Coming off a successful fall touring season with performances in Chicago and Roanoke, Va., the eight modern dancers of MamLuft&Co. Dance take the Aronoff stage this weekend for the company’s first mixed repertory concert. On the bill are short-form adaptations of imaginative full-length favorites from the last three seasons.
Subject matter ranges from a “dance-for-camera” film created in five different sites and the concept of getting lost in order to be found to an expression of love and loss between characters (inspired by a Cincinnati Art Museum exhibit of Expressionist prints from World War I) and the power struggle between two rising leaders after an apocalyptic event.
It’s a milestone event, for sure. Director and choreographer Jeanne Mam-Luft is a multi-disciplinarian whose talents spill beyond boundaries — she’s also a designer, photographer and letterpress printer who “dabbles” in lighting, video and sound. In 2007 she brought her focus to Cincinnati, with the idea of creating a sustainable modern dance company, one that would support modern dance artists on more than a project-by-project basis while bringing modern dance to the community. Today the company has become known for its intrepid technique and thoughtful choreography in works both accessible in their parallels to real life scenarios yet challenging in their abstract nature. There’s a special nod to today’s visual culture.
When I talked with her in late December, Mam-Luft was excited about the upcoming repertory evening. “It’s a different kind of year for us,” she says. “Our format in the past has been on creating original evening-length works. We’ve put out a new work every year, what we call a main stage event at the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater.”
Typically each year MamLuft&Co. has also collaborated with another arts organization in another original work. The company has also done many outreach activities and smaller performances. Mam-Luft believes that this weekend’s program of four works from the past three seasons will illuminate the company’s unique style.
“I didn’t realize it for a long time and tried to compare it to more well-known choreographers. But we haven’t met other groups that look like us,” Mam-Luft says.
“We use a lot of improvisation in our creation, a lay person might think our moves aren’t choreographed,” she continues. “We are in the middle. We love the technique of contact improvisation. We love gravity. We are original, visceral, physical. We want to be organic, strong, agile. We are there to say something — to create a world.”
She acknowledges the formative effect of considering audience reaction during a work’s creation. Though she’s always believed in art for art’s sake, she’s also a practical director who is willing to bend to make her work comprehensible.
“Since it became one of our goals to enlist community support, we needed to have the community able to make sense of our work,” she says. “When modern dance began so many years ago, in the ’20s and ’30s, it began as a revolution against the very classicist ideas of ballet. The idea of being modernist was a pulling away from, a paring down, of being more for the people — more egalitarian but at the same time being more austere. And, modern dance makers tended to pull away from narrative because they felt that dance could speak for itself and that movement could be beautiful in its own right.”
When Mam-Luft realized that some of her own company’s early dances were so abstract that they weren’t always making sense to audiences, she started to have an interest in “story.”
“It’s not like ballet, however,” she’s quick to point out. “And we don’t use mime. We move our bodies; we choreograph what we are feeling. We do try not to situate ourselves in stories known to a few elite, such as Giselle. How many people outside of ballet really know that story?”
“We think that seeing us is an adventure to our audiences,” she continues. “They come to see what our characters are experiencing in real time. Hopefully we are pulling them into our world. There’s a lot to watch. I like to hope people will see very big things, and very small things, the range of how a dancer can be very technical but very human at the same time. Our mission has become to bring more modern dance to more people.”
MAMLUFT&CO. DANCE IN CONCERT AT THE ARONOFF takes place Friday and Saturday. Tickets and more information: mamluftcodance.org.