Movement Migration turns traditional ideas about dance upside down

A dancer’s life usually resembles a butterfly’s: Hard labor to get ready for public view, dazzling beauty when seen in the proper settings, abrupt disappearance after too short a time.

But what if that weren’t true?

What if dancers worked into their 50s or beyond? What if company members spanned more than three decades from youngest to oldest? What if – to think even more radically – a troupe gave up the traditional top-down choreographic model to become collaborative, with dancers co-creating pieces they wanted to do?

Those ideas led to Movement Migration, which performs Sept. 6 and 7 in UNC Charlotte’s Fall Faculty Dance Concert.

You could call this collective the brainchild of Kim Jones, the UNCC associate professor of dance who founded it and serves as artistic director. But Movement Migration really succeeds because of a groupthink infrequently found in the dance world.

“There’s a respect for everyone’s work,” said Jones, who danced with the Martha Graham Company and Metropolitan Opera Ballet. “Anyone can offer ideas, which gives us flexibility and freshness. I don’t have an audition process for parts.

“I may come in with a bunch of movement to start a piece. If we’re all moving lyrically, a dancer may say, ‘I want to thrust through the space here.’ We’ll try that, and someone will have another idea. We grow together, and somehow it all works. There’s a calm sense of (being at) home.”

Take this fall concert as an example. Alongside work from faculty members E.E. Balcos (who’s also in MM), Tamara Williams and Audrey Baran, Movement Migration members will present four pieces.

Blakely White-McGuire’s ensembles of five and seven dancers will move to music by modern composers Michael Harrison and Leonard Mark Lewis. Pauline Legras Biahun has set a Chopin nocturne for a couple. Both women accepted input from their performers.

Only “Moon,” a duet mounted by Kim Jones, will follow Martha Graham’s original choreography for this excerpt from “Canticle for Innocent Comedians.” (Jones, a Martha Graham régisseur, has the authority to restage her pieces.) Yet even “Moon” exemplifies the MM philosophy, because it pairs dancers a generation and a genre apart.

Movement Migration members E.E. Balcos, Amy Claugus, Lorenzo Pagano, Jacqueline White and Dominique Willis perform “Lullaby - The Stories We Tell.”

Lorenzo Pagano currently performs with Graham’s company, which specializes in her unique approach to modern dance. He wasn’t born when Myrna Kamara joined New York City Ballet in 1984 to execute pieces in the classical style, mostly by company founder George Balanchine. Here, they can blend in a work neither has performed before.

This grand experiment began with a little exploration in May 2017. Tanja Bechtler, the cellist who leads the Bechtler Ensemble, collaborated with Jones and other dancers in a concert set to contemporary compositions. The free-form joy of that process inspired Jones to organize a company of more than a dozen dancers based in Charlotte, where about half of them live.

Movement Migration got its name because performers migrate from style to style and because they make long-distance journeys to take part: Nya Bowman divides her time between New York and Barcelona, Dominique Willis now drops in from Bermuda, and Abdiel Jacobsen travels for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning.

The company has regularly offered Charlotte master classes and choreographic residencies at Open Door Studios. (Company member Jacqueline White runs Open Door.) It established an international presence last year at Italy’s DAP Festival (Danza in Arte a Pietrasanta) and in London. There, Jones gave master classes in Graham technique while spending the 2018-19 academic year as resident director of a program for UNCC students at Kingston University.

She came home just in time to take MM dancers to Memphis, where they created a work with students by shaping hip-hop moves. After this week’s UNCC concert, MM will fly to Campeche, Mexico, to perform in November at the inaugural gala of the Dzul International Dance Festival.

Jones has begun to assemble a small board of directors and has applied for 501 (c) 3 nonprofit status. She got a boost last week in money and validation, because Wells Fargo Foundation gave MM $10,000. Jay Everette, Wells’ senior vice-president for government and community relations, told her the grant supports teaching at the school level, “a good example of how Movement Migration is having an impact beyond onstage performances.”

She’s still figuring out logistics: How to coordinate schedules, whether to add dancers, what repertoire to develop when. Works created through the company belong to Movement Migration, though choreographers can take them beyond Charlotte. In some sense, pieces may never be finished; new dancers coming to roles may offer ideas that suit their bodies better.

“Every collaboration includes lots of conversations and negotiations,” Jones said. “Each of us is sensitive to the others, but we also like to be pushed. When we’re dancing, we’re rocking out!

“I haven’t laughed so hard or had this kind of joy in a long time. It’s not a chore. We work hard, but we find the joy in it.”

UNCC FALL FACULTY DANCE CONCERT

When: Sept. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Belk Theater, Robinson Hall, UNC Charlotte.

Tickets: $18, ($12 UNC Charlotte faculty, staff and alumni; $10 seniors, active military and veterans; $8 students).

Details: coaa.unc.edu.

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Kim Jones