Bowery Dancers' inventive lineup engages viewers

Take a group of seven young, talented, creative, enthusiastic dancers with a passion for their art, a commitment to making dance engaging and accessible, and such love for their work that they do it for free ... and you have the new, Lawrence-based group The Bowery Dancers. Their name is taken from the canopy of boughs built to protect dancers performing or dancing socially outdoors a hundred years ago, but their style is contemporary.

I watched them perform July 5 in South Park. Dancing on grass, with no set and a backdrop of trees, they moved effortlessly through a program that ranged from traditional' modern dance pieces to humorous parodies that had the audience, spread about on blankets and lawn chairs, laughing out loud. With each costume shift (done in full audience view) came a new attitude, form and feeling.

Originality is hard to come by in any creative endeavor, but these dancers have it nailed. They choreograph everything they perform. They describe themselves as an "experimental" dance company, and they are clearly willing to risk. One piece, "It was Baroque and We Fixed It," was opinionated and sarcastic, a novel interpretation of 17th-century French court dancing. "You Go To My Head," a solo performed by Kathleen O'Connor and choreographed by Ellie Goudie-Averill, was sensual and seductive, set to the tune of the same name sung by Billie Holiday. There was a bawdy dance about grocery shopping (complete with cabbage and bananas as props), a comedic piece on football, plus dances that were simply movement for the joy of movement. Some felt like jazz, while others evoked classical ballet.

There's no narcissism in this troupe. They are clearly all for one and one for all. Members include Goudie-Averill, Brandi Green, Beau Hancock, Michael Ingle, O'Connor, Jeffrey Potter and Christine Scott. All are past or current dance students at Kansas University, and their enthusiasm for dance and wicked humor are contagious. Everything about them feels new and fresh.

There are two other distinctions, besides the troupe's obvious skill and competence, that help make its work so engaging. First, the dancers have a voice. They talk to the audience, introducing themselves and each piece. Such a small thing, but it fosters a sense of personal connection. Second, the park setting is free of barriers. Usually, with dance, there is a distance (physical and metaphorical) between dancers and audience. But here, there is no stage, no dance floor, no formal seating. You can seat yourself as close or far as you want, in front, at an angle or even behind. It just feels more intimate, less constrained.

The other quality that makes the Bowery Dancers special is their commitment to children. They want kids to love dance, to think dancing is awesome, to dance because of how good it feels. Programs geared for kids are designed to be interactive, and the kids get to try out some moves, too.

The Bowery Dancers made its premiere in June at the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina and have had a few more formal performances. But the South Park performances are their "openings," a visual expression of who they are and what they are about, a gift to their community. They performed again Saturday and will have additional performances July 19 and Aug. 2 at 4:30 p.m. (a performance followed by a dance class open to kids and adults) and 7:30 p.m. (pieces from their ever-changing repertoire).

Performances are 45 to 60 minutes long, brief enough to leave you wanting more. You don't have to dress up, and you can even bring a picnic. This is a must see ... and the price (free!) couldn't be better.

photo

Zach Straus/Special to the Journal-World

Beau Hancock and Brandi Green, members of the Bowery Dancers, perform during the troupe's July 5 concert at South Park. The group, composed of past and current Kansas University dance students, handles its own choreography and is offering a series of free outdoor concerts.

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