Choreographer Kimberly Mackin is full of surprises. So expect the unexpected when her dance company takes the stage at the Baltimore Museum of Art tonight for its first full-length concert.
Ms. Mackin, an elegant modern dancer with chiseled features, could easily be envisioned choreographing stark, introspective works to minimalist music.
Instead, the dancers in her young company tumble and leap to nursery rhymes sung by a soprano in front of cartoon cut-out sets. Then there's a sensuous duet of soaring lifts and surrendering falls, followed by a solo for a woman in an evening gown whose spasmodic movements are comically violent reactions to a narrator spouting gibberish.
lTC And Ms. Mackin's surprises are not limited to visuals. The company has a strong commitment to using live music, so there will be two opera singers, four percussionists, a cellist and guitarist. Other auditory wonders include a haiku series and a nonsense poem.
This eclectic program, a unique blend of humor and beauty, includes intensely physical works by some of the area's most vibrant choreographers -- Binnie Ritchie Holum, Jerry Krause and Gary Shaw -- danced by a corps of strong, seasoned performers.
At a recent rehearsal, Ms. Mackin had the exhausted but exhilarated look of an artistic director on the edge. Her dark eyes glittering in fatigued concentration, she clapped out a tricky rhythm for the dancers. "Up, two, three, four, run, and yes -- be assertive there!"
In this dance for five men to a driving percussion score, jazzy isolations gave way to balletic partnering. Then all joined hands in a tensile crouch, until one dancer broke free and leaped over the group. Suddenly they all dispersed like shards of shattered glass.
As the men collapsed panting for breath, Ms. Mackin took a break to talk about the impetus for her founding a modern dance company in this particular time and place.
"The time is ripe for dance in Baltimore," said Ms. Mackin. "It's been quiet too long."
Baltimore dance fans may remember Ms. Mackin from her days with the Naked Feet Dance Company, which thrived here in the '80s. Her resume lists such diverse choreographic accomplishments as opera and film and she has danced in professional companies from New York to Australia.
"My husband, Gran Wilson, is a professional opera singer," she explained, "and we've been 10 years on the road." The traveling afforded her an eclectic dance training rich in ethnic diversity, which has shaped her artistic vision.
Though sophisticated, Ms. Mackin has a down-to-earth approach dance. "I don't believe in insular movement. For me, the performance is out there," she asserted with a sweep of her hand, "with the audience. I want to communicate, to establish a rapport with them, not shut them out."
"Modern dance must be more audience-friendly," agreed Ms. Holum. By incorporating live music, she said, there's the opportunity to draw a wider audience to dance. "People who wouldn't dream of going to a modern dance concert might go to hear percussionist Robert Macht and get turned on to the dancing."
Even as she conversed, Ms. Mackin had one eye on the studio mirror, where the reflected images of Krause and Nanette Arciaga swooped and swayed to the sounds of rushing water. She watched as they rehearsed "Wake," Mr. Krause's dance about the ripple effects of water. "This is wrong, I'm off the music," cried the distraught Ms. Arciaga when a phrase went awry. "Just go with me," shouted Mr. Krause and away they swirled, looking for all the world as if they'd been swept away by an eddy.
Ms. Mackin sighed and smiled knowingly. When it comes to taking artistic risks, sometimes you just have to go with it.
What: Kimberly Mackin Dance Company
Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art
When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. tonight
Tickets: $15 ($12 for BMA members, students and senior citizens); $10 for matinee
$ Call: (410) 235-0100