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VOL. 126 | NO. 25 | Monday, February 7, 2011

Dancers Converge for Annual AXIS

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Project: Motion Modern Dance Collective will continue its relatively new tradition of importing guest artists of contrasting styles in this year’s continuation of the annual AXIS series.

Peter Carpenter in “The Last Cowboy Standing” (Photo: William Frederking)

The three performances Feb. 18-20 will be the first AXIS concert in the group’s new home of Evergreen Theater, formerly Circuit Playhouse, 1705 Poplar Ave.

“We want to show Memphis audiences what’s happening around the country and also to help our collective members branch out and get to work with guest artists,” said Jay Rapp, artistic director of Project: Motion.

Project: Motion is a nonprofit dance company whose niche has been inspiring talent among Memphis’ modern and contemporary dancers for the last 15 years. The organization first gave a performance by invited guests in 2009; it was so successful that the group formally established it last year.

The plan is to invite two individual artists or small companies of different styles and from other regions of the country to perform and interact with Memphis dancers, Project: Motion members and nonmembers alike. Some even involve Project: Motion dancers in their performance.

“We concentrate on the tier (of dancers and dance companies) that’s a little smaller than some of the larger touring companies, but they still go around the country and perform,” Rapp said. “They also tend to perform in a more intimate venue as well rather than a large space.”

And space is a key component to this year’s AXIS. At TheatreWorks, where Project: Motion resided until last year, the stage is the floor of the building with seating above in risers, which made for the kind of intimacy that modern dancers thrive on.

Evergreen has a raised stage with a partial proscenium, but Rapp said the small size of the theater keeps dancers close enough to make for a personal experience.

“The Evergreen space is slightly different,” Rapp said. “It’s a little more formal, yet still really close so it works for what we do. It’s so comfortable in there.”

For AXIS, Project: Motion invited choreographer/performer Judith Tribo Wombwell, a faculty member at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., who co-founded Project: Motion in Memphis in 1987.

Tribo Wombwell came to Memphis in December and worked with 10 Project: Motion dancers who will be joined in the concert with five members of her Massachusetts company Deadfall Dance.

The piece, titled after the Walt Whitman poem “A Child Said, What is the Grass?” exceeds 30 minutes and culminates in a voiceover of the poem.

Tribo Wombwell’s dancers will also perform a post-modern piece on grieving called “Integral” and an excerpt from “The Road,” in which dancers and audiences members freely text and call each other on cell phones, interrupting the flow of the dance.

“It’s about multi-tasking and having this phone attached to your body,” Rapp said. “It’s always different. There are always new challenges with it.”

The second guest artist is Peter Carpenter, associate professor at the Dance Center of Columbia College in Chicago, who will perform two solo pieces.

“He has a theatrical base to his work,” Rapp said. “One is a piece he’s been doing since 2006 called ‘The Last Cowboy Standing,’ which uses excerpts from President Reagan’s speeches.”

Carpenter dances the piece in a quasi-cowboy costume, but wearing only one boot.

“He uses modern gestures to create the dance and how it works against these speeches – they’re pulled out in collage together,” Rapp said.

Carpenter’s second solo is “A Damn Kind of Splendid,” a new work by choreographer Lisa Gonzales, which premiered in late 2010. The piece acts out the frustration and disorientation of sudden realizations in life.

Both Tribo Wombwell and Carpenter will perform in master classes, which are not open to the public while they are in town.

Tickets for AXIS performances are $20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors and can be purchased by visiting www.projectmotiondance.org. Feb. 18 and 19 performances begin at 8 p.m.; the Feb. 20 performance begins at 2 p.m.

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