Dance if you want to

Great Basin Movement Project

Musician Shelly Goodin and dance artist Katie Jean Dahlaw like to collaborate.

Musician Shelly Goodin and dance artist Katie Jean Dahlaw like to collaborate.

Photo/Brad Bynum

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“Collaboration is incredibly important,” said Katie Jean Dahlaw. “Historically, musicians and dancers created together. Some of our most iconic classical music, for example, was composed for dancers.”

Dahlaw is a choreographer and a dancer, but identifies herself as a dance artist. She moved to Reno from Chicago two years ago, and teaches dance—ballet, modern, jazz and more—at the University of Nevada, Reno. Great Basin Movement Project is the catchall name for her dance projects.

Recently, she has been collaborating with Shelly Goodin, a local musician who’s probably best known as the accordion player of the band My Flag is on Fire.

For a dance artist like Dahlaw, finding music to accompany a dance can sometimes be challenging. This might seem inverted to music fans who consider dance primarily a physical response to music.

“It’s always the hardest part if I have such clear ideas about what I want to create, and then if I have to do just endless research to find music that fits what I want to do, it takes up all of my time,” she said.

Having a sympathetic and responsive musician like Goodin to collaborate with alleviates that problem.

“I love working with musicians,” said Dahlaw. “I’m fairly articulate about my ideas and what I want to explore, and I’m super excited to share that and to have another artist engage with that, also creating.”

And the creative dialogue is rewarding for the musician as well.

“What I like about working with dancers more is that I feel fed, as a musician,” said Goodin. “I need inspiration, and watching movement, I feel fed.”

The duo have collaborated on two recent performances. The first was called “Wake Up and Be,” in which Dahlaw and other dancers enacted movements based on creation myths accompanied by Goodin playing accordion music centered around the familiar folk melody “Frere Jacques.” The piece was performed in guerilla fashion at places like the university and near City Hall. The performances were intentionally disruptive.

“It was about coming out of this stupor that we’re in, culturally, where were just dying, not living soulfully, not connected to the vibrant pulse of life, and who wants to live like that?” said Dahlaw.

Their other recent collaboration was a piece called “The Knock Knock Neighborhood Show.” It was a site-specific performance at Pat Baker Park for Artown. Dahlaw and another dance artist, Rebecca Bone, moved among small cardboard houses.

“We were playing with the ideas of being inside these containers that are homes and being outside them, and the way that we can go through our lives in some frantic, busy way and totally not relate, and then finding the ways we can relate,” said Dahlaw.

Goodin played melodica—a flute-like instrument—live, accompanied by pre-recorded accordion tracks and other music as well as snippets of interviews with residents from the neighborhood near the park. The primary musical motif was the theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I live in this particular neighborhood, and I’m interested in intersections of community, the ways neighborhoods shift, and the way my particular neighborhood has all this history,” Dahlaw said.

For Dahlaw, dance is a way of exploring personal geography.

“I’m really into concepts of who we are as people, how we relate to the land, the stories that we tell ourselves and the mythologies, and how that all comprises who we are as people,” she said. “All that information—we embody it. I’m really interested in the embodiment of ideas and feelings, and how that gets expressed.”