The heart wants dance

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company premieres “HeartShakes”

By Arnecia Patterson

Photo: The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company presents “HeartShakes” Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the Victoria Theatre; photo: Scott Robbins

An early celebration of relationships will be in the Valentine’s Day air when Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) premieres its latest full-length ballet, “HeartShakes.” With “HeartShakes” the company continues its reputation for performing dances that explore artistic edges. It is the company’s second work by Kiesha Lalama who created “Shed” for Dayton Contemporary’s 2012-13 season. Her latest endeavor taps into a broad dance experience to create what she describes as “full-length, hybrid, dance-theater” that explores the universal, heartfelt emotions of coupling. On Saturday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m., the Victoria Theatre stage will become the “quaint but moody nightclub” setting where five couples connect from the heart to songs from Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls album. The emotion on stage reflects the connection Lalama made with the Dayton Contemporary dancers two years ago when she immediately thought of them after hearing Alabama Shakes’ gritty and soulful love anthems.

Lalama’s connection with the Dayton dancers was distinctly brought to mind as soon as she heard Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes, a southern rock band that tours nationally and internationally. In fact, she was driving home from Dayton, after the premier of “Shed,” when she was struck by the interconnectedness of the songs on the album.

“The more I listened to the music, the more the ideas came,” Lalama said. “The music was raw, honest, passionate and powerful. I immediately saw relationships and different love stories.”

The result is an 85-minute, two-act dance featuring ten characters, five women and five men. According to Lalama, HeartShakes uses contemporary and theatrical dance to tell stories about the stages a heart encounters in the course of a relationship. Even though the details are personal, the themes are universal – a broken heart, a mending heart, an open heart, a fulfilled heart and a hopeful heart are explored during the dance. The first act introduces the characters, and the second act delves deeper into their connectivity. The Alabama Shakes songs grew the relationships in “HeartShakes.”

“I very quickly began to link one song to another,” Lalama said. “The intertwining of the characters came naturally.”

Choreography has come naturally for Lalama since she was a child creating dances for her siblings and the neighborhood children; today, as a professional, she spends some of her time teaching. Lalama is an associate professor with Point Park University’s dance department in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and serves as education director for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera: her credits span modern, contemporary, musical theater and film choreography. She has choreographed for the 2012 movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” made works for both Point Park and Pittsburgh CLO, and worked with concert dance companies like Giordano Dance Chicago and Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Working in such diverse realms provides opportunities for varied connections – a choreographer may like the body types or movement style of a set of dancers; however, Lalama connected to Dayton Contemporary on visceral and intellectual levels.

“The dancers are a dream for the kind of artist I am,” she said. “We have similar characteristics in that we exude passion, aggressiveness, athleticism, honesty, rawness, realness, integrity, curiosity, respect, and love.”

In an experimental and nebulous undertaking like contemporary choreography a sure-footed relationship between the choreographer and dancers can mitigate the difficult task of creating movement. Also, it can transform the studio atmosphere into one that exudes trust and makes the endeavor worthwhile – especially when dealing with emotionally demanding content. In the case of “HeartShakes,” the process of unearthing and rediscovering the emotions of past relationships was difficult, and the act of sharing it with the dancers was often emotional for Lalama.

“Talking through my relationship experiences reopened painful and often emotional wounds,” Lalama said, “but the honesty allowed for a special choreographer/dancer bond developing trust that secures genuine delivery of the story. I trust these artists to tell these complex, honest and hopeful stories of love.”

At the core of Dayton Contemporary’s “HeartShakes” is the spirit of the upcoming Valentine’s Day season – how we connect through trust, passion and soul.

According to Lalama, “My goal is for the audience to be able to relate to the characters, resonate with the stories and walk away feeling emotionally stimulated and inspired.”

See the world premiere of “HeartShakes” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31 at The Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Tickets are $25 to $45 each. For more information, please call 937.228.DCDC (3232) or visit dcdc.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Arnecia Patterson at ArneciaPatterson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Arnecia Patterson has an infinite capacity to view concert dance. She found her former career as dance executive, funder, and consultant extremely satisfying—and finds writing about dance equally rewarding. Reach DCP Resident Dance Critic Arnecia Patterson at ArneciaPatterson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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