Science-fiction author Ray Bradbury once said, “It’s lack that gives us inspiration. It’s not fullness.”
When choreographers create works intended to be “abstract,” that is sometimes when dancers find the most meaningful connections to the steps.
North Carolina Dance Theatre in Residence will showcase unintentional inspiration as the company presents its annual “Dance Innovations” program at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
“Even when it’s abstract, just movement for the sake of movement, I always have to find some sort of narrative for myself,” NCDT dancer Jamie Dee said, “… because I feel like that helps me refine and fulfill the movement.”
Dee is the female soloist in “Shelter,” a ballet that NCDT’s associate artistic director Sasha Janes began choreographing as an abstract piece. Originally inspired by an old dance costume, the ballet premiered in Chautauqua last season.
Janes wanted to choreograph a piece featuring Dee because he believes she’s an extraordinary artist.
“There’s a dancer, and their only responsibility is to do the choreography that’s given to them and to do it the way their choreographer intended,” Janes said. “Then there’s dancers-slash-artists, and they take the choreography and then turn it into something else, or just even bring more life to it than just being a series of steps — and they’re the great ones. That’s what Jamie is.”
Once the “Shelter” cast began rehearsing the ballet in proper sequence, feelings just started to occur naturally, Dee said. Dee explained the narrative she has developed for the piece, which goes beyond the steps and represents her journey to womanhood.
During the first section of the ballet, Dee is surrounded by the full cast: NCDT dancers Melissa Anduiza, Emily Ramirez, Christina LaForgia, Sarah Hayes Watson, Jordan Leeper and Pete Walker. Dee feels as if the ballet begins with her role as a member of a community.
In the piece’s next section, Dee and Walker perform the first pas de deux. This dance represents an unrefined first love, full of curiosity into the unknown, Dee said. This fresh taste of love is also bittersweet, she said, because it must end.
The female dancers return to the stage to comfort Dee in her time of anguish. During some rehearsals she feels broken-hearted, while other rehearsals bring out anger and frustration.
“My narrative changes sometimes depending on how I’m feeling,” Dee said, “because I like to just keep it authentic.”
The energy from the other dancers lifts her up and replenishes her reserves, Dee said. She’s left alone for a moment, during which she reflects on past experiences from both the piece and also from her own life, she said. She finally realizes that she is able to stand independently.
As her journey continues, Leeper rushes on stage and sweeps a leery Dee off her feet.
Dee said she gets exhausted both physically and also emotionally during this part of the ballet.
She isn’t entering into relationships completely unguarded anymore, she said, but Leeper’s persistence and constant comfort allows Dee to truly fall in love. The music and movements become more tender and affectionate, representing what Dee calls a “best friend” type of love, the type of love that survives all hardships.
“That’s the real [type of love], the one that doesn’t leave,” she said.
Dee has another moment to reflect. When the rest of the cast comes back to the stage, Dee is back in her community. Her various relationships have transformed her into a new woman.
As the ballet’s program reads, “Within the shelter of each other we fully live.”
While some may find a story in Mark Diamond’s “Alternate Paths,” the ballet is purely abstract for the NCDT program director. His piece features seven company dancers: Anduiza, Watson, Ramirez, LaForgia, Gregory Taylor, Walker and Josh Hall.
“It’s very easy for different kinds of meanings to creep in,” Diamond said. “I’ve intended to do many abstract pieces, and then they took on meaning as I did them.”
Diamond has kept his contemporary piece abstract by basing the choreography on circular movement, he said. Each movement in the piece features a different woman representing a new theme.
Diamond found the music by David Balakrishnan on an old CD a student had given him about nine years ago.
“Sometimes the search for music takes you in all different directions,” Diamond said.
Music plays a huge role in the company’s final piece of the evening, “The Groove.” NCDT resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden was inspired by the energy of the company’s new dancers and the subculture of nightlife to create a ballet set to “club music.”
The entire company will perform a rather large excerpt from the piece, restaged by former NCDT dancer Traci Gilchrest Kubie. Kubie said the athletic dance features intricate pointe work and partnering in the style of ballroom dance. She warns the audience to “buckle their seat belts.”
“They’re going to be hit with energy right away,” she said, “and it’s not going to stop for about 20 to 25 minutes.”