Tension and Release 

Choreographer Kate Weare and alumna Leslie Kraus bring daring dance to VCU.

click to enlarge Dancers Luke Murphy and Leslie Kraus perform the erotically charged duet "Drop Down." - KEIRA HEU-JWYN CHANG
  • Keira Heu-jwyn Chang
  • Dancers Luke Murphy and Leslie Kraus perform the erotically charged duet "Drop Down."

Kate Weare, founder and artistic director of the award-winning New York-based Kate Weare Company, is having a jam-packed, two-week residency at Virginia Commonwealth University — with her 6-week-old daughter, Lily, by her side. "It's a little crazy, right? I am very naive, so that's kind of a bonus. I don't know what you can't do, really," Weare says of her new role as a mother.

First stop is an audition for third- and fourth-year dance majors, who will perform Weare's work for the VCU Dance Now concert in February. Weare's visit will culminate with her company's performing three works on Oct. 12 and 13: "The Light Has Not the Arms to Carry Us," "Drop Down" and "Garden."

Before the audition, Weare tells the students she's looking for "my own peculiar aesthetic" and advises them not to take it personally if they aren't chosen. Teaching the students the audition piece is a shining example of that aesthetic: Leslie Kraus, a 2003 university alumna who joined Kate Weare Company in 2006 who's Weare's assistant director.

"She's remarkable on many levels," Weare says of Kraus. "She's a very, very unusual dancer — a captivating, charismatic performer, but also extremely creative. She actually credits VCU for this. She says it's a program where they stimulate students to think for themselves." Weare isn't alone in her assessment of her star dancer. In 2009 Dance Magazine named Kraus in its annual "25 to Watch."

Flame-haired Kraus inhabits every molecule of her petite body while she dances with company member Douglas Gillespie. The charge between them is palpable as they run the students through the audition piece. It's nicknamed Slappy for the audible whacks the partners dish out in this ferocious, erotically charged part-tango, part-martial arts hybrid of courtship and power struggle. "They've gotten a lot of critical notice," Weare says of the duo. "They really create chemistry on stage."

For Weare, chemistry between her dancers is integral to her work. "Everyone is expected to be honest and exposed," she says. "It takes time to do that, but the results are that people really bond. If your dancers don't feel deeply connected onstage, you don't feel connected to the work in the same way." Her themes often are primal, exploring the dynamics of intimacy, and her choreography minimalist. The combination leaves room for the dancers to bring their voices to the work.

Even in the short space of an audition, Weare's unique approach is evident. The students laugh while they choose partners and work through the erotic aggression of the piece, each dancer dealing with it differently. "Partnering takes you out of yourself," Weare says, "[the] same way a relationship in real life takes you out of yourself. In an audition, one of the things I'm looking for is to see if people can speak about themselves. I'm seeing if they are brave enough."

The brave ones shine. Weare congratulates her choices and promises to work them hard over the next few days. The audition ends with a nursing session for baby Lily, which Weare integrates seamlessly, as is only fitting for a female powerhouse.

"I think that the dance world has been, for quite a few generations now, kind of permeated by a pretty male sensibility in choreography," Weare says, "and I think that the way I work and think about choreography is inherently female. Intimacy, collaboration, connection — it's a different sensibility, and I'm kind of aware of that. It's where my instincts lie." S

The Kate Weare Company performs at the Grace Street Theater on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12 and 13, at 8 p.m. $15-$20. Tickets are available at showclix.com or by calling 828-2020.

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