Friday, May 14, 2021

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Center Stage

Everything from electricity to silk


GETTIN---0861-Tamisha-Guy-by-Jerry-and-Lois-Photography-HIGH-RESMatthew Baker, a product of the suburban Midwest, sounds inspired to work with a man whose roots are in New York hip-hop. Kyle Abraham, creator of, came out of Queens with a fresh vision for the art of dance.

“He’s a man of his times,” says Baker. “The issues he lives with seep into his work.”

A prime case in point is “Absent Matter,” one of the pieces the troupe will perform in Des Moines. Abraham himself can’t join the tour — a winner of the Macarthur “genius grant,” he always has several projects going — but “Matter” clearly offers a piece of his heart.

“As an urban black man himself, he’s making a contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement,” explains Baker. “He’s taking dance to the streets, sampling Kendrick Lamar, coming up with something both tragic and exciting.”

Bringing off such a mix, Baker acknowledges, demands “a lot of collaboration.” A.I.M. therefore worked up its system of Dancer Development, in which company members rotate through different jobs in-house. While on tour, they visit local programs, and before each show, dancers warm up by having one of them conduct a “class” in his or her specialty, whether ballet or Bob Fosse.

Prep Iowa

“It all helps us stay in the moment — part of the larger story around us,” claims Baker.

Dance as story, in fact, is the theme for this year’s Series at the Civic Center. Eric Olmscheid, a director with Des Moines Performing Arts, hopes this will help win over people who worry they won’t understand.

“It’s a sophisticated art form,” Olmscheid allows. “But you don’t need to know a lot to appreciate the story that unfolds in a dance.”

The level of appreciation around Des Moines is already impressive for a city this size, he happily adds.

“This is the seventh year of the series, and at the outset, we would’ve been very happy with the kind of subscription base we’ve got,” says Olmscheid.

Not that the series is changing its winning formula. This year again, ticket prices are low, and the range of styles is broad. Standout past performances have varied from the manic electricity of Pilobolus (an internationally acclaimed arts organization renowned for its diverse collaborations) to the silky sashay of Alvin Ailey (a favorite of Olmscheid’s, who calls their dancers “athletic gods”). This year, the story theme allows for material as different as Abraham’s hip-hop creations and a novel approach to ballet, out of France, reprising the tale of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Again this year, too, every troupe will take time for outreach to local schools and groups. Besides that, audiences will have their usual opportunity for “dance talk” before and after each show, as company members field questions. For a program intended originally to “fill in something missing from the local landscape,” as Olmscheid puts it, the Dance Series looks bigger than ever.

Overheard in the Lobby: The winter season includes two different suburban shows: “Jesus on the Frigidaire,” an edgy comedy in Ames; and “The Fantasticks,” a unique classic in Ankeny. ♦

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