A couple of days before the Fourth of July, Anna Sperber instructs her dancers to pay attention to their breathing as they lie motionless on the stage, their eyes closed. Rehearsing at the Durham School of the Arts, the college-age women begin to awaken from their meditative state—sort of.
Some sit up, but others can't seem to rise. Sperber, in a calming near-whisper, directs them to slowly become fully alert. Soon, they're darting about the stage, sometimes colliding with each other.
In two weeks, they'll perform in Footprints, where the American Dance Festival enlists noted choreographers to develop new works with ADF students. This year's program also features Gregory Maqoma and Wynn Fricke.
In 1996, Sperber was in the same position as her students, working under Lenka Flory. But since her time at ADF, she's made a name for herself in New York, presenting at prestigious venues such as The Kitchen and The Brooklyn Museum of Art. Now she is the one running the show.
"My process is thinking of space," Sperber explains. "The core of my interest is in the primacy of the performer and the moving body; the movement as an energetic expression." She might spend a year creating a full-length performance, but for this shorter piece, she has only six weeks.
As dance critic Siobhan Burke wrote in The New York Times, "With its heady mix of lyricism and rigor, Ms. Sperber's work is worth watching at any stage of development." Though raw, the movements in the rehearsal already show signs of Sperber's style of organic, abstract repetition.
Sperber approached the collaboration without any preconceived ideas. At root, the work is not about narrative meaning, but about what the dancers and viewers allow themselves to find in it.
"The actual experience is what is interesting to me," Sperber says. "Like the sensation of moving, or the sensations of light and space. The performance is an avenue of giving."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bustle & flow."