Definition of Grace Under Fire

With a revamped plan for funding and shows, CityDance performances finally find solid footing

October 24, 2012

In “De-Generate,” dancers share the stage with 1,000 ping-pong balls.

There’s a daunting task ahead for the performers staging the piece “De-Generate” at CityDance’s Studio Theatre this weekend. Call it an exercise in improvisation or in distraction-resistance: Dancers must gracefully navigate among 1,000 flying, bouncing, rolling ping-pong balls.

“The stage becomes a difficult terrain to navigate that literally rolls beneath the performers’ feet,” says Christopher K. Morgan, who choreographed “De-Generate.” “It can be dangerous at times. And of course, as the balls never stay still, choreographed interactions become unpredictable. The dancers have to problem-solve in every moment.”

As one of four original pieces that Morgan will show this weekend (as well as a fifth by the Takoma Park-based Dance Exchange), “De-Generate” presents a remarkably apt metaphor for CityDance’s experiences over the past year. In the summer of 2011, the Strathmore-based dance school lost its longtime professional ensemble, and it seemed like the group was done producing high-quality modern performances. Pivoting in a new direction was essential.

Executive director Alexe Nowakow-ski realized that perhaps the ensemble had been aiming too high in a region where dance funding can be scarce. “We definitely wanted to continue to produce good work,” Nowakowski says, “so we looked at, ‘What are the assets and the resources we have?’ ”

She took stock of the space at Strathmore as well as the institution’s broad network of supporters and drew up a more realistic performance plan. It included turning one of the studios into a temporary theater, inviting out-of-town companies to perform and bringing on three local resident choreographers (including Morgan).

This weekend’s show, titled “Spiraling,” kicks off that new approach — and CityDance’s 2012-13 season, which will highlight the works of a number of impressive local and visiting choreographers. And it’ll all be done without breaking the bank or overstretching the institution’s capacity.

After that, dancing around ping-pong balls will be no sweat.

Season Highlights
What else is on the horizon for CityDance in the 2012-13 season? In December, the Washington-based Rebollar Dance will explore the inner limits of our minds and the “objective realities of our outer universe” in “Space Junk.” And in February, Ronald K. Brown will display his African- and African-American-influenced style.

CityDance Studio Theater at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; Sat., 8 p.m. & Sun., 3 p.m., $20-$25; 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor-Strathmore)
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