Fort Worth — Inspiration can hit anywhere at any time. For New York-based Choreographer Mike Esperanza it happened one day while out for a walk when he took notice of the solar panels on people’s rooftops. “I started thinking about the panel’s ability to capture and store the sun’s energy and how this could be translated into movement.” Who knew this idea would evolve into Nucleus, a 25-minute piece that uses geometric patterns, full-body movement, special lighting and projections to illustrate the sun’s energy. “I wanted to use elements like the projector and stage lighting to portray the sun in a way that wasn’t so obvious like putting the dancers in yellow costumes. The piece also doesn’t follow a typical storyline. It’s follows more of a timeframe."
To bring Nucleus to life Esperanza needed a group of dancers willing to challenge themselves mentally and physically, and who could also think and dance as one. He found what he was looking for with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA (DCCD). Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Esperanza had met previously at a dance festival and really hit it off. So, when Peugh was looking for guest choreographers to come in and create pieces for DCCD’s Fall Series at the Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth, Esperanza was at the top of the list. “Like I always say, I am drawn to people who are curious and love to move,” Peugh says.
Along with running BARE Dance Company in New York, Esperanza also has experience in graphic design, and his approach to visual construction has captivated audiences across the county. His work has been commissioned by many university dance programs, including Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, and UNLV, among others. Esperanza’s choreography has also made numerous appearances in regional and national galas at the American College Dance Festival. In 2005, Esperanza was awarded the Dance: Creation for Performance grant presented by Dance/USA and the Irvine Foundation.
Esperanza recently finished his two-week residency with DCCD and I saw their final rehearsal at Preston Center Dance on a hot Friday afternoon. The atmosphere inside the rehearsal room was professional, yet friendly as Emily Bernet, Salvatore Bonilla, Zac Hammer, Steffani Lopez and Kelsey Rohr stretched and chatted with Esperanza, Peugh and myself. But when it came time to run the piece the dancers quickly shifted into performance mode. Their eyes became focused and breathing steadied as their bodies awaited the first chord in the music.
On DCCD’s Tumblr page Bernet shares her experience working with Esperanza. “He moves quickly, following a constant stream of inspiration. As he creates he keeps us involved, following his every weight shift and direction change. The piece incorporates a range of dynamics, and Mike is helping us discover how to make the energy of the work build and fall like a wave, bringing the images together into one idea.”
She adds, “His residency has provided us with an opportunity to continue our artistic growth, and as always, has been a lot of fun. Mike’s creativity has challenged me to move in new ways and brought us closer as a company.”
Esperanza credits his use of imagery and improvisation in the rehearsal process for helping the dancers connect to his vision. “I asked them to think about the energy they give off when they walk into a room for the first time. This is the energy I want to see while they are moving through the space. The dancers really responded to this visual.” Along with emulating the sun’s energy, the group also plays around with the idea of transferring energy. This is reflected in Esperanza’s exploration of motion using action and reaction and continuous physical connections. For example, in one section of the piece the group runs in a repetitive counter clockwise direction. After the second rotation they add a stomp which picks up intensity as they go. As the circling continues the dancers connect with one another via a hand on the shoulder, hip to hip or, in a surprising shift of energy, reversing their runs only to be captured in the arms of the person behind them. “Staying connected mentally to the others throughout the whole piece has been the biggest challenge,” says DCCD newcomer Zac Hammer. “If one person’s energy is slightly off it affects the whole group.”
On the last day with the group Esperanza says he is pleased with how the piece is looking. “I had a great time working with these dancers. They caught on quickly and were opened to trying new things.” This includes a section where the group executes handstands and B-boy movements against a stage left wall while simultaneously gyrating and lip-syncing. It’s not exactly pretty, but very hypnotic.
» Nucleus will premiere alongside Peugh’s Beautiful Knuckleheads and Chadi El-Khoury’s Words in Motion at Dark Circles Contemporary’s Fall Series, Sept 4-6, at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com