co.da's Romance Novel

Last night co.da confirmed what I noticed at their first concert last year; they are a collective of strong women who know that if you want to be a dancer in this cultural climate you may just have to make the dances yourself. The cooperative company is made up of adept movers who are genuinely invested in the choreographic processes of their peers. But you do get the impression that on the whole, they just want to be dancing, a lot.

This comes across most in the guest work of Camille Litalien, assistant professor from Utah State. The dancers come alive, divergent approaches to performance presence notwithstanding, and show us that their primary focus is navigating the work of others.

But that’s not to say that Camille’s work has the most choreographic legitimacy. In fact, it’s the work of Ariane Audd and Shira Fagan that stand out for me as an audience member. Ariane fostered excellent performances by Jane Jackson & Emily Weaver who truly took risks within the expected structure of women dancing to Billie Holiday. Shira Fagan’s “The Breakup” also transformed the somewhat predictable dance where women act sad and find empowerment through a gestural phrase on a bench. But the choreography sticks to its idea really well and the dancers do too, so it doesn’t seem cheesy or one-off, “The Break-up” is both honest and interesting.

These two works suffered the least from an attempt to fit into the overall theme of the concert, Romance Novel. While a theme helped centralize audience expectations, and certainly elicited laughs as each co.da member narrated a passage from a particularly odd pirate romance between pieces, it also caused some dances to deviate from from their choreographic objectives.

Anne Marie Robson Smock shared her work in progress not too long ago and it began a really poetic system which challenged idioms found in backup-dancing and music videos. As the dance evolved the additions, including a cardboard fake boyfriend and lots of popular guilty pleasure music, began to take away from the bold spirit of the first iteration. She concluded on a high note with a sweet and sad dance to the Magnetic Fields where Temria Airmet is seen as simultaneously confident and vulnerable.

Annie’s work spoke to a larger concern I had about the program. There is an alternating pleasure I take in watching people joyously and humorously dance alongside a nagging feeling that maybe co.da could take themselves more seriously. That isn’t to say address deeper concepts or include more ambient music (please don’t! never!) but instead to follow their own instincts rather than try to create themes or jokes that they imagine the audience will respond to. Some of those instincts might be funny or include allusions to The Bachelor but I think others would not. I think that having a guest choreographer also downplays the exceptionally earnest efforts made by all co.da members to grow as choreographers and dancers.

Based on the enthusiasm of the audience for each work I would say my criticism may be an outlier, but it is something I look forward to investigating in the next iteration as the group comes even more into their own ways of making and doing.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore as part of her non-profit, ashley anderson dances.