The Wooden Floor: Nurturing Tomorrow’s Leaders

A spotlight finds a single dancer downstage left. The deep red velvety curtain still closed behind her. She’s young, likely no more than 12 years old; but in her solo she commands the stage with the confidence and ease of a seasoned performer. She reaches her arms with grace, moving rhythmically and with the fluidity of tree branches swaying in the breeze. She’s grounded and strong, yet soft and delicate. Her tunic dress accents every releve and the combination of greens on the fabric embody leaves and foliage. She pauses; one hand ‘crumbles’ her fingers in a poignant detail and the curtain lifts.

There’s a stillness onstage. A forest of some eighty-six bodies covers the stage. Some dancers are sitting on top of the shoulders of another dancer in what might be interpreted as a literal tree. Dancers begin to run through the forest of other still bodies. Sometimes the dancers moving run, sometimes they roll, sometimes they have a movement phrase. There’s a beautiful fluidity to their movement; they suspend, then burst. It’s easy to forget that this cast is made up of eighty-six young ladies ranging in ages ten to eighteen years old. The piece as an energy, a life, a breath to it that’s entrancing to the viewer. Though the dancers, particularly the less experienced ones, sometimes lacked in technical aptitude; their commitment to exhaust every movement fully is one beyond their years.

One forgets that these are student performers and not professional dancers.

Even as choreographer Angie Muzzy discussed the co-creation process of “Passing through the Trees,” she describes the birth of the work as originating from a place of play and a willingness of the dancers to explore.

That’s one of the things that makes The Wooden Floor so unique; The Wooden Floor invites choreographers to co-create with the students.

Artistic Director, Falon Baltzell, who also choreographed the second work in the evening, “Re-Calculating,” refers to her process of co-creating with The Wooden Floor students as posing the question, “What would happen if?” Baltzell describes the co-creation process as sometimes playing and improvising, and other times watching magic occur from mistakes and then just “running with it.”

“Re-Calculating,” which feature an all-male cast dressed in futuristic and monochronistic unitards in varying shades of grey and blue, opens to a voice over of a GPS providing directions. The boys dutifully follow the directions of the GPS. Engaged in pedestrian and directional movement, small bursts of chaos versus the order of their costume and the voice over directions begin to form. As the piece progresses, there are many moments where the individual breaks from the group and explores an inversion, a fall, or sporadic movement before falling back in line with the group. The movement is athletic and there’s a sense of workin together to reach a goal.

Smaller groups form at times and one dancer rises from a group lift or is caught in the “flying squirrel” catch-lift. All the while, this sort of organized chaos exists onstage.

In the final tableau, I am reminded of Baltzell’s original question, “What would happen if?” The dance advocate in me reflected at the impressiveness of seeing some thirty-something young boys dancing onstage and I found myself asking, “What would happen if we, as a society, encouraged more boys to dance?”

The Wooden Floor proves that Dance education is a vital and integral component of academic success. As one student on the panel phrased it, “This experience has taught me how to use my time wisely. I wake up at five thirty in the morning and I do my homework. Instead of goofing off with my friends, I practice my dance steps- these are skills that I can use later in life.”

In the final piece of the evening, “Falling to Float (a guide to getting lost)” by David Dorfman, the dancers with Dorfman explore the themes of friendship, love, trust, safety, and joy.

A deeply collaborative piece, it opens with live musicians led by Elizabeth de Lise who regularly tours with Dorfman Dance Company; the musical score a lively, percussive one. Dancers begin to spill onto the stage in beautiful partnering phrases. A group of dancers upstage left respond to the spoken text of altering dancers with the soft thumping of their feet.

The dancers gorgeously executed the classic Dorfman movement vocabulary, movement that is very difficult to embody, while also showing aspects of their individual personalities in the work.

The fun, vivacious, percussive, and dynamic dancing pauses momentarily as one dancer pops up and asks, “What is the meaning of life?”

Another dancer states sweetly, “Be kind now” and “Listen before you speak,” resonating in its authenticity and grounded humanity.

Each saute, kick-ball change, and lift further enhancing the beauty onstage and raising the energy level while the sweet embraces between the dancers and their voices leave us feeling deeply moved.

In The Wooden Floor, students are given not only a series of tools to aide them in their academic success and future endeavors, but they also acquire a tribe of support, camaraderie, and networking within their peers, mentors, and community.

The Wooden Floor’s next upcoming performance follows their annual summer residency program, the Co-Creation Lab, which this year celebrates the Merce Cunningham Centennial Celebration. Save the date for July 18th through the 20th; you won’t want to miss this performance!

To buy tickets or to find out how you can donate to The Wooden Floor visit www.TheWoodenFloor.org

*photo credit: The Wooden Floor

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