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Thursday, April 29,2010

Movement in vastness: A dancer’s meditation on empty spaces

By April Charmaine

Empty. Not only an adjective, but also a verb and a noun.

Empty (adj.): lacking reality, substance, meaning or value. Containing nothing.

Empty (verb): to discharge (itself ) of contents.

Empty (noun): something that is not full.

Empty is like throwing up. Empty is like being lonely. Empty is like a well, a deep and scary place. Or perhaps emptiness is a wonderful place of possibility. Imagine pondering this topic for nearly a year. That is what Danelle Helander and her Empty Spaces comrades Michael Zekonis and Nina Rolle did. They asked the question, “What new inspirations, dreams, and opportunities can be uncovered there?” “I had gone through a major big life change and started noticing empty space and how I was filling up my empty space. We actually started talking about the concept in August and started meeting once a week — how we feel about it, how we choose to fill up space, where it comes from,” Helander says.

Nearly a year later, the group pieced together a work of dance, music, and visual art surrounding the concept of empty spaces, and the final product features the musical and performing talents of Kelsey Kempfer, Sean Owens, Sarkis Renjilian-Burgy, Zekonis, Rolle and Helander.

Produced by the Helander Dance Theater, Empty Spaces brings to life the contemporary issues of empty space. Through dance and original sound composed by Zekonis, the program explores the possibility of hopefulness and sorrow, balancing athletic technical dance with edgy and whimsical choreography. The movement represents coexisting confusion and fascination — there is a balance between flowing movement and exacting control.

To pull off a performance like this, you need the right people.

“I chose to work with fewer people and create the daunting emptiness of the space by having fewer performers,” Helander says. “There are three dancers plus myself, six people performing and a guitar player, Michael wrote all the music, Sean did the video.”

So how did the performers translate this esoteric concept into a physical reality? First they had to find a suitable location. With a myriad of vacant spaces around Boulder, Helander was able to find major inspiration with a property owned and donated by Stephen Tebo. On discovery of the Old Rayback Plumbing Supply Building off of Valmont, the creators of the piece were automatically enamored.

“It’s an awesome warehouse space, and for all of us walking in, we were just like. ‘Wow.’ Acoustically, it was interesting and it has a real bare warehouse kind of feeling to it. It felt right. It’s a very cool space,” Helander says.

Helander, part of the Boulder Dance community since 1980, is a methodical choreographer whose works are almost always thematic. She thrives off of collaboration and seeks to continue the exploration of the empty spaces that we create and that exist within the community and ourselves.

How does one decorate or create spectacle for a show about emptiness? By manipulating ambience, of course.

Helander wanted to maintain a feeling of emptiness throughout the warehouse. With the help of Sara Rockinger, whom she met in the Dairy Center for the Arts, also the dance company’s home, they were able to decorate the space via art instillation of handmade, hollowed-out-doll-like-mannequins. This, in addition to video projections, gives the work its visual representation while adding to the vast feeling of emptiness throughout the performance piece and space with white backdrops and floors as well.

In a world where isolation and loneliness penetrate our mental and physical existence, it becomes easy to hollow out. Emptiness is almost like regurgitating something out of the system that doesn’t belong there. Maybe it is just openness and is always there. Maybe it is just a great meditation.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

On the Bill
Empty Spaces
plays at the Rayback Plumbing Building April 30 through May 2. Tickets are $15. 2775 Valmont St., Boulder, 1-800-838-3006.

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