Alibi V.18 No.23 • June 4-10, 2009 

Festival Preview

Too Hip to Be Square Dance

Wild Dancing West at VSA North Fourth Art Center

Turns out, this is a lucky number.
Turns out, this is a lucky number.
Melissa Briggs

When an audience takes in Song Cycle, it's tough to say what they'll see.

There will be dance, music and video. You can bet on it being abstract, comical and improvised. Other than that, each time it's performed, the piece takes on dramatically different forms.

"We always allow ourselves the room to make any kind of decision on the spot," explains Song Cycle director Kevin Paul. "We have this love of our own creative process so, as challenging as it may be, we love to set up a situation where we're having to invent and make creative decisions on the fly all the time."

Song Cycle, presented by Ecotone Physical Theatre of Albuquerque, is one of five performances that make up Wild Dancing West. The fourth annual festival of local and regional contemporary dance spans three weekends beginning Friday, June 5. Curators Zsolt Palcza and John Davis say they wanted the festival to capture the diversity that exists within the realm of contemporary dance. "We try to find a combination of companies so we're not doing the same kind of dance three weekends in a row," Davis says. "We get some variety in styles."

The PTERO Dance Theatre from Los Angeles makes the trip to Albuquerque for Wild Dancing West
The PTERO Dance Theatre from Los Angeles makes the trip to Albuquerque for Wild Dancing West
Sylvia Spross

Palcza and Davis invited two companies from Albuquerque, one from Santa Fe and two from Los Angeles to perform. "I think that if we have to qualify what we find interesting, it is a fresh choreographic approach to contemporary dance," Palcza asserts.

Susanna Kearny, board member of NewArt New Mexico, which is co-presenting Wild Dancing West, says contemporary dance often comes with huge spoonfuls of drama. Theatrical elements intertwine with dance regularly in the festival’s performances. "The lines between disciplines are blurring," Kearny notes. "That's exciting for both theater and dance."

Melissa Briggs enjoys a dollop of plot on top of her choreography. Briggs directs Thirteen, which she says follows five women struggling with past actions that shadow each dancer like a dark cloud.

West African and contemporary dance merge in the LA-based Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project.
West African and contemporary dance merge in the LA-based Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project.
Steven A. Gunter

Briggs used her own experiences for inspiration. "I went through some personal things that definitely left me with that feeling that I was an unlucky person," Briggs explains. "It wasn't that I wanted or even consciously decided that I was going to make a dance that depicted exactly what I experienced, but I sort of wanted to grasp that general feeling of being haunted by bad luck."

The performance doesn't focus on the intricacies of the story; it's more about creating a mood. "I don't need the audience to get a literal sense of story or walk away knowing exactly what happened," Briggs says. "I want people to get a sense of what it's like to struggle with something."

The soundtrack for the piece comes from Johnny Cash's American album series, covers of contemporary artists laid down during the twilight of Cash’s career. "They seemed very haunting, eerie and mysterious," Briggs says. "Johnny Cash put his spin on the songs, and viewing them through his lens was really intriguing."

Briggs was also attracted to Cash's tendency to depict the lives of those who've made mistakes, much like the women in Thirteen. "In his music, so much of it is about convicts or people who did really bad things," Briggs says. "Some of that feeling comes through in the performance."

Briggs, who's based in Santa Fe, says she's grateful for the opportunity to perform her piece in Albuquerque. "There's not a whole lot of opportunities for independent artists to just show work on a smaller scale, as opposed to renting a whole theater and presenting a big show," Briggs asserts.

Co-curator Davis says Wild Dancing West helps satisfy the creative hunger of artists and their audience. "The companies want to perform and they want people to see their work," Davis says. "It's something we can give to the community by providing this platform for contemporary dance in this town. Surprisingly, there's really nobody else doing that."

Wild Dancing West runs Fridays and Saturdays, June 5 through 20. All shows start at 8 p.m. For a full schedule and blurbs about each performance, visit vsartsnm.org.

Tickets for each night are $12 general and $8 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 344-4542.