Headwaters Dance Co.

Jasmine Woods and Ellie Weinman of Headwaters Dance Co.

Photo provided by Neil Chaput de Saintonge

Amy Ragsdale lived in Brazil for a time, and became enamored with Capoeira, a martial art dating back hundreds of years that blends in elements of dance and music.

"Their form is the epitome of powerful," said the director of Headwaters Dance Company.

It also raised questions for her: How do you cultivate power and learn not to abuse it? When is it appropriate to use in the first place?

She hoped to fly some Capoeira artists from Brazil for her contemporary dance and repertory company's annual gala, but visa issues interfered.

In the meantime, she'd already been assembling a program around the theme of "Power and Strength." Looking back over her portfolio of original works, Ragsdale realized it had always been an underlying theme in her choreography.

She said she's fascinated by the manner in which people gain, exert and lose power, and the connection between power and strength, both emotional and physical.

"I just find it a fascinating subject. It has an impact on all of our lives," she said.

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Among the seven works her seven dancers will perform next week are "Percentages," a repertory piece that Ragsdale choreographed. It's political origins help show the ambiguity and durability of dance as an art form.

"Often the beauty of dance, it's abstract enough that it means different things to different people depending on the context they bring to it," she said. And it's abstract enough that as time passes it can still remain relevant, she said.

She created the piece during the George W. Bush presidency. Originally titled "Caged," it was a commentary on the administration's claims that it was making Americans safer in the post-9/11 era. A frequent traveler who spent time in Mozambique in 2004, Ragsdale didn't feel safer at all while abroad because of the American policies.

"The dance is choreographed around the use of space," she said. One dancer will claim more space than the other four onstage, leaving it to the majority to figure out how to reclaim what's been lost. It uses steady rain sounds, along with "high-intensity" music by the Drum Brothers.

Similar in theme is "The First Seating," another of Ragsdale's works. In its simple setup, there's a table without enough chairs for all the dancers onstage. It explores questions of how those dancers find room to express themselves, and whether they can regain a seat at all.

She said that she's heard numerous interpretations of the piece over the years - some saw it as a boardroom scenario, or a cafeteria, or a faculty meeting.

"It comes back to that idea - the place of power shows up in our lives in every context," she said.

"Bid 'em In," is a politically charged piece set to music by poet, songwriter, civil rights activist and playwright Oscar Brown Jr. The spoken-word piece, with minimal percussion, assumes the voice of a slave auctioneer hawking people as property ("look at her teeth, "she's good in the field.") With that sonic backdrop, a soloist alternates between roles as slave and auctioneer.

Other pieces on the program include "A Woman Has Disappeared," a solo based on a song by Holly Near's tune about the Pinohet in Chile; and "III," an "athletic trio" by Taiwanese choreographer Chia Chi-Chiang with music by Meredith Monk.

"First Position" was inspired by a period when Ragsdale lived in Spain with her husband and their newborn, second child. She said it was wonderful and overwhelming, which she translated into a humorous solo piece about finding "the strength to hold yourself together."

The mostly heady thematic material could make the program sound grim, but Ragsdale said it's a "very energized concert." She said she hopes it's a "good visceral pump to your heart and hopefully provocative enough to get people thinking."

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