BAR HARBOR – Audience members looked a little nervous when word got around that the dance performance they were gathering for Friday at the Criterion would include an audience participation element.
After all, the members of the high-level Nimbus Dance Works company are very accomplished artists—and athletes. It would be easy for a regular Jane or Joe to feel pretty silly alongside them.
They needn’t have been afraid. All audience members had to do was write a few words on a slip of brown paper they’d been handed, along with a golf pencil, when they arrived, about something “you don’t want to forget.”
After intermission the company members, joined by nine local dancers of all ages, walked down the theater’s aisles toward the stage reading some of the slips aloud.
“Summers by the lake,” they said. “My wedding day.” “My grandfather.”
The dance continues with action in small groups while the company looks on and one dancer reads more of the slips. Some are funny: “my passwords” and “where my money is hidden.”
On stage is a wall of brown paper, at first a dark wall with light only showing through a few slits, which later will have a hand, an arm or a face sticking out. It dawns on the audience that this is the same kind of paper they wrote on when they arrived, as dancers begin to tear off small pieces.
Nimbus director Samuel Pott, who spent childhood summers on MDI, came to Bar Harbor in June to rehearse the piece with this group. And a few of the local dancers (Don Grieco, Weslea Sidom and Aquene Raven Kiedricksen) had actually performed a version of this piece with Nimbus before, about ten years ago.
“We talked about the fact that it had come full circle,” Grieco said.
In rehearsal, the group took words they had written about their own memories. “We took each word and created a movement around the words, in small groups,” he said, “then linked the movements together.” He would take video of the rehearsals and send YouTube links to Pott in New York, who offered suggestions.
When Nimbus arrived on MDI a week before the performance, the combined group had three rehearsals together. The local group also included Lee Lehto, Nina Robinson-Poole, Karen Steverson, David Lamon, Chelsea Shroeder and Cecelia Whitehead.
“We added a new section where we taught the Nimbus dancers some of our moves,” Grieco said.
The focus of the piece, Pott said, is “trying to reveal and bring to light these personal memories, fragments of people’s lives, and bringing them into the present moment.”
“In order to make that feel like it’s authentic and real, it takes being awake, sensitive, listening, paying attention,” he continued. “More so than technique. The important thing is for the dancers to be listening, watching, being curious about each other.”
Grieco, who retired a few years ago from teaching science and dance at MDI High School, called the collaboration “an amazing experience.”
“We all were elated that we had this opportunity to work with really high caliber professional dancers,” Grieco said. The Nimbus company members were all also, he added, “really nice people.”
Pott founded Nimbus in 2005.
“I always loved to dance, but as a boy growing up in New York City in the 80s, I was always scared to let people know that,” he said. “Break dancing was really big, everyone was into the cool new music, but also my mother was always bringing me to square dances, including up here at the Causeway Club.” He remembers hearing Ralph Stanley play fiddle at some of those dances.
He played sports in high school. When he got to college at the University of California, Berkeley, “I finally got the nerve up to sign up for modern dance,” he said. “From then on, that was all I did.”
The first act of the Criterion performance included three dances by the Nimbus principals: “Surface Tension” and “The Glare From These Horizons,” both choreographed by Pott, and “Danzon” by Cuban choregrapher Pedro Ruiz.
“Surface Tension” was developed several years ago during one of the company’s several residencies at MDI High School. Along with some classical piano, works by Brahms and Lizst, the soundtrack included recordings of crackling, dry seaweed and rocks on the shore.
It was a great introduction to Nimbus’ style of contemporary dance. Drawing on the tradition of Martha Graham, whose company Pott has been part of, the piece clearly evokes a sense of being tossed around by forces over which one has no control.
“The Glare From These Horizons,” which begins with a poem by Pott’s brother Roland Pott, picked up the tempo with more contemporary music by Skalpel and Russell Malone. The characters in this piece have a defiant sense about them, as the movement explores tensions and contradictions. It’s fun to watch.
When Nimbus adds a dance by an outside choreographer, Pott said, “usually we will invite them to come in and create the work on us.” But “Danzon” has been in the repertory for several years now and many dancers already know it. Choreographer Ruiz does visit to coach the company on their version, he said, but the dance also evolves over time.
“When pieces have been in the repertory for many years, they continue to grow on their own,” he said. “You’ve had multiple years of different dancers investing their own knowledge and their own personal stamp. And that gets built in to how it’s taught moving forward.”
Nimbus company members also taught a specialty camp at Camp Beech Cliff during the week, drawing 17 youngsters for an intensive week of work. They put together a flash mob with all the camp counselors and gave a family-friendly performance at Beech Cliff Friday night.