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Missouri Contemporary Ballet's dance is in the details

Annual fall production includes six diverse performances

Naveen Mahadevan

November 8, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

The tips of the ballerinas’ pale pink pointe shoes have been scuffed black from the studio floor. The ease with which the dancers leap through the air must be driven by crisp synchrony to perfect “1000 Details,” a performance motivated by exact timing.

The Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s seventh annual fall production titled THIRST features six diverse works, including “1000 Details,” a dance choreographed by Executive Director Karen Mareck Grundy.

WHAT: Fall Production: THIRST
WHERE: Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts
WHEN: Nov. 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m.
COST: $19-29
CALL: 882-3781

The dance is reminiscent of Grundy’s choreography for a piece called “Unbreakable Code” that she choreographed seven years ago. Both performances rely on Grundy’s signature choreographic style — dance compelled by music, not narrative.

Grundy chose soundtracks from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and composer Atticus Ross for “1000 Details.” Low electric guitar sounds drive the dark undertones of the music, and a fast-paced drumbeat gives the piece a tribal feeling. After hearing the music, Grundy thought the powerful piece would work well for the detail-oriented movements she had envisioned.

In 11 days, she choreographed every step of the 12-minute piece. “That’s like a hundred details a day,” dancer Caitlin Younker says.

The performance is the most difficult piece for the dancers’ stamina because of its pace and intense series of turns, leaps and elaborate partner work. A move that’s even a nanosecond off unravels the production.

“Some of (Grundy’s) choreography is more human and depicts more emotion,” says Caroline Millikin, one of the company’s six performers. “But this one is about the movement and the quality of movement, the patterns and shapes. It’s more dance for the sake of dance than telling a story — more abstract.”

Grundy interpreted an unearthly tone in the music and envisioned the dancers stalking each other as they explore an unfamiliar place. The style of dance maintains the graceful elements from traditional ballet but adds an edge of darkness. The performers’ serious expressions and sharp movements dare anyone watching to blink and miss a step.

“I feel like our audience needs and wants that roller coaster ride,” Grundy says. “We make sure that (the show) has its ups and downs.”

The idea that the dancers are lost in a strange world is strongest in the third section, which features simultaneous duets.

After two of the male performers lift their partners in the air, the women drop down and circle the men, staring them down as if to tell them, “This is my territory,” Grundy says. The duet section is Millikin’s favorite part of the piece. In the partner work, the women have to be equally strong as the men to hold their position in the air, she says.

“We all come together, and the two couples start doing the same thing,” Millikin says. “And then it morphs into something else.”

During rehearsals, “1000 Details” leaves the performers exhausted. When the music stops, they lie on the floor to catch their breaths. Luckily, it will be the last dance performed in THIRST.

“If you can get through it,” Grundy tells the dancers, “all you have to do is bow.”

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