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Big A.P.E. performers reach for the cutting edge of dance

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By KATHRYN FLAGG

MIDDLEBURY — In what will be the first modern dance performance at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater since the building’s renovation, Middlebury College professor Tiffany Rhynard and a coterie of dancers and choreographers take to the stage this weekend, performing five cutting edge and conceptual dances in “Sampler.”

The dances will all be performed by Rhynard’s Big Action Performance Ensemble (or simply, Big A.P.E.), a dance company that made its debut last fall in a performance at Middlebury College.

At the heart of the weekend’s program — which includes the debut of two never-before-seen dances — are questions, Rhynard said, of consumption and materialism.

Take, for example, “Necessity,” a duet featuring local dancers Kara Golux and Ellen Smith that, in addition to dancing, features text and projected video.

“That started with questions of necessity: What is essential? What do we need? What do we want?” Rhynard said.

Those sorts of questions crop up in some of Rhynard’s earlier work, too. “Trash,” a solo she will perform again this weekend, cycles back to a preoccupation with consumption. As she constructed the piece originally, she began collecting the trash her family produced, using that as an exercise in examining how much they accumulated.

“Just the word ‘trash’ … (brings up) things that are cast aside, things that are no longer wanted,” she said — which in turn inspired her to think not just about material items but also pieces and relationships.

The other dance being debuted this weekend is “Match,” a solo for Christal Brown. Brown and Rhynard collaborated on the choreography, setting out to create seven different one-minute dances. Rhynard was interested in compressing the dances — including beginning, middle, and end in a tightly bound package.

She and Brown then set the dances to one-minute compositions that they had commissioned from musicians, allowing the composers free rein in the composition process to create whatever they wished. Matching the dances with music later allowed the two choreographers to explore juxtapositions in the music and movement.

“This is very much a movement investigation,” Rhynard said.

The Friday and Saturday performances will also include the dances “Anatomy of a Heart,” featuring three Middlebury College alumni, and “Green Piece,” which was originally created in collaboration with composer Lei Liang. This weekend’s performance of that dance will include Middlebury College music professor Brian Robison on the theremin, an early electronic music instrument often associated with the spooky music in old horror movies.

Doug Anderson, the director of the Town Hall Theater, said he’d someday like to see the town of Middlebury have its own dance company — but that in the meantime he’s looking forward to seeing what Big A.P.E. will offer.  

“We certainly want to have more of a dance presence here,” he said.

Rhynard, for her part, said she’s excited about performing in the space. Though the college provides a supportive dance community, she looked forward to reaching out to a new audience that may not be as familiar with contemporary dance.

“I’m hoping and imagining that it will be a more diverse demographic,” she said. “(As an artist) it’s always helpful to hear different perspectives, particularly from a non-dance audience.”

“Sampler” will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14, at the Town Hall Theater in downtown Middlebury.

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