Choreographer Banning Bouldin's New Dialect created a sensation at OZ Arts Nashville in August. Nashville's newest modern dance collective was making its official debut as part of OZ's Thursday Night Things (TNT) series, and OZ organizers initially estimated that perhaps 200 people would attend the performance. Imagine their surprise — or shock, perhaps — when an overflow crowd of nearly 700 people poured forth into the Land of OZ.
"We were obviously thrilled with the turnout," says Bouldin. "It proves there is an interest in Nashville for modern dance."
On Wednesday, New Dialect will stage its much anticipated follow-up performance, this time at Houston Station. Bouldin and her dancers are no doubt wondering whether the proverbial bolt of lightning will strike once again. The odds would seem to favor it, since their performance will be devoted entirely to the work of the terrific Canadian choreographer Belinda McGuire. A latter-day disciple of the great José Limón, McGuire creates works of intense expressivity and exquisite detail.
"Belinda's choreography is rich, powerful and beautifully nuanced," says Bouldin. "Her style is rooted in Limón's technique, but she's assimilated it into her own dance vocabulary to create a powerful 21st century female voice, an approach that's uniquely her own."
McGuire has spent the past few weeks in Nashville, training New Dialect's dancers in her technique as part of a three-week creative residency. Her teaching style puts a heavy emphasis on visual imagery. At one point, McGuire encouraged the dancers to move with the elasticity of translucent frog skin.
"I tell the dancers to imagine that their skin is like the skin of a frog's throat," McGuire tells the Scene via email. "When they stretch their skin as they move, the skin quality changes from being thick, opaque and rough to being thin, transparent, shimmery and subtly rainbow-colored."
In that way, McGuire encourages dancers to use every part of their body expressively. Like Limón, McGuire views the body as an orchestra, with the various parts of the body working in tandem as an ensemble. Once dancers learn to use every part of their bodies with complete expressive independence, they will transform from merely pretty to utterly beautiful.
New Dialect will put these techniques to good use at Houston Station, where they will present two of McGuire's works. The dancers will present two different versions of Incorporeus, one a duet and the other an ensemble piece for 12 dancers. The company will also perform The Heist Project, a collaborative piece that McGuire created with several other choreographers. That work was nominated for a 2013 Dora Award for Outstanding Performance.
Incorporeus — the title of which means "without body" — attempts to turn dance into a kind of existential exploration of movement. McGuire sets her choreography to the slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 1. That choice seems ideal, since Beethoven's adagio movements are so intensely in the moment that they seemingly stop time. This allows McGuire's dancers to step outside of themselves (incorporeus) and explore the expressive potential of every nook and cranny of their bodies.
McGuire likens The Heist Project to a jewel heist. The work consists of three different pieces — "The Eight Propositions," "Anthem for the Living" and "Blue Solo, Joni" — created by five choreographers: McGuire, Emio Greco, Pieter Scholten, Sharon Moore and Idan Sharabi.
"The Heist Project, like a jewel heist, is meticulously imagined and designed, but ultimately the plan is brought to life or achieved through necessary spontaneity in response to the unfolding action," McGuire tells the Scene via email. "As I engage in creation with each of my collaborators, I apply my own specialties while being pulled into unknown artistic territory. So continuing with the heist metaphor, I am venturing where I may not belong, taking something that was not originally mine. This boundary crossing happens from both sides of the collaboration, and creates an imbalance or tension making it inevitable for reactions, changes and involuntary innovation. This is what I love."
Wednesday's performance will have something of the look and feel of a happening. The doors at Houston Station, a converted tobacco warehouse, will open at 5:15, and guests can mingle and enjoy complimentary craft beer from Tennessee Brew Works. The first performance starts at 6 p.m., and it will repeat at 8 p.m.