Bowen McCauley Dance: Lucy's Local Playlist

Dance
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Editorial Review

'Local Playlist' is really moving
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, May 11, 2012

As a teenager at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, Lucy Bowen McCauley would regularly slip off her toe shoes to bounce around to punk bands at night.

She was, she recalls, "a bit unusual for a ballerina."

The self-described "ballerina with a rock habit" never really shook her passion for noise. Decades later, long after moving to Washington and starting her own dance company, Bowen McCauley found a way back to the clubs, this time in the name of research.

"Lucy's Local Playlist" is her troupe's love letter to Washington's homegrown sounds - from go-go to punk, with music from such bands as Imperial China and DC Traffic. The mixed-repertory program follows "Lucy's Playlist," an eclectic mix that Bowen McCauley Dance performed at Signature Theatre in 2009. Those dances, set to songs actually plucked from the choreographer's iPod, including offerings from the Ramones and the Swell Season, resulted in sold-out shows. And, Bowen McCauley notes, it gave her dancers room to stretch a little.

Bowen McCauley saw her new piece as a chance to work with musicians directly. "I love to collaborate and to be able to talk to the musicians about what their songs are about and have access to them," she says.

But first she had to do the footwork to find them.

"We put out a call," Bowen McCauley recalls, sending "seeking bands" notes to The Washington Post, and DCist and sites such as Pink Line Project. Fliers were posted in stores, including Dale Music in Silver Spring and the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park. "I wasn't just calling my friends," the choreographer recalls. "I wanted to learn more about the music scene."

Her friends pointed her to the local clubs to see what bands were doing. Club employees passed along names of acts. Eventually, as many as 40 bands submitted works, with some sending specific songs and others offering whole albums from which she could choose songs.

The mix Bowen McCauley ended up with is what you might hear when dropping in at the Black Cat, a rough-around-the-edges sound. It wasn't until the 10 songs were chosen that she began to choreograph.

Imperial China's "Ljos" is a mile-a-minute jam that will have the dancers - and the audiences - gasping for breath. Cobra Collective's "Too Bad" is an anthemic alt-rock song perfect for the male dancers. And no local playlist would be complete without something from Chuck Brown, whose "Bustin' Loose" inspired Bowen McCauley to create a piece years ago.

In putting together her playlist, Bowen McCauley says she looked for variety. "You have to have the occasional slow song, or happy song, a fun song, a song that's good for eight dancers, and a song that's good for solos. You have to mix it up to make it interesting."

That said, don't expect "Lucy's Local Playlist" to channel MTV onstage, she said. "Too literal of an interpretation is not what I'm going for."