The Baltimore Dance Round Robin

Feb. 26 and 27 at the Lumberhaus, 1801 Falls Road

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Last year,



Baltimore Sun

noted that the city “has a reputation as being inhospitable to dance.” Local choreographer/director/dancer-about-town Lily Susskind begs to differ. When prompted, she rattles off a list of thriving Baltimore dance communities: social partner dance (swing, salsa, tango); capoeira; burlesque; circus arts like hooping and aerials; Baltimore club dance; breakers, poppers, lockers. There’s hand dancing, also known as D.C. Swing, a permutation of swing dancing that has its origin in this region. There’s not a ton of contra dancing in Baltimore, but there’s plenty in the region. Susskind gets visibly excited as she goes on; she’s not bouncing in her chair at a Remington coffee shop, but she might as well be. “You can go to Windup Space on a Friday night, and there’s just crews and crews of breakers,” she says with genuine glee. “Free, amazing dance at a bar in Station North.”

It’s just this enthusiasm that Susskind and co-organizer Caroline Marcantoni hope to harness at Baltimore’s first-ever experimental dance round robin, shaking things up Feb. 26 and 27 at the Lumberhaus (1801 Falls Road) in the Station North Arts District. Featuring pieces by both Marcantoni and Susskind’s Effervescent Collective, the show also includes b-boy crew the International Flow Syndicate, performing artist Jake Dibeler, and the Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective, among others; the Effervescent Collective’s web site notes, “There will also be aerial vogueing, strawberry sauce, performative Popping, and twist-tie accessories.” The pieces, all less than five minutes, are united by a common attitude that Susskind describes as “upbeat, Saturday-night appropriate.” She leans in, grinning, and promises “a lot of sass.”

In many ways, the DIY dance movement has been a long time coming. As an art form, dance is amazingly accessible—all you need, after all, is a body and some space to move around in; music helps, but isn’t necessary. But while house shows, underground galleries, and warehouse theater have long had a local presence, dance has had a harder time gaining a foothold. When Urbanite published its “State of the Arts” article last year, Baltimore dance wasn’t even mentioned.

In part, Susskind points out, this situation is because the dance world is still dominated by an outdated high/low-art split: “Real” dancers are rail-thin, classically trained, and perform on a stage; the rest of us just flail around in clubs. And it’s just this division that Susskind and Marcantoni are hoping to dissolve—with both the dance round robin and their other movement-based projects. According to Marcantoni, dance is inherently democratic. “Everyone can dance,” she points out. “When you see a good dance performance, you’re physically moved—you’re stimulated on a level where you too want to dance, even if you don’t want to perform.”

That’s one reason the round robin format—in which the audience gathers in the middle of the room and dancers set up around the perimeter, performing with no breaks between acts—appealed to the two organizers: In order to see all the different performances, audience members have to move within the space, reorienting themselves with each new act. It’s also a way of paying homage to Baltimore’s underground music.

“Before I moved to Baltimore, I’d heard about the round robin [tours put on by Wham City],” Marcantoni says (she moved here from Charleston, S.C., last April). “It sounded like one of the coolest ways to see a show. It takes away the hierarchical headliner bullshit, to put the performers all on the same level and have the audience just immersed in the environment.”

Or, as Susskind puts it, “It’s an experience, something you’re more participating in than just witnessing.”

And getting audiences moving—maybe even moving so much that they’re not audiences anymore, but performers in their own right—is part of the project too. Both nights of the round robin close with DJ sets (Saturday’s by Yours Truly, Sunday’s by Aran Keating of AK Slaughter), allowing audience members and performers the chance to engage in a little spontaneous body-moving. “We hope the whole thing boils over into an all-out get-down,” Susskind says. “Folks will be compelled to shake their shit.”

The dance round robin will be the second major production hosted by the Lumberhaus, the dance studio/performance space co-run by Susskind, Marcantoni, Eve Hanan, and Meghan Flanigan. The first, last fall’s Pluto Dances, was “pretty much packed” for each of its three nights, according to Marcantoni, proving to the Lumberhaus hosts that there is an audience for movement-based art in Baltimore. “I’m not in New York for a reason,” Susskind says. Marcantoni is similarly grateful for the city’s supportive artistic community: “So many artists here are fans of things that are very different from what they create.”

While the organizers are already thinking about what a second dance round robin might look like, they’re also pushing for dance to be integrated into other kinds of creative expression. “Combining the physical dynamic with bands, installation, visual art—the possibilities are pretty much endless if you have the space and the audience,” Marcantoni says. Susskind imagines a world where people (or companies) turn to dance the way we currently turn to graphic design. “Show me any building, and I’ll make a dance on it,” she says. “Bring it on!” Fans of the Effervescent Collective can look forward to Claire Cote’s video game-inspired dance at the 2011 Transmodern Festival.

For now, though, the Lumberhaus dancers are reaching out to the community in other ways. The space hosts several free or low-cost classes in everything from belly dance to contact improvisation. And because making connections between communities is important to Susskind, she’s just launched a web site that she hopes can act as a focal point for anyone interested in learning, performing, or watching dance in Baltimore:

Looking back on the year she’s lived in Baltimore, Marcantoni seems awed by the growing enthusiasm for dance. “Most of the pieces [in the round robin] didn’t exist a year ago, even some of the groups,” she says. “But now they’ve cultivated these really awesome pieces of art, and there’s a venue to show them, and an audience for them.”