Circadian Rhythms 

Dogtown Dance spotlights a Richmond choreographer drawing inspiration from mid-20th century Hong Kong.

click to enlarge A scene from choreographer Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company’s evening-length work, “Circadian,” which will be featured at Dogtown Dance’s presenter series.

Michael Keeling Photography

A scene from choreographer Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company’s evening-length work, “Circadian,” which will be featured at Dogtown Dance’s presenter series.

The cluttered, busy nature of a city doesn’t seem to change. Long lines, packed streets, and a lack of solitude are attributes of Richmond today and of Hong Kong yesterday.

With stark contrasts of black and white, a 1950s photograph titled “Approaching Shadow” resonated with local choreographer Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company enough to compare the life of the photo to her own almost 70 years later.

Dogtown Dance Theatre’s Presenter’s Series is a two-week spotlight performance series that highlights independent artists and organizations in Richmond. Dogtown is home to many diverse dance and movement organizations that vary in style, including Latin and salsa dancing, African-Caribbean dance, flamenco, modern dance. and hoop dance.

In late October, the series will be presenting a collaborative dance work created by Robertson and Karar Dance Company. Robertson will premiere a new evening-length work “Circadian” that draws inspiration from Fan Ho’s architectural photographs of 1950s and 1960s Hong Kong, titled “Hong Kong Yesterday.” The piece is rooted in the beauty of action, reflecting movement in stillness and habitual nature.

“I first drew inspiration from ‘Approaching Shadow’ during my senior project at VCU,” Robertson says. “It was a moment of quiet from the loudness of a city I never knew, and it reflected my observant, introverted nature here in Richmond. When I found out Fan Ho’s photo was a part of a larger set of work, I knew I had to bring this three-dimensional dance experience to fruition.”

This new work is performed with the audience surrounding the stage in the round, visually creating boundaries for dancers, yet opening endless possibilities of movement through original architectural set and lighting design as well as music composition.

“Having the seating in the round invites the audience into the world of the piece,” Robertson explains, “and since it’s based off photographs from a specific time and place, this creates a 360-degree view. It pulls you into the work.”

The set design challenges the traditional dance performance space by breaking multiple boundaries for choreographer, dancer and audience. Bringing the collaboration to the stage, the work embodies the juxtaposition of stillness and pure movement in abstract storytelling through movement, sight, and sound.

Five dancers showcase the value of routine, a theme depicted in Ho’s photographs. Utilizing movement that captures simplistic beauty, the dancers transition through individuality and conformity, representing the effects of varying routines. The culmination of choreography and performance, set design by Crux Scenica, lighting design by Weston Corey, and an original music score by Ryan Davis, showcases multiple elements from varying artistic disciplines. Each inspires, enhances and essentially alters the others’ art form, creating a collaborative professional evening of dance performance.

Each fall, one artist is accepted for Dogtown’s Presenter Series through a submission-based application process to present choreographic work in a series of professionally produced performances and community workshops in the Series. The Series increases community awareness of the artists that call Richmond home.

“The Series’ mission is to expose Richmond audiences to choreographers who reflect the cultural diversity alive in dance today [and] to promote artists from a variety of dance styles and genres, and to support them in creating new works of expression,” says Jess Burgess, Dogtown’s executive director.

One of the cornerstones of the Presenter’s Series is collaboration. Dogtown encourages dance artists to work outside of their comfort zone and collaborate amongst one another and alongside artists that work within other genres.

“Circadian” contributors begin with the inventive stage environment and end with robust composition. An asymmetrical gridlike set hangs parallel to the stage floor from the grid in the theater, constructed by scenic designers Christina Delli Santi and Joshua Bennett of Crux Scenica. Weston Corey’s lighting design flirts with the grid, revealing the dancers below. Lighting shifts and evolves to dictate audience focus.

The marriage set construction and lighting design adds additional depth to this piece, using visual elements that would not be possible without the partnership. Corey’s lighting design guides the dancers through segmented space, playing off the set, offering mystery and wonder.

Ryan Davis’ score accompanies the performance. This composition propels the work by varying dynamics and spacing, shifting movement quality and inspiring the overall kinetic range. Music is developed organically along with the choreography of the work to create an overall arch for the audience to both hear and see the evolution of the evening-length work.

“Karar Dance Company and Kara Robertson are an exquisite example of Richmond choreographers producing ground-breaking dance experiences for our community,” Burgess says. “The special feat for this year’s series will be a truly immersive experience for Richmond art lovers.”

Performances will take place at Dogtown Dance Theatre on Oct. 18, 19, 25, and 26 starting at 7 p.m. with a matinee performance on each Saturday at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on Dogtown’s website.


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