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Chicago-based dance company visits Space/Place

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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The iconic dance moves from the "Thriller," by Michael Jackson, and "Single Ladies" in Beyoncé's music videos will appear in the Lucky Plush Dance Company's performance in Space/Place this weekend.

But the company's Punk Yankees performance is not simply a cover of well-known dances. The dancers take influence from pop culture and make it their own.

It is a way to connect with audiences and make the show more recognizable.

"One of the things that makes dance accessible is when people can get it and enjoy it," artistic director Julia Rhoads said. "Normally, audiences might feel alienated by contemporary dance and not get it. Even though I'm not interested in spoon-feeding the work to the audience, I do want to make it accessible."

Lucky Plush Productions will perform its piece Punk Yankees at 7:30 p.m. today in North Hall's Space/Place. Admission is $10 for students, $12.50 for youth, $22.50 for seniors, and $25 for the general public.

The performers in Lucky Plush may use moves from choreographers before them, but it's in an effort to acknowledge the importance of creative ownership in the dance world.

"We talked about how these ideas also affect ideas about style and how that fits into ownership," Rhoads said. "These are relevant topics, and students go to the Internet all the time to learn dance moves that they might not know who to credit it to. We wanted to include [the ideas] in a fun way but also make people think."

The concept of Punk Yankees emerged when the company initially prepared for its 10th-anniversary season in 2009.

Rhoads originally thought the piece would sample her own favorite movements from works in the company's 10-year history. But as she continued to ponder the idea, she decided it would be more interesting to comment on how ownership and authenticity pertain to the modern dance world, given the booming growth of YouTube and other video-sharing websites.

Rhoads sat down with her dancers at a workshop in Florida and had them discuss dance and intellectual property. She also had them recall challenges they faced in pieces from the past.

"In dance, if you were to sample something [from the past] and layer it, it's already problematic," she said. "The dancers might not have the same skill set as those original dancers, and you don't know about the choreographer's original intent."

The Internet is a prominent feature in the piece, so during the performance, the company will have a live Twitter feed screen on which the audience can tweet the dancers.

In another segment, dancers will move in the scope of a webcam, so audience members can observe their faces projected on a screen.

Costumes are another aspect of the performance that highlights ownership.

The dancers will dress in fabrics of black and white, and the costumes are a mash-up of designs.

Some dancers wear a fringe black skirt with black capri pants and a metallic top. But one thing that remains the same on each costume is that they are branded with the Lucky Plush logo.

Lucky Plush strives to maintain a balance with its audience in each work it performs. One way the members do that is with humor.

"It's the evening-length works that I make where there is a joyfulness inside of it that comes and goes and ties things together [with humor]," Rhoads said. "It includes the audience in what we are doing onstage."

Meghann Wilkinson, who has been with Lucky Plush since 2004, said when she first saw the company perform, she was attracted to how the dancers interacted onstage in a playful and humorous way.

"The way that Julia uses the humor in movement is something I'm very drawn to," Wilkinson said. "My experience is that the audience feels invited when we are being more real with the members."

She said a lot of the work troupe performs deals with trying to be in real time with the audience.

If audience members walk in late, the dancers use that as an invitation to interact. Most of the time, it isn't scripted.

"I think I'm really interacting with the audience on a human level with Lucky Plush," Wilkinson said. "I feel like there is still something you can try to emulate in your presence with the energy you are giving to the audience."

Another skill Rhoads expects of her dancers is the ability to think on their feet. While each work has its own choreography; she expects the dancers to keep it fresh and new for each performance.

"All of that is not based on their technique," Rhoads said. "It's a tricky balance to find people who are both technically trained and willing to be vulnerable and to get out of show mode."

Kim Goldman, who started dancing with Lucky Plush in 2004, took several years off, then decided to rejoin in 2008, and she has been with the company ever since.

"I feel as if [Rhoads] always has a vision and really clear and interesting ideas," she said. "Even though I love pure dance, I feel like I'd rather be in works that have depth than works that are empty."

Goldman enjoys being able to keep each performance fresh because she believes it challenges the dancers in different ways.

"I love to play so much in performance, but I know that sometimes, I need to check myself and not go too far," she said. "Most people who love to perform enjoy that it's fresh and new and that you can be alive onstage."

This is the first visit to Iowa for Lucky Plush, and many of the dancers have family and friends who will attend the show.

"There are samples in [Punk Yankees] that people who don't know dance well won't understand, but I want people to know that there is a lot of transparency with how we built [the piece], and everything is cited and referenced in the program," Rhoads said. "You don't have to know dance to get it, and it's very accessible to a wide audience."


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