IT HAS BEEN more than a dozen years since choreographer Kitty Clark experienced a dance epiphany that changed both her life and her approach to movement. It came during a dance class at Jacob's Pillow, the summer dance festival founded in the 1930s by choreographic pioneer Ted Shawn at his farm nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.
"What can I say?" Clark recalls. "This teacher [Ruth Andrien, formerly of the Paul Taylor Dance Company] really knew how to talk to dancers as individuals, which in a class is not always easy. She could really zero in and say something that you could use right away -- a personal emotional thing, not just pointing your foot more."
Today Clark carries her Pillow experience with her as the director of the Goose Route Dance Festival, two weekends of adventurous programming and instruction in Shepherdstown, W.Va., just a 90-minute drive from Washington. "When people ask me, 'What's Goose Route?' " Clark says, "I tell them it's like the Jacob's Pillow of West Virginia. That works for people who need a framework . . . although I wouldn't say I'm trying to model myself and Goose Route after any of [the major festivals]."
Now in its fifth season, Goose Route feels established, an event highly anticipated by the arts-savvy Shepherdstown community, and one that overlaps with the venerable Contemporary American Theater Festival (which continues through July 31). This year's schedule of concerts, family shows, master classes and free lectures opens Friday. This weekend and next, dance companies from across the country will share the stage at the historic War Memorial Building with choreographers who set down roots in Shepherdstown.
From Richmond, the Starr Foster Dance Project brings seven powerhouse dancers in four works, including "Seven Sisters," an aching study of memory and loss, and "On a Wire," an athletic piece showcasing innovative risk-taking partnering. Joining them this weekend, Restless Native Dance, led by New Yorker Tamieca McCloud, performs "Born of Tears" and "Untitled Duet," from the choreographer's series exploring angels. McCloud's work seeks to tackle social issues and expose the underpinnings of ethnic, racial, sexual and religious stereotypes.
Next weekend the festival closes with the B-boys of Illstyle & Peace Productions, a dynamic Philadelphia-based hip-hop crew that fuses the spirit and moves of hip-hop with modern and ethnic dance. Former members of Rennie Harris Puremovement, Brandon Albright and Forrest Webb bring "Same Spirit Different Movement," which references popping and locking, breaking, tap, human beatboxing, DJing and more.
Goose Route's founder and curator Clark loves performing at home in Shepherdstown, on the state's eastern panhandle, where she settled after stints in New York and Massachusetts. Goose Route Dance Theatre, the company she directs, offers a pair of her works: "Labyrinth," a solo that investigates lines and paths using a ball of string, and the duet "Lines," which parses an increasingly complex universe of movement.
Of the diverse programs and classes -- from modern dance to hip-hop and dance theater -- Clark's enthusiasm is unbounded: "If it will attract a new population to dance, why not?"
GOOSE ROUTE DANCE FESTIVAL -- Through July 24. War Memorial Building, 102 E. German St., Shepherdstown, W.Va. Call 304-725-7621 or visit www.gooseroute.org.