The Little Dance Company That Could

Here's one reason to head back inside for an evening or two before permanently retiring to the patio of some LoDo restaurant: the current performance of the Louder Than Words dance company.
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That never-ending Colorado winter is finally over, and spring seemed to last about three days. What with it being summer and everything, you're probably spending most of your free time outside biking or working in the yard. But here's one reason to head back inside for an evening or two before permanently retiring to the patio of some LoDo restaurant: the current performance of the Louder Than Words dance company, Dependence Upon Initial Conditions. You can still attend the second weekend of the performance, happening this Friday and Saturday, June 11 and 12, at the Byron Theater in DU's Newman Center, before the show closes.

Louder Than Words (LTW's) is in its third year as a non-profit performing arts company, and with Dependence Upon Initial Conditions running in the lovely venue of the Byron, it is establishing itself as a serious arts presence in Denver. The company performs original choreography. The dancers are lithe, graceful, and athletic, with bodies and styles as diverse as they come. And the company embraces experimental interactions with audience members, encouraging some to be seated nearly on the dance floor, the dancers brushing by them as they enter the performance space. Between acts, the audience is asked to rotate seats around the theater-in-the-round so as to adopt multiple perspectives. As a result, Dependence is both entertaining and thoughtful.

The show as a whole is consistent in quality and expression, but some of the numbers were truly remarkable. The first act--"the forest of sight/island of understanding"--featured what the company calls "big white," a massive undulating fabric structure (remember the parachute game in elementary school?) with sewn-in clothing through which dancers emerged and withdrew. In some lighting, Big White resembled the ocean, with dancers emerging as birds or sea creatures. Other performers moved throughout the space in front of big white, dressed in black, dancing with and among black fabric streamers descending from the ceiling.

Birds emerging from a sea of white--the dancers in black in front. Oil and water? Birds emerging from the gulf? Yet the two never meet. The association is never made.

Perhaps this is because the company doesn't seem to intend to be overtly political. Although it is hard not to see messages about gender from the variety of body types that fill out the company, or the sometimes provocative, kitschy costumes designed by Rebecca Peebles (who also sewed "big white" in her living room), the titles of the various numbers don't reflect any such politicization. As the company and its performances mature and evolve, it will be exciting to see them claim not just abstract themes (such as meditations on "color"), instead fully embracing their ability to comment on our times through dance.

And the company may want to ride the same sort of edge with their choreography. One of the more exciting pieces of the night was "polyrhythms," featuring industrial, nearly robotic music, choreography, and costumes, which functioned as a commentary on the constrained, repetitive rhythms of modern life, and perhaps even the roles women can play or embody within it. Other numbers--though lovely and enrapturing--were often more lyrical. This was pleasing, not flat, but if LTW wants to pull in larger audiences over time, they will need to create more points of drama as well. As performances progress, I would like to see the company play with more surprises, more textures, that take advantage of the company's diversity and athleticism. Highlighting particular dancers or solos, or mixing in elements from popular or ethnic forms of dance, say, may be one way to make this happen.

LTW's future seems assured thanks to the dedication of its core creative team, creative director Chris Harris and executive director Whit Ryan. Yet the company has faced its share of struggles: hard economic times make it difficult to find financial support; some company members have been sick or injured; and, perhaps most significantly, the company lacks a consistent rehearsal space that would allow it to be even more experimental. Those who love dance and who want to support Denver's burgeoning arts scene should step up and support Louder Than Words, at the very least with a ticket purchase for this weekend's shows. You won't regret it.

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