If all you know of dance is the Macarena, this week in Missoula is definitely the time and place to get a crash course in modern choreography. The Northwest Regional Conference of the American College Dance Festival Association (try saying that three times fast) convenes on the University of Montana campus, with the theme “Converging Communities.”
More than 400 dancers from around the country will participate in research presentations, classes and workshops, all hosted by the UM School of Theatre and Dance. (Disclaimer: conference organizer Nicole Bradley Browning is the better half of Indy editor Skylar Browning.)
The conference means members of the public have the chance to watch performances for bargain prices all week. The Adjudicated Concerts I-IV take place April 3 and 4 at 12:30 and 8:30 PM each day in the spacious Montana Theatre, and feature new work from 26 different schools. One of the featured pieces is The Top of A Very Tall Mountain, by Seattle choreographer KT Niehoff and set on UM dancers. Niehoff’s known for her “unhinge” technique, a series of movements she and a group of dancers designed to “support the structure of the body so the joints can be as unhinged as possible.” Don’t try that at home, kids.
On Saturday morning, starting at 10:30, the University Center Theater hosts a screening of seven original dance films by students from around the West, including one from UM. (You can get a sneak peak at one of these if you look up “ACDFA Dance for Camera” on YouTube.) Dance experts will give constructive criticism after the screening, which is kind of like watching The Lego Movie and then listening to Peter Travers explain what you just watched.
The conference culminates in the Closing Gala Concert, which features the best pieces from the adjudicated concerts. Check that concert out if you really want to be able to hold your own in a conversation about modern dance, since two pieces will be chosen for a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in June. (Fun fact to drop: UM dancers won in both 2010 and 2012.) Just remember: You don’t have to know all the right moves to appreciate the stories that people tell through dance.—Kate Whittle