Arts Desk

It’s All About the Process: Headlong Dance Theater, on Film Tonight and Live This Weekend

Talk to choreographers about their work and the conversation will almost inevitably come around to “process.” To an outsider, that might sound about as interesting as investigating the artist’s bathroom habits, but modern dance, more than most other art forms, is all about the creative process. Maybe that’s because really good modern dance pieces have an abstract, nonverbal quality that, for most choreographers, takes time to develop.

There are times when the process winds up being more interesting than the actual product, but I doubt that'll be the case with Philadelphia-based Headlong Dance Theater, which is showing a new piece, “more,” this weekend at Dance Place. The work itself seems fresh and lively, with six dancers in ordinary (and some extraordinary) settings, meditating on their physical selves.

But what stands out about this piece is that the trio of artistic directors, who’ve worked collaboratively for virtually the entire 17 years of the company’s existence, upended their traditional process in making it.

It was all because of  Tere O’Connor, an acclaimed New York-based choreographer. “He came to Philly, and over the course of a year, we took a lot of provocations from him,” explained David Brick, who serves as the company’s artistic co-director, along with Andrew Simonet and Amy Smith. “We admire his approach, and worked with him for a long time, asking questions.”

O’Connor didn’t choreograph anything. Instead, he asked questions of the trio to help them break out of their normal routine. Rather than working together from the start, as usual, O’Connor encouraged each one to spend long hours researching their subject, and then independently set movement on the six dancers without communicating with each other. Eventually, they showed the pieces to each other, and then collaboratively created a fourth piece. That became “more.”

For Brick, Simonet, and Smith, the shift was incredibly welcome. “It really changed us as creators and collaborators, and even our administrative structure shifted a bit,” said Brick. “It was a very profound moment.”

But that’s not the only cool thing about their recent artistic experiment. Possibly the neatest part is that it’s all on view—marking a major departure from the typically private activities that comprise choreography. For a year, Byron Karabatsos, a filmmaker, followed the three choreographers and their dancers around, capturing some 250 hours of video that was finally edited into a feature-length documentary film. Titled No One Else Could Love You More, and illustrating the messy, exhilarating efforts behind making a dance, it’s playing tonight at 8 p.m. at Dance Place.

The screening is free, but it's also private, so if you’re interested in attending, call Dance Place’s Carolyn Kamrath at (202)269-1600 x16, or David Brick at 267-902-7597. And if you can’t make it to the movie, watch the live outcome of that process, which shows at Dance Place on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. $22.

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