A new dance piece asks how words and movement can play together.
Joy French, the founder of Bare Bait Dance company, started out with the idea that her new evening-length piece, "Dance | Words |Dance," would cull ideas from Montana authors.
As she spent the fall and spring working on the piece, that literary groundwork remained as she shifted into a different direction.
"There's a lot of crossover about how you think about creation, whether it's on the page or on the stage. Is there a protagonist? Is there a flashback? Is there repetition, storytelling, fable, or is it poetic abstraction?" French said.
She decided to choreograph a glossary, or literal ABC's of dance with literary concepts. For "monologue," she made a solo. For "point of view," a dancer, Freya Sargent, will take the lead in a story. Then'll you see the same tale from a second- and third-person perspective.
The sections vary from a few minutes to 10, and how all these pieces fit together will include something of a surprise — it will be different every night — and French was reluctant to include any spoilers as to how.
The performers are the five members of the professional company, plus two high-school apprentices. French also brought in Kate R. Morris, a Missoula artist, writer and playwright. Last year, her original play, "In the Snow," premiered at the Roxy Theater with BetweenTheLines Theatre Company. Morris, who studied theater and performance, helped French with text and will perform in the show.
Morris said the glossary grew her suggestion to make a word bank, and the way French developed it from there is something that she's never seen before in dance.
Contemporary choreography, particularly the kind that Bare Bait does, is easy to appreciate, and often comes with humor and playfulness. Yet contemporary dance groups sometimes deal with a reputation that it's difficult. Some people dismiss it as confusing, Morris said, or believe that they just won't understand all of it.
"This piece gives more authority to the people watching it to decide whether or not they have to figure it out, and that makes me happy," she said, adding that it's a compelling part of the performance.
In one section that deals with jargon or lingo, Morris and French mimicked an old commercial that was so packed with terminology that it barely made sense. Morris, who's acting rather than dancing, will start explaining dance terms in a similar way, with a dancer as a "visual aid" who is "trying to explain what she's saying in gesture," French said.
In another section, French created a "highly choreographed duet" for her two longest-running dancers, Kaitlin Kinsley and Jo Shontz. As they perform, Morris will interpret their movements like the narrator of a nature documentary. The tongue-in-cheek twist is that the explanation will drift off — it might start with discussion of "birds and end up talking about daytime soap operas." It's a bit of joke about questions that French hears about contemporary dance. "Everyone always asks us, 'What does it mean?'" she said. "Well, it means everything and nothing, all of it."
Some of French's groundwork for the Montana literature project will show through. In one section, she kept Western motifs like the landscape and the railroad, which came from a poem, although that initial inspiration won't be obvious.
In the future, she hopes to pursue a project that draws on a specific book or large Montana themes.
Going off track took the piece to "a much more interesting place than where I started," she said.