Pittsburgh’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival returns for a sixth year

BodyCartography Project in
BodyCartography Project in “Super Nature.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

By Steve Sucato

This year, the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival has a distinctly local flavor. But while the sixth annual incarnation is perhaps disappointingly short on out-of-town talent compared to years past, newMoves remains unique in the region as a showcase for both local and visiting artists performing new contemporary dance.

The festival runs May 7-9 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and KST’s Alloy Studios. It offers three nights of performances featuring works by 14 choreographers performed by 44 dancers, with most presenting artists based in Pittsburgh. This year’s festival has also expanded the number of complementary events, including workshops, master classes, mixers and parties.

Headlining this year’s festival is Minneapolis-based BodyCartography Project. The troupe offers two performances, May 8 and 9 at KST’s Alloy Studios, of a 50-minute excerpt from its 2012 dance-theater work Super Nature. Founded in 1997 by New Zealand-native Olive Bieringa, BodyCartography Project’s contemporary-dance works range from intimate performance installations to interactive works in public space, like on mass transit and in parks. The company has performed across the U.S., and in Canada, Europe and South America.

BodyCartography Project in
BodyCartography Project in “Super Nature.” Photo by Gene Pittman.

We call it “a radical ecological melodrama,” says Bieringa, speaking of Super Nature by telephone from Minneapolis. The work for eight dancers and four local guest performers is choreographed by Bieringa and co-artistic director Otto Ramstad. The piece is set to an original soundscape by Bessie Award-winning composer Zeena Parkins and explores the civilized and wild aspects of human nature.

The Pittsburgh debut of Super Nature will be a separate ticketed event in addition to the festival’s trio of hour-long nightly programs at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. The latter include:

Program A (Thu., May 7) is an all-local artist evening featuring Murphy/Smith Dance Collective’s Jamie Erin Murphy who is returning to newMoves for the fourth time, with her 2014 quartet “Makeshift.” Set to music by Ben Frost, the work “explores the idea of temporary replacement and support,” Murphy says.

Alexandra Bodnarchuk. Photo by Lindsay Dill.
Alexandra Bodnarchuk. Photo by Lindsay Dill.

Gravity and the metronome of time serve as inspirations for Alexandra Bodnarchuk’s “… and counting.” The solo, danced to an original composition by Brandon Musser, has Bodnarchuk grappling with these concepts and revealing what she says “is hidden beneath the seams of her existence.”

Yes Brain Dance Theater artistic director Moriah Ella Mason’s new work-in-progress duet “Diasporate” reflects on white American Jewish identity. Rounding out Program A is “memory 3: swimmoon,” a work-in-progress duet by dancers Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, a.k.a. slowdanger. Says Thompson: “The work is a reinterpretation of a memory in the present.”

slowdanger’s Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight. Photo by Cassie Kay Rusnak.
slowdanger’s Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight. Photo by Cassie Kay Rusnak.

Program B (Fri., May 8) will feature improv master Gia T. (Gia Cacalano) performing her new work-in-process “kimono.” Inspired by the traditional Japanese garment, its beauty and the culture surrounding it, she will create her solo in real time dancing to music by Korean composer Jong Kagi Park.

Also on the program are works by three festival first-timers. Dancer/choreographer Jil Stifel investigates “how shared body schema can allow us to work intricately as a single unit” in her new work-in-progress duet “Knuckle Press.” Maree ReMalia, who recently relocated to Washington, D.C., returns with her troupe merrygogo in “Circulation Project,” a new work-in-progress about the phenomenon of habit. And veteran local dancemaker Joan Wagman premieres her dance-theater work for four dancers, “PINKIFICATION.” Set to a music mix that ranges from Bengali techno to a 1940s field-recording of a chain gang, the work, says Wagman, “explores the human urge to make troubling issues rosy.”
Megan Mazarick. Photo by Megan Mazarick.
Megan Mazarick. Photo by Megan Mazarick.

Program C (Sat., May 9; contains adult content) features Philadelphia’s Megan Mazarick bringing an unlady-like approach to our cultural obsession with princesses in her new solo, “monster,” set to original music by Mohamed Shafik. “This idea of princesses and wanting to be one is so nauseating to me,” says Mazarick via Skype from Giza, Egypt, where she is premiering the work. “I am trying to flip the script to make the princess awful and make the monster interesting, weird and better somehow.”

The festival’s lone student-performed work comes from Athens, Ohio’s Factory Street Studio. “Revolution,” choreographed by Elizabeth Atwell, reflects on what dance means to its quartet of high school-age performers.

Jean-Paul Weaver (center). Photo by Nick Fochtman.
Jean-Paul Weaver (center). Photo by Nick Fochtman.

Filling out Program C are three works by area dancer/choreographers. Brady Sanders’ “The Screen Between Us” looks at our love affair with technology. Anthony Williams’ “beingHUMAN” explores sexuality and self-worth in the fast-paced world of clubbing. And Jean-Paul Weaver’s new solo, “Lalin,” explores humanity’s relationship with the moon.

newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival – Program A: 8 p.m. Thu., May 7. Program B: 6 p.m. Fri., May 8. Program C: 9 p.m. Sat., May 9. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. BodyCartography Project performs Super Nature 9 p.m. Fri., May 8, and 7 p.m. Sat., May 9. Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., Friendship. Individual events: $8-20 (festival pass: $50), Pre-show mixers nightly, 412-363-3000 or kelly-strayhorn.org.

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on May 6, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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