Tucked away in a far corner of the already obscure student side of the Morrison Center lies Boise State's diminutive dance studio. This well-worn room, known as B111, holds one of Idaho's artistic treasures. It's not a first-edition Hemingway, or a lost James Castle sketch. This treasure, known as Idaho Dance Theatre, is currently live and in-process. And I was lucky enough to catch an up-close and personal preview of IDT's upcoming performance, "Joy Ride," on the studio's faded marley floors. "Joy Ride" promises cross-media creativity to complement the company's reliable muscular technique and energetic expression.
New choreography by artistic directors Marla Hansen and Carl Rowe and company member Yurek Hansen (Marla Hansen's son) is supported by artistic collaborators from Idaho and beyond: composer Jim Cockey, painter Saul Bernstein and costume designer Ann Hoste. Live music by the Langroise Trio fits into an eclectic bill of sound that includes Finnish heavy metal band/cello trio Apocalyptica, operatically trained German punk vocalist Nina Hagen and Nick Bartsch's world-music-inflected jazz quintet Ronin. The bits and pieces I witnessed only whetted my appetite for opening night, when IDT will leap forth from the rehearsal room to premiere its latest in the Special Events Center.
Undertow, a new pas de deux by Marla features company dancers Yurek Hansen and Casee Hogg. It's an unusual collaboration with Bernstein, a California State University Northridge art professor, who has used digital technology to create a backdrop that appears "as if he were painting it without being there," says Marla. The dancers start on the floor, rolling as if tossed by the ocean waves heard in the opening of the music. Their movements at first reflect one another's; then the work explodes into action along with the music—beautiful enough even without Bernstein's critical component, which will debut along with the show. About the collaborative process, Marla says that she sent Bernstein a DVD of one of her previous pieces performed by the same dancers, along with a recording of the music she planned to use. Thus the painting he created incorporates ocean imagery that reflects the song, as well as images of the actual dancers themselves.
Similarly, Rowe worked intensively on Odyssey with collaborator Jim Cockey, an award-winning local composer whose An Idaho Symphony premiered in Boise last week. The two have a long professional history going back to 1987's Visions. Collaboration between composer and choreographer is a natural one. According to Rowe, music "creates a certain color, a mood." For Rowe, choreography entails transforming the "abstract sensation" of sound into "physical, tangible form between human beings." Rowe didn't set out to retell Homer and said, "I don't usually work that literally."
Rather, during the process of collaboration, he realized that "some of the imagery was creeping in." As Rowe listened to Cockey's musical ideas, the choreographer increasingly felt that "each musical section had some correlation to part of the story." The result of the collaboration will be a "vivification" of the classic tale, complete with oral narration.
One section of the dance represents Greek warriors around the campfire reliving their adventures; in this section, I saw bows and arrows, swords and shields, wounds and death. This is not to say that the piece is pantomime. The work's clean lines and sense of spatial proportion express the passions of the story within the bounds of classical moderation—perfectly befitting Rowe's subject and source material. The audience will also have the rare treat of live music to accompany the dance. Langroise Trio, artists in residence at College of Idaho, led by the Boise Philharmonic's concertmaster, violinist Geoffrey Trabichoff, will play onstage, albeit off to one side. Rowe explains the musicians' positioning: "I didn't want to put them in jeopardy."
The newest piece choreographed (and performed) by company veteran Yurek, a four-part dance entitled My Form and Face, promises both the emotional athleticism and the earthy synthesis of styles that seem to characterize the artist's work thus far. Similarly, another new work by Rowe, Measures of Time, springs entirely from the sound of percussion. The movement I saw, performed by company member Brandi Breshears, typifies the company's choreographic contrasts. Her undulating, graceful movements alternate with acrobatic work which, while grounded, is nonetheless energetic and physically demanding. The dancer stays close to the ground, with no leaps taking her away from the earth and yet the kinetic force of the piece reflects the power of the music.
In Catch, Marla works economically with the ensemble, as the number of dancers onstage shifts to reflect changes in the music. The jazz fusion of Swiss musician Nick Bartsch's five-piece ensemble is "open, with no time frame or personality," says Hansen, allowing freedom for the choreographer's vision to flow. Onstage, formal permutations range from four couples at the start, to four, then eight women, to four men, and finally to the full ensemble dancing together at the work's climax. Alternately abstract and comically literal, the piece is ultimately a meditation on tenderness, as the dancers both support and mirror each others' movements. Boise State theater arts professor Ann Hoste designed the ensemble's costumes (which remain under wraps until opening night ) to enhance the visual effect of the performance.
The show has received grants for Cockey's composition, Hoste's costume work and Bernstein's ground-breaking visuals, and IDT has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant to take the whole show on the road.
"I am really delighted and gratified," says Managing Director Becky Breshears (Brandi Breshears' mother). "We've worked hard to maintain the quality and originality of our performances over the last 19 years, and this grant is an acknowledgment of our efforts and our potential." The NEA matching grant sponsors a tour that will take six members of the company to a dozen performance sites, from McCall, through the Lapwai Reservation, all the way to Potlatch. The North Idaho tour runs from May 9 through May 20. A silent auction/pre-show cocktail party will be held April 19 raise funds for the tour. Becky promises that the auction will offer something for every taste and every price range.
With the company's 20th anniversary coming next year, IDT has a lot to celebrate. This is one dance company that is truly ready for some fun. And I, for one, am excited to go along for the ride.
"Joy Ride," April 17, 18, 19, 8 p.m.; April 20, 2 p.m. Tickets are $26 for adults, $12 for seniors/students. Boise State Special Events Center. IDT fundraising event, April 19, 5:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $15 each, $25 per couple, the Lookout Room at the Boise State Student Union Building. For more information or tickets, call 208-331-9592 or visit idahodancetheatre.org.