Modern dancers are strong. You know, from all those pliés, spirals and lifts — and from lugging lighting equipment, wielding power tools and laying flooring. Most modern dancers will tell you that in many productions, the flip side of the stage glamour is a whole lot of grunt work. Kaye Weinstein Gary, a longtime anchor of the modern dance scene in Richmond, knows this too well. In her Yes! Dance Invitational, she wants to give dancers and choreographers a break.
"For small ensembles, it's so difficult to self-produce in a real way, where you're not carrying lights around and laying your floor down," she says. "All modern dancers do it." One reason Gary started the Yes! Dance Invitational, formerly Yes! Virginia Dance, now in its 14th year, was that she wanted to show her own work professionally with enough financial support to ensure a smooth production. Through grants, tireless fundraising, and the support of an active board, she's succeeded in building a solid venue for not only her own work, but also that of dancers from across the country.
Gary solicits applications from choreographers every year, building a program designed to appeal to local audiences. The participants showcase a variety of modern and contemporary dance from emerging and established artists. "I'm always looking for the old-fashioned terms — form and content — and whether someone has had an idea and is developing it," Gary says. "That is so important to me, because I got really tired of people scratching their heads and saying they don't understand modern dance, and then just going away. Never coming back, never giving it another chance."
Gary acknowledges that dancers' technical prowess alone can energize audiences. But she wants more for the invitational. "Dancers are doing so many incredible things, technically," she says, but "I still want to see a conceptual idea developed choreographically."
A featured performer in the lineup, dancer Courtney Jones was named one of Dance Magazine's 25 to Watch for 2012 and has performed with the national tour of "Wicked." She'll perform a solo by Jane Weiner, artistic director of Hope Stone Dance, based in Houston. The solo reveals "a huge amount of power and a compassionate young dancer," Gary says. "You can just see her love of what she does, and that's so great to see on the stage."
Other artists performing include Treeline Dance Works from New Jersey, Winifred Haun and Dancers from Illinois, Adrienne Clancy and Sandra Lacy from Maryland, and Shane O'Hara from Virginia. Gary's work, which is steeped in theater as well as dance, takes the form of an excerpt from playwright Wendy Wasserstein's "Boy Meets Girl." It's a great mix for a project that hones in on the value of creative work and the chance for artists to be produced, rather than dividing their energy by producing themselves. "Each time artists come here," Gary says, "they always say, 'Oh we were treated so nicely. It was so great to be here and not have to worry about anything except presenting our work.'" S
The Yes! Dance Invitational takes place at the Firehouse Theatre on Friday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. $12-$20. For information, call 355-2001 or visit firehousetheatre.org.