Friday, October 4, 2013

Tubing or not tubing, that is Dance Kaleidoscope's question

And the answer is "Tubing!" in guest choreographer Christopher Dolder's "Riverboy," an evocation of his small-town California boyhood that's the centerpiece of Dance Kaleidoscope's "New Dimensions" program Oct. 24-27.

Dolder visited the contemporary-dance troupe's studio at the turn of the month to set his 2012 work on the company, invited by his former Martha Graham colleague David Hochoy, DK's artistic director.
Christopher Dolder, now teaching at Southern Methodist University, relaxes on one of the tubes DK is using in his evocative "Riverboy."

A signature section of "Riverboy" evokes the floating romps Dolder and his friends were accustomed to on the Feather River near his hometown of Oraville, a city of 13,000 about 50 miles north of
Sacramento.

Dolder was introduced to DK fans at the regular "Conversations With David" feature Sept. 25 in the Cabaret of Indiana Repertory Theatre, where "New Dimensions" will take the OneAmerica Stage later this month. The program also features Hochoy's "IconoGlass" (1998) and "The Whole Against the Sky," a new work by Cynthia Pratt performed by students from Butler Ballet at Butler University, where Pratt is on the faculty.

Much of the Sept. 25 conversation focused on the legendary Martha Graham in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Dolder and Hochoy had partly overlapping tenures as members of the company. The fascinating anecdotes of the troubled last period of the founder's involvement with the troupe (which will come to Clowes Hall later this season) could provide material for a book. Genius in decline is always a touching story, and the Graham denouement is rife with stories illustrating that theme.

But more germane to what's coming up as DK launches its home-base 2013-14 season was the insight offered into "Riverboy" and its creator.

Dolder said he was the first member of the company to leave after Graham's death in 1991. He founded his own company, then went out to his home state to take a lecture/dance position at UC-Berkeley. He had a particular take on the training of dancers that he pursues to this day.

"I wanted the student to become fully fleshed out," he said. "I was all about everything the body can do, and about theatricality." He gradually chafed at the university's demand that he emphasize the theoretical side of dance.

"I see my art as holistic athleticism, pragmatic craftsmanship," Dolder explained. He studied dance kinesiology, an emphasis he continues in his current position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "I have learned more about the Graham technique through that than I did as a Graham dancer."

But his restlessness took the form of an unusual episode after the Berkeley job began to pall: he and his wife "left two secure academic jobs" (she taught dance at Mills College) to become macadamia-nut farmers in Hawaii. As Dolder describes it, it was a somewhat idyllic way of life for three years brought up short by the Great Recession of 2008. An offer out of the blue from SMU helped rescue the family and bring Dolder back to his true metier.

At 51, Dolder has not abandoned dancing:  "I've realized as a dancer that a role can be expressive, and I don't have to be doing the great big jumps of yesteryear."

But teaching and choreographing have moved into central positions for him. "Riverboy" resulted from a simple desire: "I wanted to take dance back to my hometown and show what a dancer is and what I've become." So, the work was created to premiere in Oraville, and successfully renewed the bond between Dolder and his bucolic background: "I grew up on the river," he said. "It's my identity."

For Hochoy's part, there were three simple reasons for bringing Dolder here to set "Riverboy" on Dance Kaleidoscope: "It's the essence of Christopher, it sparkles, it's who he is. And I knew audiences here would identify with it. And it would be a great challenge for our dancers."

Nothing more challenging — though it's designed to look like carefree fun — than dealing with nine inner tubes of assorted sizes. "They roll them, they jump with them, they dance with them," Hochoy said of the formidable props.

An artistic adventure well worth it, Hochoy and Dolder concur, despite one minor drawback: the smell of rubber is hard for the dancers to get rid of. But then, art is long, odors are short.