About two months ago, Lucille Dyer Williams, a local dancer and choreographer, and her cohort Aimee Decker, began work on a production of what they hope will become an annual experimental dance festival. They extended an open invitation to any dancers in Missoula interested in creating a performance piece for MissoulaDANCES, a montage of dance works to be performed Saturday, Sept. 8 at the University Theater. Performers are free to do whatever they want short of four explicit restrictions: 1) No open flames; 2) no running with sharp objects; 3) no nudity; 4) no free flying liquids. Williams admits she doesn’t know exactly what to expect.
“I’ve asked that artists put their best efforts forward, to be specific, and to consider that our audience response could range from ‘positively enthusiastic’ to ‘inclined to throw something,’” says Williams.
In her five years as a student in the University of Montana dance department, Williams has developed a reputation as a dancer/choreographer and multimedia artist with a flair for the eccentric. Before coming to Missoula in 1995, she worked on lighting and stage design for dance companies in Los Angeles, and even started her own company in the Mojave Desert. She says she began choreographing “Musique Concret” as a little girl in the 1960s. She and her sister made recordings of various rhythmic sounds: striking the oven rack, turning the phone dial or slamming a door repeatedly. These sounds provided the basis for a program of improvised ballet, or, as she puts it, “subjecting my relatives to performance art before I knew what it was. And they certainly didn’t know what it was.”
Missoula dance fans may remember some of Williams’ works from the last couple of years: “World,” a multimedia dance with paint, earth and fabric, and more recently, “Alexandra’s Question,” based on avant-garde composer Meredith Monk’s opera, “Atlas.” Williams draws inspiration from a variety of everyday life experiences, such as working for a temporary employment agency, because they put her into another world for short periods. One day, for instance, she cleaned 700 pounds of chicken. “I’m still processing that one,” she says. Many people have suggested that Williams produce a show comprised entirely of her own work, but she doesn’t yet have the resources to support such an endeavor. “Dancers and artists are an integral part of the community,” she says “and should be compensated for their work.” Still, it costs a lot of money to support even the rehearsal time alone, let alone the technical crew and insurance costs. Williams says that if she could produce a show of her own work with what she makes working at a local grocery store she would do it, but right now she’s paying her student loans and covering other basic living expenses.
Regrettably, dancers and artists in Missoula tend to move on, seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Instead, Williams would like to help Missoula develop a wider interest in the arts, sufficient to support dancers and artists as integral members of the community. And, she would like the business community to recognize that sponsoring artists is a good local investment. Williams says she never wants to depend on conditional grants, however well intentioned they may be, that can force an artist to compromise her own work to fit the agenda of the granting institution.
For now, Williams contents herself with taking the first steps toward a larger goal. “Movement,” she says, “documents our experiences, our relationships, our rites of passage, our consciousness in our bodies. It shapes who we are and how we evolve.” Personally, she strives to integrate mind and body, her aspirations with her physical life, and producing MissoulaDANCES is an effort to bring that same integration to the community.
“Dance is a marvelous part of our lives, and readily available to everybody,” she says. “I hope that seeing many different kinds of people dancing will encourage more people in our community, so that next time we’ll have an even larger production of MissoulaDANCES.” Speaking of her hopes for future festivals, she adds, “I’d like to be able to bring back artists who have gone on to other companies, to bring in many people already here who dance, and I’d like to see and share all that there is in the course of one day. Until, of course, it takes two days! It could happen. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible that someday people will seek out Missoula as the Last Best Place to Dance. And we’ll have been here all along.”
The MissoulaDANCES program includes Afro-Colombian, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, tap and experimental dance forms. Works by 17 choreographers are scheduled in two separate programs at 7 and 10 PM. Several artists will be showing their first publicly performed works, along with a staple of more seasoned choreographers from the Missoula dance community. Williams warns Missoula residents to be on the lookout for “random acts of dance” around town in the days leading up to the festival, even a possible performance on a city bus. One of the highlights of the festival will be a “movement choir,” led by Angela Imhoff, held on the lawn south of the Adams Center Saturday, Sept. 8 at 4 PM. “Movement choirs” are the creation of Rudolph Laban (1879-1958) whose analysis of movement broadened the discourse on what “dance” is. Laban theorized that all “dance movement” originated from the same roots as “work movements.” Participants in the choir will teach each other movements that comprise their personal take on the theme, “creating relationships between ourselves, our community and the natural world.” This event is free and open to all ages.