“Oh, 2, 3, 4, 5 …” It’s early October and choreographer Emily Gorman is counting off measures as dancers move around the second-floor studio at Sacred Heart School for the Arts. Theresa Bautista, Nicole Andre, Jessica Underwood and Kathryn Zukaitis are bringing Gorman’s latest creation to life. Set to “Theme No. 1” by instrumental ensemble Balmorhea, Gorman’s work is an experiment.
“The piece is about movement and the manipulation of phrases,” she explains. “The idea is to set it to two very different pieces of music. I want to see how the change in music affects the dancers, and how the audience reaction changes to the same choreography in a different setting.”
In order to give the audience another experience during the second song, Gorman asks the dancers to drain their performance of as much emotion as possible. This is hard for the performers. They start by marching in line, arms askew and bending at the knees with each step. At a certain point they split in separate directions and Bautista finds herself dancing in close proximity to Andre. Their eyes meet but Bautista quickly averts her face and spins away, wanting to maintain physical and emotional distance. Later, Bautista, who, like Gorman, teaches dance at Sacred Heart, says she was always taught that whenever more than one dancer is on stage they must have some kind of relationship. “In last week’s rehearsal I totally forgot that she wanted it devoid of emotion, especially because our movements are starting to connect with each other,” Bautista says. “She told us, ‘When you do that, this should be happening.’ So you’re looking for that now and even though you’re making that connection you tell yourself, ‘No, you’re not going to make a connection.’ We’re in sync but we’re not connected.”
Andre adds, “That’s the challenge of a dancer. Not only do you want to communicate what you’re feeling with the music or the movement, but you also want to do what the choreographer is asking of you. There are multiple levels of what you’re trying to achieve in a piece. Whether it’s void of emotion or full of emotions, there are many more levels to performing.”
Gorman’s piece will be part of “Made of Motion,” the next performance by the Louisville-based modern dance company known as Moving Collective. In addition to Gorman, the Nov. 10 show will include choreography from longtime Moving Collective members Amber Marquez, Lew Winstead, Erin Clark and Katie Scott. Out-of-town performers include Virginia’s d a n a h b e l l a Danceworks and MamLuft & Co. Dance of Cincinnati.
Bautista founded Moving Collective in 2006. The Jeffersonville native has studied tap, jazz and ballet since age 8. After graduating from Indiana University in 1995 with a biology degree, she became a full-time dancer and instructor. Besides Sacred Heart, Bautista also teaches dance at five other Louisville area schools, in addition to the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and a school in Radcliff, Ky. In fact, many of the Moving Collective dancers are former students or dancing peers that she’s met through the years.
Bautista had been dancing for six years with Art Art Barking Dog when she got the idea for Moving Collective. At some point, Art Art Barking Dog’s organizers began to cancel shows with no explanation, and some of the dancers feared correctly that the troupe was on the verge of folding. One night, after a Paul Taylor Dance Company performance at the Brown Theatre, Bautista found herself in a bar surrounded by nearly all the city’s dance talent.
“I looked around and realized there were all of these dancers in Louisville,” Bautista remembers. “Some were dancing with a company and some had just returned to Louisville. I said, ‘I don’t know why we’re not performing, I just need to do a show. I need to get all of us together and do a show.’ I’d been saying that for a while, but that night I decided to stop saying it and put on a show. I found a venue and found dancers. It was supposed to be only one show. I never thought we’d be doing multiple seasons.”
Moving Collective is a nonprofit run by a three-person board of directors that includes: Bautista, who is the group’s treasurer; President Tamara Begley, who teaches at Western Middle School; and Amanda Johnson, who acts as secretary. The two to three shows that Moving Collective performs each year are financed through ticket sales and private donations.
The three board members select local choreographers for each performance based on the theme of the upcoming show. They try to maintain a balance between analytical pieces and ones that are more about physicality than ideas. The choreographers pick their dancers from open auditions, usually held at another of Bautista’s places of employment, Ellen’s School of Dance at 1835 Plantside Drive. Each show involves about 20 to 30 dancers, depending on the visions of the choreographers involved.
“We are always saying that we’re trying to promote modern dance, but I think we’re also trying to build this community of dancers in Louisville,” Bautista says. “Quite honestly, unless you go get a degree in dance and you leave Louisville, the only option for professional dancing is the Louisville Ballet. It is important to have something in Louisville for dancers to come back to after they finish their careers and something for people who are just beginning their careers to use as a springboard to other things. Post-college or even post-high school, it’s really hard to find adult classes in this area. We want people to have an opportunity to keep dancing.”
Amber Marquez would not be choreographing or dancing if not for Moving Collective. The 25-year-old began taking dance lessons at age 7; she attended the Louisville Ballet School, and graduated from the dance program at the Youth Performing Arts School. Marquez met Bautista after taking one of her classes at the U of L Dance Academy. She danced in Moving Collective’s first show, which was at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center. But Marquez, a mother of two daughters, spent time away from dance to start a family. She says taking another class with Bautista and hearing what Moving Collective had become lit a fire under her.
“The thing to remember about Moving Collective is that it’s a collection of choreographers, so you’re not going to get the same thing from piece to piece” Marquez explains. “You’re going to have someone who is choreographing a piece that wants to get a message across. You’re going to have someone with a piece that is just an idea. I think that is the best thing about Moving Collective. It’s not bound by one artistic vision.”
Marquez’s work for “Made of Motion” is called “1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, REM.” The piece examines what happens to the body when a person goes to sleep. The first part takes the audience through the stages of sleep and the second half deals with dreams and unconscious desires. Set to Jim Guthrie’s “Ballad of Space Babies,” Marquez’s piece is full of fluid movement and fantastic imagery.
“When you talk about movement, it’s really the pieces of movements – steps and poses,” Marquez says. “A lot of people think what pose you’re in, or what move you are doing, is what really matters. But what is important to me is what happens between A and B. Everyone has preconceived notions of modern dance, but we’re really just storytellers. We’re just speaking with our bodies and the music.”
Johnson, the Moving Collective board member, is one of the dancers in Marquez’s piece. A veteran of the Louisville Ballet School, Johnson has degrees in dance and sociology from Mercyhurst College in Maryland. She danced with the Ballet Theater of Maryland before moving back to Louisville in 2010 and getting her Pilates certification. Johnson joined Moving Collective after meeting Bautista through the latter’s work at the ballet school and the Governor’s School for the Arts.
Johnson says she finds Marquez’s piece challenging because of the precision it demands. But she auditioned for the choreographer because she’d seen Marquez’s other work and wanted to challenge herself. “I tend to move quickly and not as elongated as she wants,” Johnson confesses. “I’ve actually learned a lot about sleep during this process. I’m sure that being a mom, her relationship with sleep is probably different than mine. But if the audience leaves having felt something, I think we did our job. That’s all a dancer can ask for.”