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Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Company speaks with diverse dance vocabulary

November 7, 2004

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As a Chopin etude fades to silence, Ellie Goudie-Averill springs to her feet and approaches the dancers with notebook in hand.

"On your waltz, your head went into your pit a little bit," she tells one of the women, who smirks then nods knowingly.

"OK, let's go from the lift," Goudie-Averill says.

The music begins, and dancers in leg warmers, loose pants and snug shirts streak through the terra-cotta-colored rehearsal studio of Kansas University dance instructor Joan Stone -- leaping, spinning, working on the floor.

"That was 99 times better," Goudie-Averill squeals.

A few days from now, these young dancers will perform this work for the public. It's one fruit of many they've cultivated since graduating from KU and forming an independent company called The Bowery Dancers. The eight-member troupe had its debut last year at Salina's Smoky Hill River Festival and have since drawn appreciative crowds to free summer concerts in South Park.

The dancers will give their first ticketed performance 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Hall. The downtown venue will provide something of a departure from the grassy "stages" the dancers have grown accustomed to.

"The great thing about doing the Liberty Hall show has been that we haven't had as many restrictions," says company member Brandi Green. "So it will be a different type of show for us, and we're all very excited about that."

But don't mistake The Bowery Dancers for prissy artists who need the more formal, proscenium stage to feel comfortable performing. In fact, the troupe formed precisely to break down the barrier often perceived between dancers and Midwest audiences.

Bowery Dancers Ellie Goudie-Averill, left, and Christine Scott
rehearse for their Thursday performance at Liberty Hall. Company
member Michael Ingle, background, waits in the wings.

Bowery Dancers Ellie Goudie-Averill, left, and Christine Scott rehearse for their Thursday performance at Liberty Hall. Company member Michael Ingle, background, waits in the wings.

"We felt like Lawrence needed a community-based company that was in Lawrence a lot, that was doing work IN Lawrence, with the people OF Lawrence," Green says. "We wanted to work with musicians in Lawrence; we wanted to work with artists in Lawrence."

Creative vision

And they want to do their own choreography. The troupe members met while studying dance at KU, where they performed mostly in modern and ballet numbers. Rarely did they have a chance to explore styles such as tap, jazz -- even Irish step dance, which Bowery member Jeff Potter has training in.

"We wanted to be a modern company because most of us are primarily modern choreographers," Goudie-Averill says. "But I think it helps engage an audience if you have an Irish step piece or a tap piece or a jazz piece -- and then you can sort of trick them into watching what you really want them to watch."

The company will premiere new work at its Liberty Hall show: an exploration of pas de deux by Goudie-Averill; a modern piece set to dueling harpsichords by Potter; a story of personal journey by Christine Scott; and a romp set to songs of Marc Bolan by Michael Ingle. Among the dancers other offerings will be "Meatshake" and "not quite poetic," recent works by Kathleen O'Connor. Brandi Green, Beau Hancock and Alison Mize complete the group.

Joan Stone, who frequently peeks her head into the rehearsal studio to see what the dancers are up to, is the person who really urged her former students to create their own company.



"They worked so well together as students, and they were talented as performers AND as choreographers," she says, holding her tiny poodle, Taji, whom the dancers have lovingly claimed as their mascot. "So many people study dance and then they have no chance to perform it, and there need to be a lot more little companies of dancers that work regionally, that work locally.

"I think it's a tremendous growing experience for them. You kind of have to separate yourself from notions of the success of a Baryshnikov. I think of it as kind of a creek that feeds the river that feeds into the ocean. And without a lot of grass-roots kind of activity, the world of dance becomes very sterile."

Bound together

The Bowery Dancers, from left, are Christine Scott, Jeff Potter,
Ellie Goudie-Averill, Brandi Green, Michael Ingle and Kathleen
O'Connor. Not pictured are Beau Hancock and Alison Mize.

The Bowery Dancers, from left, are Christine Scott, Jeff Potter, Ellie Goudie-Averill, Brandi Green, Michael Ingle and Kathleen O'Connor. Not pictured are Beau Hancock and Alison Mize.

Sterility is certainly not part of The Bowery Dancers' history together, however brief. KU choreographers recognized their joint spark and always seemed to put the dancers in the same pieces, during the same sequences.

"We just always ended up being together," Goudie-Averill says. "I hope it's because we look good dancing together."

One thing is undeniable: They certainly get along well. Today's rehearsal is the kind of rigorous, sweat-breaking affair that could spark short fuses and defensive reactions to criticism.

None of that here, though. Just smiles and encouragement and well-taken suggestions.

"I was not even thinking about the shoulders," Ingle says in response to one of Goudie-Averill's rehearsal notes.

"I noticed that," she replies, smiling.

It's little wonder the company takes its name from the canopy of intertwining boughs built to shelter dancers performing outdoors a century ago.

"We're really best friends," Green says.

"A lot of people did say things like, 'It will never work. Your friendships will all just go away,'" Goudie-Averill says. "But that hasn't happened."

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