PLACES inhabit Kitty Clark's choreography: The rural open fields of modest family farms, the boldly barren landscape of Finland's northern Lapland, and even the mythic universe of Persephone, ancient Greek goddess of seasons. Clark builds her dances like a landscaper, pruning and nurturing choreography in a sometimes less than hospitable environment.
"They say that artists work on the same subject over and over," Clark said recently from her home in Shepherdstown, W.Va., where she teaches, choreographs and directs the young but growing Goose Route Dance Festival, a two-weekend annual summer event that invites adventurous choreographers from New York, Washington and Philadelphia to this modest college town 90 minutes from downtown Washington.
"This may be true," she continues. "I did not set out to create dances about places, but I've been mulling over 'place' for quite some time." As a Shepherdstown-based dancemaker, Clark faces challenges working far from the nearest urban center with a vibrant dance community. Among the toughest, she says, is finding enough trained modern dancers to create more than simple works. But since Clark relocated to Shepherdstown five years ago, she has been cultivating a community of dancers by offering classes to children, college students and adults of all levels of experience. And the choreographer and teacher has also found the quieter, less hectic lifestyle a better fit for her increasingly expansive dances.
Just as the larger, more established Contemporary American Theater Festival, affiliated with Shepherdstown University, draws a number of Washingtonians to the area on summer weekends, Clark would like to see her modest event take root as well. "Things are going really well," she reports. "In our fourth year, it seems both young and established at the same time."
Her new piece, "North," a suite of solos, duets and quartets, investigates life in the harsh but beautiful Lapland, above the Arctic Circle in Finland. "I was fascinated by a northern culture that seemed exotic to me," she says. "I was interested in a nomadic people who live with the rhythms of extreme weather and with the migrating reindeer who dictate their lives." Clark's research introduced her to Finnish folk music and a style of throat singing called joiking. She also found inspiration in the Finnish epic creation poem "Kalevala," and she incorporates episodes into her choreography for "North."
In addition to Clark's work, this weekend's program includes a preview of New York choreographer Paul D. Mosley's "The Dead Father," based on novelist Donald Barthelme's book of the same name. The quartet examines tensions inherent in family life, using place -- a dinner table -- to highlight the dynamics of closely knit relations. Philadelphia's PIMA Group performs "Sawbell," a work for two dancers and two musicians, while fellow West Virginian Carli Mareneck offers a solo.
The Washington area's ever-adventurous CatScratch Theatre reconfigures its site-specific joy ride, "Red Line: Revisited," into something called "Metro" for the Goose Route program. The piece promises to take the audience, which is invited to participate, on a trip of its own.
GOOSE ROUTE DANCE FESTIVAL -- War Memorial Building, 102 E. German St., Shepherdstown, W.Va. Friday, "pay-what-you-can" family show at 4; Saturday, intermediate/advanced modern dance class at 10:30 a.m., a lecture on "Contemporary Dance and the Creative Process" at 5, and a concert at 6; Sunday, improvisation class at 10:30 a.m. and concert at 6. Classes, $10; concerts, $12, lecture free. 304-725-7621 or www.gooseroute.org.