backstage (2006-50)

Spreading the Love

Circle Modern Dance celebrates movement, life and community in ‘Primitive Light 2006’

by Leah E. Willis

The expansive, open space of the Emporium can have a chill to it this time of year, but the Circle Modern Dance (CMD) performers don’t seem to mind. They’re rehearsing here in form-fitting layers of cotton leotards, pants and sweaters for Primitive Light 2006 , the fifteenth edition of the winter tradition.

It’s a week before opening and they’re working through the spacing of Fall and Rediscovery , a flowing, acrobatic piece choreographed and performed by former CMD Executive Artistic Director Kimberly Matibag. Also featured are Cara Bradshaw, Joy Davis and Wayles Haynes, longtime member of Circle and recently appointed director. Due to family and job responsibilities, as well as other dance commitments, it’s been a while since this group has rehearsed; schedules are difficult to coordinate, but Light is a labor of love. And they’re making time.

Matibag explains that Rediscovery , one of 10-ish pieces in the show, is about the “rediscovery of [her]self as a dancer and a choreographer after a high-risk pregnancy required that [she] keep both feet on the ground.” Matibag is quick to add: “Cara [Bradshaw] recently had a baby, too. She just got back into dancing, and she’s doing great.” It’s the beginning of a theme that emerges quickly in the presence of Circle Modern Dancers: they love and respect each other, and they take a lot of pride in one another’s successes, on and off the dance floor.

Two stools stand in the middle of the art gallery’s wood floor; the four barefoot women spin and sway on and around the stools; a fifth woman and a man (curators?) circle the dancers, positioning paintings on the surrounding walls. It’s concentric circles of art: design, performance, visual. The dancers look right at home in this borrowed practice space, but for the upcoming show, the aesthetic of the Emporium will be replaced by the dramatically more intimate atmosphere of the Laurel Theater, where Light has taken place every year since its inception in 1991.

This particular piece is accompanied by Zen-like ambient sounds, performed by live musicians. “Live music is a tradition of Primitive Light ,” says Matibag. (This year’s musicians include Nathan Barrett, Andre Hayter, Greg Horne and Rachel Schlafer-Parson.) Through Rediscovery ’s abstractions, the feminine athleticism of the performers is apparent and impressive; they move fluidly and slowly like honey, but they control their own and each other’s bodies like steel support beams. Suddenly, it’s easy to connect the movement to the idea behind it.

Like Matibag’s piece, a co-choreographed duet by Angela Hill (former assistant director) and Haynes is also rooted in personal experience. The two women have been on parallel paths of creative and professional development, at times in perceived or actual competition with each other. Haynes explains, “The dance world is very small. There’s a lot of overlap in the experiences and worlds of choreographers and dancers.” Hill specifies, “It’s a healthy competition. I really value having Wayles here to bounce ideas off of.” Spheres of Influence is a bodily manifestation of their evolving relationship, and therefore, it includes lots of partnering. “There are a bunch of lifts here.” Hill offers while marking the piece. “They are amazing!” 

Haynes enthusiastically interjects: “Angela, tell about your solo! It’s so smart .” Hill’s solo intermingles dance with the spoken word. Laying Down Bone draws on her experience at the Rolf Institute in Colorado, where she studied structural integration and connective tissue massage. Bone integrates skeletal anatomy with personal excavation. “It’s a light-hearted look at the circle of life and death,” Hill adds, then suggests: “You should mention Jacqueline [Kinsman]’s solo. She has great facility and beautiful flow. This really is one of the best lineups Primitive Light has ever seen.” She should know; this is her tenth year of involvement with Light .

Haynes agrees: “ This year, Light is about light-heartedness of being and soul. It’s about playfulness and warming the heart… and wanting to share that with the audience. We are moving forward technically; we are more approachable to the mainstream (non-dancer) population; we are working to maintain access and outreach; we are evolving to meet the needs of the company and the community; all while honoring the tradition of “Every body’s right to dance’—the spirit of Circle.” Appropriately, a mix of Circle company members and community members make up the rest of the Light cast: Mary Alford, Gwen Franklin, Leah Ratliff Pinder, Melinda Wolfe, Ajeet Khalsa, Valerie Wallace, Josh Beach, and Shannon Efteland. 

Circle is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization that relies on grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts—and perhaps more importantly, on donations—to continue to offer classes to the public and to produce high-quality annual shows such as Light . Haynes observes: “The community has been utterly supportive, turning out at our fundraisers and shows, and donating to Circle. Businesses, individuals, families—they let us know that our work is appreciated and essential to the Knoxville, state and regional arts communities. I just want to say thank you.”

Who: Circle Modern Dance