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The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis   |  November 03, 2015

ODC/Dance troupe comes home with visionary tribute to creative process (preview)

CLEVELAND, Ohio Typically, in dance, the goal is the illusion of ease. No one wants to see a ballerina struggle.

Thus is Saturday's visit by ODC/Dance on the DanceCleveland series likely to turn heads. Instead of ease and fluidity, the company aims with "Boulders and Bones" to pay explicit homage to effort and complexity.

"There are many parts that are clearly not easy," said ODC (Oberlin Dance Collective) founder and artistic co-director Brenda Way, describing the work, an ode to the art of making art. "We're all about revealing the process."

No doubt she has plenty to reveal. When she founded ODC at Oberlin College, in 1971, she dedicated herself to collaboration and all the bumps, unpredictability and tension that come with it. Even today, 44 years later, at its home in San Francisco, her troupe still includes theater, visual art and writing.

Her brand of dance also remains distinct. Where older companies, especially in the 1970s, kept strict boundaries between genders, styles, and performers and audience, ODC has never observed such traditions.

"The arts environment and the political mood of the era, the combination was a base for a new way of looking at the world," Way recalled. "It all resonated and came together in a new way, and set a new idea for what dance could be."

No surprise, then, that "Boulders and Bones" is a collaborative effort. One of the company's most elaborate productions to date, the evening-length dance rests heavily on the work of British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, photographer RJ Muna and composer Zoe Keating. Goldsworthy, in particular, conceived the work's central image: a large stone in a creek bed.

"It was a bit of a surprise when he said it would last forever," said Way of the stone, noting the artist's longtime preference for materials that erode or disappear, in homage to the fleeting nature of life. "It's so literal, and we are so not literal."

After a short film summarizing Goldsworthy's carving project, the dancers in "Boulders and Bones" will proceed to act out, through Way's highly physical choreography, the creative process. With each section, the dancers will explore one phase of the cycle artists go through when developing and realizing new work with others. Among those phases: contemplation, inspiration, building and silence.

Cellist Erin Wang, meanwhile, will rove through space on a moving platform, regaling the dancers with music that waxes and wanes like the moon and the tides. An early review described Keating's score as "percussive, rhythmic and elegiac."

"It's a simple idea, writ large," Way explained. "The meaning accumulates. You feel the chaos of a work site."

In the end, Way said, viewers should come away from "Boulders and Bones" not only with striking images burned into their brains, but also with a sense of the inertia and practical obstacles artists must overcome when creating.

Put another way: By letting Cleveland see it sweat, ODC will do the entire artistic world a favor, and maybe even inspire a few new souls to play along.

"I want to share that enjoyment of the creative process," Way said. "I want people to gain a reverence for it, to see that it's complicated and social."


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