Whether you have a background in modern dance or not, Delma Iles and her company of dancers at Momentum Dance Company want spectators to look beyond the movements they see onstage. Drawing inspiration from modernist paintings, classical music, and devastating real-life experiences, the company's artistic director and her talented young protégée, Emily Noe, construct and deliver performances that rattle spectators to the core.
Momentum Dance Company's showcase, which kicked off the 12th-annual Miami Dance Festival, featured five works from the company's repertoire – two of which were premiered for the first time at the Colony Theater on Saturday. The positioning of Iles' selected works was a careful illustration of the evolution of modern dance – from a piece choreographed in the late 1980s by Anna Sokolow, to the emotionally poignant and decidedly conceptual Saint Apollonia by Noe – Iles reminded the audience of her stature in South Florida's dance community, bringing to the stage a taste of both the history and future of modern dance in Miami.
It's a community that Iles has invested her entire life in nurturing: Iles formed Momentum Dance Company in 1986, and founded the Miami Dance Festival 12 years ago as a way for the local studios to pool their resources and generate meaningful press coverage of their performances.
"At the time, everything was coming together in such a way that I knew the local dance companies had to work together and make one big event, to attract more press coverage and have a greater presence in our community," Iles said.
It's her commitment to the emergence of contemporary dance as a major art form in Miami that has laid the foundation for dancers like Noe to seek out and join the company last Fall. "Emily did the smartest thing a dancer can do for getting into a company – she called us up and asked if she could take classes with us. So we got to know her, we needed someone to do a part and we knew she was good so we asked her to dance this part, so from then on she was part of the company."
Iles' unique vision and history of providing a platform to exceptional dancers and choreographers is apparent in Noe's Saint Apollonia. The piece is jarringly heartbreaking, with visual cues that lead the audience to unravel the story behind Noe's choreography. "The dance is about the loss of a personal friend of hers, and the emotions she faced going through that – from hope, to sorrow, and anger – and sometimes when you create these works it's very psychologically healing, because you're channeling it into something you can look at," Iles says.
Iles' own debut work, Birds of the Inner Eye, was inspired by the modernist paintings on view at the Seattle Art Museum during a recent trip. She was particularly drawn to the work by Pacific Northwestern artist Mark Tobey's: "Tobey studied calligraphy which we know is black ink on a white background. His creative process flipped that to a white line on a darker background, and it became a source of energy in his paintings. You see the energy that's in the white line, like controlled chaos, and I thought that could be translated into movement." Iles said.
Birds of the Inner Eye opened without music, the dancers' movements echoing throughout the theater. The silence was essential to bring attention to the control necessary to execute the challenging choreography, but also to illustrate the drama of the energy of the white line. Each of the dancers were costumed in unitards in varying shades of white and matted gray, moving sometimes in unison but most times as though the energy of the white line was darting outwardly from both of its ends. At some points, the dancers would lift their leg slightly and shake – as though they were the artist shaking off the excess paint from their brush.
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"You know, artists don’t like to say, this is what it is! You want the audience to use their imagination. And just like when you listen to music, where many images or thoughts come to your mind, dance should be the same way," Iles said.
Artists in their own right, Noe and Iles were instrumental in the design and implementation of their corresponding pieces, from costuming to lighting and music. The result is an excellent representation of Miami's contemporary dance community, both where it's been, and where it's headed.
Miami Dance Festival is ongoing through May 24. For tickets and more information, visit momentumdance.com.
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