The Washington Post

Dancing Green

A choreographer sees the beauty in using amateur performers

“Figure Eights” includes dancers of different ages, body types and training to strip the veneer of perfection from dance.

Dancers like to tell people that anyone can dance — just go where the music takes you. The idea that anyone can dance professionally, though, is another matter.

And yet, there are choreographers — including Stephanie Miracle, a local choreographer and MFA candidate at the University of Maryland — who specifically seek out less-trained movers for their shows.

Miracle’s show at Dance Place this weekend features two pieces. One is a solo work about her childhood; the other, “Figure Eights,” is an ensemble piece that includes performers of varied ages and abilities.

This was not a matter of needing some extra bodies, Miracle explains. It’s integral to the piece.

“For all of the dancers to look like me, be the same age and have the same body type, feels very narrow,” says Miracle, who held auditions for the performers, who range in age from their mid-20s to early 60s. “I like finding beauty in mundane scenes. And using performers who look different and dance differently, I feel like I’m giving the audience an opportunity to see details that get covered up in a dance that’s perfectly designed.”

The notion that dance performances should resemble real life is what initially sparked the trend to use “community dancers” onstage back in the free-form 1970s.

The setup obviously has its limitations. Miracle says that working with distinctly nonprofessional dancers can be tricky, though it’s made easier in this case by a piece that doesn’t emphasize virtuosic moves. Instead, she says, the show presents abstract images meant to provoke associations in the viewer. So the performers’ technical ability is less important than their capacity to be fully present onstage.

The less-experienced performers get the occasional case of the nerves before the big night, admits Don Andress of Northern Virginia, one of Miracle’s community dancers. Though he’s performed a few times before, this is by far his biggest show.

“I want to be in that space I’m in most of the time [in rehearsal], of doing it without being self-conscious,” he says.

The rehearsal process has been very rewarding. “I’ve felt very comfortable,” he says. “I think we each bring our own strengths and weaknesses. We have different roles, but we’re all together.”

Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE; 202-269-1600, Sat., 8 p.m. & Sun., 4 p.m., $22. (Brookland-CUA)



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