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New England Choreographers And Troupes Will 'Dance UP' A Storm At The ICA

The Wondertwins. (Courtesy Sophie Browne)
The Wondertwins. (Courtesy Sophie Browne)
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There’s a constant gnawing, ever-present craving in an artist’s gut — yearning to learn more, to perfect the imperfectible, to step into the unknown and challenge other’s doubts as well as one’s own.

Many dancers find artistic fulfillment in the vulnerability of choreographing, delving further into their creative minds to compose works that are original to their particular style and voice. They may form small companies to satisfy their need for bodies to bring their creations to life, but with that comes the daunting responsibility of business and promotion.

So, how does a young company develop a loyal and growing audience while carving out a name for itself among the array of hard-working troupes in a profession that has limited funding?

That’s where organizations like World Music/CRASHarts come in. A new and hopefully recurring program, “Dance UP” will bring together the distinctive styles of six prominent dance makers in New England onto one stage at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Friday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 23. Participating artists include hip-hop dancers The Wondertwins, James Morrow and his company james morrow/ The Movement, Doppelgänger Dance Collective, Alexander Davis and his dancers, Ian Berg’s Subject:Matter and Kat Nasti with her troupe.


Here's World Music/CRASHarts' preview of the program:


“It’s such an important opportunity,” choreographer Kat Nasti said in a Skype interview. “I personally don't have the marketing power and the branding power to fill a 500-seat theater on my own. By sharing this concert, we are expanding our audience, and we are getting access to this amazing stage that wouldn’t be available otherwise.”

Her company, Kat Nasti Dance, will present “maman,” a work that Nasti has been able to complete as one of this year’s recipients of the Next Steps for Boston Dance grant program, a partnership between the Boston Foundation and the Aliad Fund. Loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own,” the piece examines a woman’s role in society and her truth as an individual within the confines of traditional gender roles.

Kat Nasti Dance, a contemporary dance company based in Boston. (Courtesy Matthew Wright/Fig Tree Photography)
Kat Nasti Dance, a contemporary dance company based in Boston. (Courtesy Matthew Wright/Fig Tree Photography)

One of 10 children, Nasti was raised in an Irish Roman Catholic family in rural Pennsylvania. “I grew up struggling with my voice as a woman,” she said. “How can you really be audacious in the sort of environment that you create for yourself and that society creates for you, breaking through value systems and belief systems that have been imparted on you or that you’re breathing in every day?”

After graduating from college, Nasti performed with a variety of independent choreographers in New York City. She has since obtained two master’s degrees, one of which is an MBA from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. There, she also established the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange, an organization that empowers emerging choreographers by providing them with opportunities to perform in a professional and rigorous environment.

In 2012, Nasti and her husband lived in Korea where she studied traditional Korean dance while working toward an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. It was a cultural experience she describes as profound. “It's so detailed and nuanced, and I felt so much more power in this quiet place, in this reserved place, in this place of waiting than I had in my ballet experience at that time,” she said. “It was a way to reintroduce me to ballet, to find a new sort of energy and excitement in ballet.”

Her travels, she explained, have only prompted more questions and heightened her curiosity as a choreographer. Even still, Nasti struggles with the term "choreographer." “It feels like such a powerful word to say and title to have,” she said, and she’s not alone.

Tapper Ian Berg describes the label as odd. “I don’t feel any sort of ownership of a piece unless I’m in it myself,” he said in a phone interview. This weekend, Berg and two of his nine dancers, April Nieves and Benae Beamon, will present “Expensive Nail Polish Dries Fast,” a piece that incorporates well-known poses (think Charlie’s Angels) into movement.

Berg established his tap dance company in 2013 as a sophomore at Boston Conservatory after realizing that companies weren’t using tap and its revolutionary capabilities to the fullest. It was not until two years later, however, that the troupe formed the name Subject:Matter.

“Both of those words hold a lot of weight in different ways,” Berg said. “There’s a science connotation to it, but there’s also a social thing to it. The way that I put dances together is really formulaic and scientific, but the way that they’re danced is particularly human.”

Boston-based tap company Subject:Matter. (Courtesy Cynthia Clayton)
Boston-based tap company Subject:Matter. (Courtesy Cynthia Clayton)

A work can include up to 90 percent of improvisation, Berg explained, in which case the dancers must use an intricate system of cues to communicate with one another onstage in a split second. For this reason, he emphasizes the need to develop a collaborative team, not just a company of technically strong tappers. “You can’t see a piece of ours twice and see the same piece,” he said.

Berg also stresses the importance of blurring the line between viewer and performer, and his works often include an aspect of audience participation. “Tap dance has a way of engaging the audience where it gets you physically moving and grooving with the dance in a way that is really special,” he said.

To pay respect, Berg always includes a list of people who directly contributed, inspired or influenced his work in the program. For “Expensive Nail Polish Dries Fast,” there are around 72 names, from dancers to directors and politicians to literary theorists.

“Tap dance is so important in the world of dance, in the world of culture,” he said. “The story of tap dance is one that’s really oppressive, but revolutionary and liberating. It’s about a group of people who had everything taken away from them and managed to stay alive and hold their culture together. It’s important to celebrate a form that has had a massive, massive, massive impact on American culture as a whole.”

And “Dance UP” will be nothing if not a celebration of dance in its many forms.


"Dance UP" is at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston's Seaport on Friday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 23. 

Related:

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox Contributor, The ARTery
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, a recent graduate of Boston University, is a freelance photojournalist in Houston, Texas, and a contributor to The ARTery.

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