Promoting the short form

Stacy Wolfson and Curtis Eller collaborate in their work "Hypnagogiacs," one of six short works Tobacco Road Dance Productions will present.
Stacy Wolfson and Curtis Eller collaborate in their work "Hypnagogiacs," one of six short works Tobacco Road Dance Productions will present. Submitted

Dancers and choreographers Stephanie Woodbeck and William “Bill” Commander formed Tobacco Road Dance Productions three years ago to provide something that was missing from the local dance scene and to help choreographers supply it.

“The Triangle was missing people who make short (8 to 15 minutes) dances that express a complete thought,” Woodbeck said in a phone interview.

“Tobacco Road Dance Productions (TRDP) is promoting the short dance as its own valuable form of dance,” Woodbeck said. People tend to discount short work as the inexperienced choreographer’s choice or a stepping-stone toward evening-length dances, she added.

Today and tomorrow, TRDP will present “In Concert 2017,” six short works by choreographers chosen for this program: Stacy Wolfson with Curtis Eller; Marsha Thomas; Anna Barker; Dana Livermore; Jade Poteat and Audrey Baran.

By producing an annual concert of short dance works, TRDP differs from Durham Independent Dance Artists (DIDA), another local organization also formed three years ago. Durham Independent Dance Artists presents an annual season that features longer dance works.

Tobacco Road also differs from DIDA because North Carolina choreographers apply to create work for the annual concerts. Those selected receive help in the form of rehearsal space, auditions for dancers as well as feedback from dance panelists throughout the process of developing their work, Woodbeck, a Hillsborough resident, said.

Jade Poteat, a Chapel Hill choreographer, whose new work “I am deliberate” premieres at the TRDP concert, found the feedback helpful.

“At first, I didn’t have an idea as to what my work [in preliminary stages] was about. But when I showed my choreography [to the panelists] Jessi Knight told me: ‘I think you know what this piece is about.’ That gave me the courage to continue making the work,” Poteat said in a phone interview.

Poteat took the title of her work from a line in a poem by Audrey Lorde: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing,” the choreographer said.

In “I am deliberate”, Poteat incorporates posturing and a lot of posing. Dancers’ voices may also literally be heard in Jude Casseday’s soundscape created for this work. And, Poteat incorporated the distinct ways in which dancers moved.

“How do we assert ourselves in these uncertain times and be fearless during fear-mongering in our political climate right now? Even before the election, the LGBTQ community was under attack,” the choreographer writes. “I’m a queer (bi-sexual) woman and I felt under attack,” Poteat said in the interview.

In her work, she deliberately chose people who represented different gender identifications. “I wanted to send a positive message about asserting identities …,” Poteat said.

“Dance, in particular, is a powerful medium through which we can assert our identities and bring into focus important questions about how we can move through the world deliberately even when we’re not wanted,” Poteat writes.

Dancer and choreographer Wolfson and musician Eller, both Durham residents, had to learn a thing or two from each other in order to create their duet “Hypnagogiacs” for the TRDP program. She had to learn how to sing harmony. “Singing was something I had done in secret in the car with my children,” Wolfson said in a phone interview. And, he had to learn some dance moves. “I was trying to step up closer to her level as a dancer. She’s an amazing dancer,” Eller said in a phone interview.

“It pushed us out of our comfort zones. That’s how you grow as an artist,” Wolfson added.

And, grow, they did.

“I had thought either the music or the dance would take root first,” Eller said of their creative process. “But we really developed it in tandem,” he added.

“We composed the song [“Amnesiac Grace”] together and the choreography together,” Wolfson said. They came up with their own improvisation method.

They took their title, “Hypnagogiacs” from the word “hypnagogic”: the mental state between sleeping and dreaming. “We want to embrace that place and try to live in it,” Eller said.

Eller also plays banjo in the duet – the same instrument he plays in his band, Curtis Eller’s American Circus. His father had taught him to play banjo and also, at age 7, how to juggle and ride a unicycle. His father had operated his Old Tyme Circus in addition to being a gym teacher in Detroit, Michigan, where Eller grew up, Eller said.

While creating the duet together took time and a lot of hard work, both came away with the same feeling: “It’s been really fun,” they both said in separate interviews.

They also appreciated the non-judgmental feedback they received from the panelist when they were developing the duet.

There’s one more thing TRDP founders hope the dancers they present will ultimately receive. “We hope that TRDP will be a stamp of quality for audiences seeking out local choreographers and that our local dance lovers will look forward to the show each season .… Best-case scenario, a viewer will fall in love with one or more choreographers … and become devoted audience members, Woodbeck said.


WHAT: Tobacco Road Dance Productions: “In Concert 2017”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: PSI Theatre, Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St.

TICKETS: For information, visit www.tobaccoroaddance.org