Free to move
Three dancers move inside an enclosed linen sheet, with fluorescents inside as a light source. You can’t see their features, but occasionally a hand or head will poke through the structure as the dancers move along the floor at the Potentialist Workshop. While they try to figure out individual movements, Erica French gives them loose instructions. There’s some struggle, but also a lot of laughter.
This expressive dance piece is part of Moderngram Dance's newest show, “Mirrors,” which takes place this week. French and the troupe she founded and performs with has the workshop for 72 hours to make their work come to life, and while French said it has been “chaos,” it's also exactly what she wants.
“We're a lot more open to the dancers being expressive in the way they are personally,” French said. “That's partly why modern dance is a rebellion against the uniformity of ballet. If I give someone a movement, it's not exactly what I ask for. It morphs into something else, and I'm so down with that.”
That freedom of expression is something fellow Moderngram dancers and choreographers like Maggie Stack also appreciate. Stack moved to Reno from the Bay Area, where she worked as a professional dancer, and the theme of how you see yourself and how others see you is part of most pieces in “Mirrors,” including the one Stack choreographed.
“As a performer, I found it very shitty to be asked to put things on constantly,” Stack said. “'Maggie do this. Maggie do it this way. Maggie be this size, go this high, do it at this musicality for this song—and now I'm like, ‘Cool, I really don't want to do that anymore.'”
“Mirrors” is Moderngram's second show after the eight-dancer troupe was founded by French in 2017.
“I wanted a way to explore dance that was more on video, which is its own niche art form,” French said. “In lieu of finding dancers who wanted to work on a certain video project we were doing, I ended up finding ones who also wanted to dance onstage, so we had our first show, ‘Boxes.'”
That show took place in 2018 at the Bluebird Nightclub, 555 E. 4th St., and French said it has been challenging but rewarding to move Moderngram around to different venues. “We kind of created a theater in-the-round for ‘Boxes,' so there were a lot of variables that went with that, but the Bluebird were very generous to us on pricing the space, and for starving artists like us that was really awesome. And then we were able to pay for [the Potentialist] space via fundraising.”
What Moderngram is doing is not far removed from the DIY ethos of a punk show, just in a different medium. Stack finds the approach liberating. “We're all from very different backgrounds and walks of life, and have very different movement styles, but everyone has the has same idea: to just dance and create,” she said. “To walk into that was very refreshing.”
With local videographers, production designers and musicians also helping the group realize its projects, Moderngram is truly creativity in motion. Both women, though, laughed heartily when asked if they were already working on the next project.
“Right now, we are focusing on this show only,” Stack said. “It really does take an army to do this, so after this show our army needs a nice hiatus. But, we will hit the refresh button and do it all over again at some point.”