Arcos Dance artistic director Curtis Uhlemann describes the scene for "46 Thousand," a piece he choreographed with his co-director Erica Gionfriddo: The scaffolds are black, the dancers wear black (their hair down) and musician Andy Primm sits above them with his drum kit, playing a piece inspired by the John Bonham solo "Bonzo's Montreux."
Uhlemann pulls back a set of drapes, revealing the balcony. "Andy will be up there," he says.
"46 Thousand" is the closing piece in a five-dance program called Rock Out for Summer. The other numbers include a string quartet performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor; a theatrical piece for prepared piano; an original composition for piano by Emily Silks, titled "Still"; and Philip Glass' "Metamorphosis Two."
If you're thinking, like me, that Arcos could have come up with a more inventive title than Rock Out for Summer for the program—one that better represents the new company's sense of adventure, perhaps—consider that the phrase does have utility. It suggests live music collaboration, it suggests the time of year and it suggests the company's last show of the season ("out for summer"). Not suggested in the title, however, is the fact that Uhlemann and Gionfriddo see this iteration of the 21-person company as the first incarnation of its concentrated traveling outfit, an ambition inherent in the company's mission.
The live music collaboration, which Arcos intends to make an annual occasion, also fulfills the company's desire to constantly push its performers and choreographers to outdo themselves and to expand the boundaries of dance itself. These are founding principles for Uhlemann and Gionfriddo, two longtime Santa Fe dance instructors, who struck out on their own a year ago because they saw more room for experimentation and innovation with their students than their positions provided.
Uhlemann also wants to make better use of the local talent pool.
"This town has many great artists," he says. "And I want to use as many as we possibly can within our budget and timeframe."
During rehearsal of "46 Thousand," the piece also demonstrates the, um, dance between utility and artistry, the performers working with Uhlemann on ways to move between positions with grace (though perhaps "grace" isn't the most descriptive word for modern dance), without colliding with each other and while still fulfilling their expressions and phrases.
From a perch in the back of the seating area, Uhlemann bends the choreography like a musician writes variations on existing tunes, with each change informing the next. By the time I realize what's going on, the meaning has changed for me. Uhlemann clearly has a direction he wants to go—a direction, he says, that the title may or may not reflect in the end. He and Gionfriddo came up with the title early for the press release. "Normally, I'd wait until the piece is finished before I name it," he says.
Follow Matthew Irwin on Twitter: @mji76