Commentary: Don't miss a beat during weekend for dance lovers

The Isadora Duncan Dance Company explores its namesake’s athletic, naturalistic choreography.

Courtesy Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center

The Isadora Duncan Dance Company explores its namesake’s athletic, naturalistic choreography.

I've often wondered whether there's a secret cutthroat rivalry between producers of dance in Memphis. Over the years, it's been easy to spot a pattern of competitive booking, which often forces dance fans to choose between one show or another on the same evening.

Though I've been told that this isn't the case and that it's simply a matter of available times at theaters, it always seems such an odd coincidence (to me) that, with 52 weeks in a year and only about a dozen major dance concerts in the city, there are frequent weekends like this one.

Three dance companies open shows in Memphis this weekend. They all have good qualities: new works, historical relevance, diversity of movement and interesting themes.

So why not take in all three of them?

Kendall Britt performs the title role in a ballet based on 'The Little Prince' for the Ballet Memphis program '2BLoved.'

Basil Childers

Kendall Britt performs the title role in a ballet based on "The Little Prince" for the Ballet Memphis program "2BLoved."

Tonight is the only time to catch the Isadora Dance Company at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center. The New York-based troupe, led by artistic director Lori Belilove, historically revives choreography made between 1900 and 1925.

Duncan is best remembered for two things: being the innovator of what was later named Modern Dance, and her horrific death, caused by her long trailing scarf getting caught in the spokes of her sports car.

The program, featuring a number of solo works, is meant to be both educational and authentic.

"Everyone needs a little guidance to understand her work better," Belilove said. "It's a little like a museum tour. But we begin very slowly. We want to seep into your subconscious."

Inspired by the classical Greeks and the forces of nature, Duncan embraced athleticism. She loosened her hair, danced in bare feet, and used playful movements such as skipping, running, jumping and tossing. She stripped away superfluousness from dance.

Today, it takes a stretch of the imagination to think that Duncan's work, which comes across as very natural and uninhibited, was once considered transgressive.

But the vocabulary lives on in modern and contemporary dance companies such as Project: Motion, a collective of volunteer dancers and choreographers that has been making new work in Memphis for 25 years.

In its performance this weekend, "P:M. 25th Anniversary," the company presents a mixed repertory program. Works from the vault will be seen in the first half. In the second half, the company's original co-founder, Ann Halligan Donahue, returns to create a new abstract work.

In a sense, Project: Motion recalls Duncan's strong expression of womanhood. Because male dancers are hard to come by, the dancers are mostly female, though the company's artistic director, Jay Rapp, has been involved since 1995.

"Even though we're a 'modern' company, we aren't stuck in a particular style of movement," Rapp said.

The dancers who regularly take classes with Project: Motion range in age from 19 to 72 and represent all different physical types. Acceptance of diversity and ability is one of the guiding principals of modern dance.

There are major physical and technical differences among dancers and choreography on a professional level, however.

Ballet Memphis is a company that boasts a contemporary sensibility, and also a strong adherence to classical foundations.

In a program titled "2BLoved," opening this weekend at Playhouse on the Square, the company restages Trey McIntyre's saucy neoclassical ballet, "The Naughty Boy," which is loosely based on the idea of Cupid stirring up problems. A second ballet is based on "The Little Prince," a 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Julia Adam choreographed the work in 2007 for a small dance company in California. She has expanded the cast for the Ballet Memphis version. The original music will be performed live on piano and violin.

"Being Canadian, I originally read it in French as a child," she said. "It's such a moving story. I weep every time I read it. I wrote in my notes that I had this awakening to what is essential in life."

In the famous children's story known for its profound statements about human nature, a pilot crashes in the Sahara Desert, where he meets a little prince who has been on a journey through the universe.

Dance aficionados in Memphis will have a journey of their own if they plan to take in all the movement offered by dance companies this weekend. But it's a journey through history, through different styles of choreography and, figuratively at least, across the universe.

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Isadora Duncan Dance Company

8 p.m. Friday at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center at St. Mary's School, 60 Perkins Ext. Tickets are $25. Call (901) 537-1483.

Project: Motion's '25th Anniversary Edition'

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 30 at Evergreen Theatre, 1705 Poplar. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 students and seniors. Call (901) 214-LEAP.

Ballet Memphis' '2BLoved'

Performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Other shows Oct. 27-30 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper. Tickets are $10-$72. Call (901) 737-7322.

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