It was six years ago when Dawn Cooper Barnes hesitantly went about forming a multicultural dance company. Now in its fifth season, the Aurora Dance Company has been a labor of love.
"I put it together rather reluctantly," Barnes said. "But it has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done."
The modern dance company will present "Works in Progress," a fifth-anniversary spectacular, at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre as part of Columbia Festival of the Arts. Barnes, who recently returned from the Ivory Coast in Africa, said the dancers have worked hard to prepare for the performance.
"They are very talented," Barnes said, as she watched a rehearsal recently. "Just wonderful."
Barnes, a professor at Howard Community College, said the idea for the Aurora company was sparked by Valerie E. Costantini, chairwoman of arts and humanities and a theater professor at HCC. Inspired by the way the Rep Stage Theatre Company was attracting theater students, Costantini thought that having a professional dance company might stimulate similar interest.
"We used to have a hard time getting a dance class going. Now we have three or four classes that are filled," said Costantini, who added that there are plans to start a dance department at the college.
Barnes said she set out building her company with a specific goal in mind.
"The idea was to reflect the multicultural perspective," Barnes said. "We wanted to show an appreciation of many different forms of art so that there would be ethnic and cultural diversity."
At a recent rehearsal, dancers Shantay Epps, Menchu Esteban and Allison Hicks swayed to the beat in front of a backdrop lighted blue, green and red. Johnette Henderson, a choreographer and acting co-director of Aurora, watched as the three women performed one of the pieces, "Beat of the Drums."
"Take a break," Henderson yelled as the music stopped. "That was the best you guys have ever done it. That was very clean."
Hicks, who did some choreography for the show, said audiences will get a lot out of the performances.
"They are all quality, wonderful pieces," said Hicks, 23.
Epps, who lives in Baltimore and has been dancing with the company for a year, said the show will display each dancer's talent.
"It shows our own individuality," she said. "We all have different styles and ways of creativity."
Esteban, a native of Spain, said she enjoys being part of a company that challenges stereotypes.
"We really try to draw all types of people in," Esteban said. "We strongly believe that as a multicultural company that you don't have to be a particular color to be able to dance. It's about freedom."
Henderson said the performance marks the return of Barnes. Henderson said that she and co-director Ellyne Brown Downs worked hard to carry on the tradition of excellence that Barnes has instituted within Aurora.
"We were really nervous about Dawn leaving," Henderson said. "But it worked out, and God was fantastic in allowing us to be assisted by so many creative and talented people.
"Everyone from John Struss, who is doing our lighting, to William Goffigan, who is doing music, has really helped this show come together," she added. "We could not have done it without everyone involved."