More than a dozen dancers gathered in a dance studio with a long wall of windows overlooking a bustling city street Wednesday night, ready to share a sneak peek of a new dance work they’ll be premiering later this month. They’re all cast members for L.O.V.E., a new production created for Scorpius Dance Theatre by artistic director and choreographer Lisa Starry that's being performed April 28 to 30 at Phoenix Theatre’s Hormel Theatre.
In 1999, Starry founded the company, which is best-known to many for its annual performance of A Vampire Tale. Its repertoire includes several pieces, including ROCK and Catwalk, that encourage a rather raucous audience response. But L.O.V.E. is a different sort of production, Starry says. It’s a compilation of tales — all rooted in real, and sometimes hybridized, stories of love and its many iterations. Straight love. Gay love. Parent/child love. Sibling love. Starry is tackling them all.
The two-act performance will feature 12 dances related to Starry’s own experiences with love, or the experiences of her dancers. During a recent run-through, which included excerpts from four of those dances, it was evident that the dancers’ movements were grounded not only in Starry’s choreography, but also their own memories and relationships beyond the dance studio.
Theatricality factors big in several Starry works, in which dancers’ movements and facial expressions feel ramped up for full, over-the-top effect. But L.O.V.E., with its subtle facial expressions and graceful movement, is clearly a vehicle capable of showing a more sophisticated blend of theater with dance. So while Scorpius audiences might be surprised, there’s no reason to think they’ll be disappointed.
The different look and feel for L.O.V.E. stems from Starry taking a new approach to choreography. Instead of choosing music, including pop hits from groups like Duran Duran, she started with the movement. Then she had composer and musician Kristofer Hill, who has previously collaborated with Scorpius Dance Theatre, create original music for each work. Along the way, they worked together to make adjustments where the music didn’t resonate with Starry. Hill will perform his music, both singing and playing a variety of instruments, on stage during the production.
L.O.V.E. also includes a pair of films, including I Love You My Child created with John Haas, which Starry says will be shown with dancers circling around it. The other film, Drifting Away, was created with Angel Castro, artistic director for the Halo Movement Collective he founded. Castro’s flair for blending film with dance was evident in films shown during Halo’s Savage Beauty show in 2015. This new film, which imagines the arc of a couple’s love life over time, is set on a bed – and shot from overhead.
Expect to see dances eliciting laughter as well as tears, Starry says. She’s incorporated humor into many of her L.O.V.E. pieces, including one called Smothering that tackles what happens when a couple decides it’s all about having sex all the time. Another plays with Starry’s memories of falling for a gay guy in college. One dance, called Loss, addresses death and having to let someone go. “It’s one of the heavier pieces,” Starry says.
Before wrapping up rehearsal, Starry reflected on her experience of choreographing movement without music. “I tend to hide my emotions behind music,” Starry said. But after watching dancers preview several pieces, it was clear that her emotions will be on full display during L.O.V.E.
Scorpius Dance Theatre performs L.O.V.E. at Phoenix Theatre's Hormel Theatre, located at 100 East McDowell Road, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28, to Saturday, April 30. Tickets start at $29. For information or tickets, visit Scorpius Dance Theatre online or call 602-254-2151.
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