Devoted to dance
3rd Ave. Dance Company kicks off third season with 'Devotion'

3rd Ave. Dance Company dancers strike a pose during the dramatic opening of “Him and Her and Her and Her and Her and Her.”/Photo by Todd Newcomer

Since its inception four years ago, the 3rd Ave. Dance Company has been devoted to bringing quality, professional dance to the local community. In the spirit of that goal, the company is kicking off its third season with a performance entitled “Devotion.”

“I think this show, more than anything we’ve done, shows the versatility of the company,” says Suzy DiSanto, a founding member. “You’re getting every style of dance in one show.”

DiSanto said that she, Lisa Bodwalk and Shannon Hyatt – the company’s three founders/artistic directors – commissioned several well-regarded choreographers to come to Durango and create pieces for the company.

“They usually spend three to five days with us – nine to five rehearsals – and then they leave us with (the piece), and it’s up to us to keep it polished,” DiSanto said, adding that the group has been rehearsing since June for the show.

The first piece in the performance, “Him and Her and Her and Her and Her and Her85” was created by guest choreographer Wade Masden, of Cornish College of the Arts and the Dance Spectrum in Seattle, Wash.

“He’s a really fun guy,” says DiSanto. “Really campy.”

Indeed. The dancers employ their dance skills as well as facial expressions and pantomime to convey ideas and stories. Fred Houser is “Him” and behaves like such a scoundrel to the female dancers – clutching one to his lap, for instance – that the piece ends with Bodwalk “shooting” him with her finger. The satisfied women then drag his corpse offstage, smiling proudly as they exit.

Julia Fisher balances in the spotlight as
Shannon Hyatt looks on in “A Brush of
Anguish - A portrait of Frida Kahlo.”/Photo by Todd Newcomer.

In keeping with the program’s diversity, “Vertical Life,” by guest choreographer KT Nelson, of ODC/San Francisco, takes a more serious look at the fragility of life. According to DiSanto, Nelson, whose mother was killed recently in a hit and run accident, “likes dancers to train balletically but be able to go to the athletic extreme when they’re onstage.”

The 16-minute piece, which includes performances by Talia Bamerick, Julia Fisher, Erika Wilson Golightly, Houser, Amy Iwasaki, Chrissy Mosier, Laurel Schaffer, Elizabeth Thomas and Eagle Young, gets the point across by showcasing the dancers’ strength and grace interrupted by images of “snatching” to show how life can be taken away at any moment.

This year’s third new guest choreographer, Robert Moses, of Robert Moses’ Kin, also of San Francisco, taught the company “Portrait of Four.” It was a coup to get Moses to come to Durango, DiSanto says.

“He’s really hot right now,” DiSanto says. “A lot of people want him to choreograph for them, and he came here. It was really cool.”

In the piece, Bodwalk, Golightly, Hyatt and Bamerick play the picture of femininity. At one point, the four women group together and sway as one, conjuring images of tentacles of a sea anemone gently swaying in a light surge.

Despite the influx of talent from across the country, “Devotion” also features pieces choreographed in-house. Company dancer Laurel Schaffer created “Red Seven” in honor of her seven years of marriage to her husband. The piece is performed by Schaffer and Houser against a backdrop of red, meant to signify all the things that red suggests, from passion to anger, Schaffer said.

Schaffer’s performance is sassy and fluid, and she and Houser often seem like ice skaters. “Red Seven” ends sweetly with Houser picking her up as if he is carrying her over the threshold as she bends her head toward him.

DiSanto also contributed a piece, “A Brush of Anguish – A Portrait of Frida Kahlo,” which is danced by three women portraying Kahlo at different stages in her life. Julia Fisher plays Kahlo as a schoolgirl, who is then impaled through the pelvis by a

Erika Wilson Golightly throws a glance toward the audience in “Him and Her and Her and Her and Her and Her.”/Photo by Todd Newcomer.

trolley axel. Bamerick plays Kahlo during her love affair with Diego Rivera; and Hyatt (incidentally, five months pregnant) is Kahlo near the end of her life. All three women seem to embody each persona, and Hyatt’s performance is particularly remarkable as she instantaneously transitions from anguished to resolute to uninhibited to yearning.

Since last year, Hyatt, Bodwalk and DiSanto expanded the company from eight to 12 dancers. This year, they had hoped to pay dancers, but with the drastic state-funding cuts for the arts, the group didn’t receive its usual grant money.

“Colorado Council of the Arts had enough (money) to stay open, but not to give out,” DiSanto said, adding that several agencies called to apologize personally. “But on the other side, we got a lot more community support – big local support, which was very exciting.”

Still, the company had planned to perform “Devotion” during two weekends, but decided to cut it back to one because of cost.

The 3rd Ave. Dance Company is the resident dance company of the Dance Center, a Durango-based dance school founded by Bodwalk in 1995. Several members of the company teach at the school, including its three artistic directors. Bodwalk teaches jazz, tap and hip hop; DiSanto teaches social dances like swing and tango; and Hyatt is the director of the ballet program.

Bodwalk said that it is wonderful to be able to work and dance with her partners and the other members of the company. She said that the “Devotion” theme is not only about the company’s devotion to bringing dance to Durango.

“It’s also about our personal devotion to creating really quality dance and to each other as a group,” Bodwalk said. “We warm up together, rehearse together, joke together, breathe together... you just spend hours together. It feels like a family.”

And it’s this comfort that shines through in each part of the performance. Whether in a salsa number, DiSanto and Bodwalk’s musical theater number from “Damn Yankees,” or the eight dancers in the show’s finale, “A Long Walk,” the dancers share glances and smiles and seem like they’re thrilled to be together, doing their thing.

“To work with the same people all the time is a really special experience,” Bodwalk said. “We have the opportunity to explore together what the artistry of dance is really about.”







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