Overlea dancer directs The Collective

The music on the boom box inside the small dance studio at Bryn Mawr School is "Hearts a Mess" by Gotye.

On the dance floor are 10 women moving in sync to the intricate but rhythmic piece. They sway, then reach behind themselves and, as if grabbing a handle, then smoothly pivot.

It's a rehearsal by a dance company called The Collective for their show"Shorts,"which will be performed Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28, at the Theatre Project in downtown Baltimore.

Watching the rehearsal from the sidelines is Sonia Synkowski, 32, of Overlea, co-director of The Collective and a dancer since she was 4.

A dance teacher at Patapsco High School by day, she explained why she devotes many evening and weekend hours to The Collective.

"I love the creative side of dance and I love the physical side. I also love the community side, how it brings people together. It allows me to be an artist and it allows us to be artists," Synkowski said.

The Collective engages in special events, classes, collaborations and performances throughout the year, but the focus last week was on "Shorts," which comprises 16 separate pieces, each 5 minutes or less. Illustrating The Collective's eclectic approach, the music for three of the pieces includes tunes as diverse as "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, "Sure Shot" by the Beastie Boys and "Big-Legged Woman" by Freddie King.

As a coda to "Shorts," on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Theatre Project, The Collective will host Open Marley Night, equivalent to an open mic night, but for dancers (marley is a dance-floor covering). Local dancers are invited to perform new works or works in progress.

The Collective has a decade-long relationship with the Theatre Project, the city's premier venue for original and experimental music, theater and dance, which is now celebrating its 40th year,

Anne Fulwiler, producing director for the theater, said The Collective, which is local, is a good fit with the touring companies that take the Theatre Project stage.

"It's an opportunity to reach out to our dance-oriented audience," she said.

"They (The Collective) have a real sense of professionalism. It's not necessarily New York City-caliber work, but I would put them up against some New York work I've seen," she said.

Synkowski, who co-directs The Collective with Jessica Fultz, auditioned for and joined The Collective soon after she moved to Baltimore "on a whim" in 2003. She's now sold on the city.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said.

A native of Springfield, Ill., Synkowski developed her passion for movement in childhood when she started learning dance from a woman who gave lessons in a garage.

"She was very dynamic. I was very motivated," she said.

Synkowski said the current 16 members of The Collective come from neighborhoods in the city as well as Rodgers Forge, Perry Hall, Halethorpe and other county neighborhoods.

They are all women, but she said that men are welcome and that men have been members in the past. It's just that talented males in modern dance in the Baltimore area are rare birds.

"They are few and far between," Synkowski said.

The Collective was founded in 1999 by Robin Snyder-Wiencek, owner of the dance studio Experimental Movement Concepts in Hampden. Snyder-Wiencek, who left The Collective when she moved to Pennsylvania, organized it, as the name implies, as a collective in which members take administrative roles.

Although The Collective considers itself a modern dance ensemble, it welcomes members from various dance backgrounds such as tap, jazz and ballet. Synkowski said auditions are held once a year in June and as many as 15 aspiring members will show up.

Six years ago, Martha Johnston auditioned and was accepted by The Collective. A Parkville native, she said she grew up dancing at Experimental Movement Concepts, where The Collective originated.

She said she has always danced.

"I love it. It's a form of expression. Movement can have meaning and reason," Johnston said. "As long as my body holds out, I will continue."

At present, The Collective is the dance company in residence at the Bryn Mawr School, in Baltimore, and offers classes there that are open to the public. Their residency was facilitated by Collective dancer Emily Tankersley, who joined the school faculty in 2001, Synkowski said.

"Bryn Mawr has a strong commitment to the arts, which is wonderful," Synkowski said.

Performances of "Shorts" are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28, at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors.


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