieces in a collection that represents a major leap forward for this curiously developing group. Its world premiere comes this weekend when Choreo Collective presents Generation, its annual concert of new company works.

In a preview rehearsal last week, Colville's work started off an apparently playful sextet. But the canvas of this work opened gradually, accompanied by the altered spoken words of an old-time preacher in composer John Adams' "Christian Zeal and Activity." Colville's work is painterly in places, and partakes of theatrical stage composition as well.

Ultimately, what we witnessed would have made a fitting choreographic representation of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, as a community of clearly defined individuals unfolded on stage: together, yes, but each still set a bit apart. Given the discourse of the spoken words, we take it to be a community of faith, one in which each member has a series of individual relationships with their faith and each other. Some of those relationships are more positive than others. None of them are identical. The characterizations, the world, and an abiding sense of reserve make "The Firm Believer" a strong work of dance, one that reads nothing like a choreographer's first effort.

It's far from the only strong work of the evening. Caroline Williford's new "Via Negativa, experiment #2: elegy for the living" reads in places more like foreign film than modern dance. In its episodic structure, a series of characters are seemingly caught in the human flypaper of dead-end relationships, jobs and ways of thinking. Williford then explores how extreme, subversive or amusing interventions get them unstuck in some cases, while only compounding the problem in others. Were this the only work on the program, it would still be worth showing up for.

When choreographer Suzanne Cantwell goes dark, break out the flashlights. In "Pilate's Pilot," Cantwell tells a deeply spiritual and deeply troubling spiritual tale to music by Pearl Jam. In the hands and covering the bodies of Alyssa Ghirardelli, Susan Quinn and Caroline Williford, three simple pieces of white fabric come to symbolize a surprising number of things: a woman's endless daily labors, a rope for hanging, a soul's condition--and a thing or two more before a shattering end.

Before these, the strongest section of Ghirardelli's untitled three-part suite is the final one, "Metamorphosis," a gratifying tribute to the proposition that you have to hit rock bottom hard if you ever hope to punch all the way through it. Set to vintage Led Zeppelin, multiple company impacts and near-sadomasochistic choreography synchronize with John Bonham's batterie before Williford finds something gold beneath the gray, and the path of excess leads to--someplace else. Definitely worth rocking out to. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indyweek.com.

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