She wants audiences to leave iDENTiTY uplifted
By Dwight Hobbes
You don’t need to be a dance aficionado, or even be particularly fond of the art form, to understand and appreciate where visionary choreographer-dancer Karen L. Charles is coming from. Artistic director at Threads Dance Project (TDP), she firmly believes in expanding dance beyond the conventional pigeonhole as just a performance vehicle, a venue in which technical proficiency is the priority.
For her, although the essentials of technique are fine, cultural, personal and spiritual expression add vital dimensions.
“The feedback I get from audience members,” Charles reflects, “is that dance speaks to people’s spirits.” She says of dance in general, “Moments of beauty, those moments of inspiration [are important]. Art is the keeper of the culture, a catalyst of the culture.”
You can go to www.threadsdance.org and read her intent to “speak the truths of the human condition through dance and have the audience experience those truths through the dance performance. TDP seeks to viscerally connect the music, movement and meaning of being human.
“The purpose…is to create dances that explore those aspects of our nature that make us members of one race: humans. [It] seeks to examine, expose and celebrate the threads that bind humans together, and create dialogue, acceptance and understanding for the audience through the dance experience.” Threads Dance Project showcases iDENTiTY, choreographed by Charles, at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
The Minnesota Fringe Festival “is such a unique opportunity to bring our company’s talent to a broader audience,” Charles says. “My dances are designed to remind people of our collective, connected. [This] show explores how we desperately seek to identify ourselves through relationships and experiences.”
New to Twin Cities audiences, TDP has two successful seasons under its belt at The Lab Theater and is now in a position, this early in its existence, to significantly broaden its exposure by bringing in new audiences from the Fringe Festival, which has become the nation’s most well-attended such venue.
To be clear, while Threads Dance Project thrives as a fledgling entity operating a full nine months annually (pushing to perform year round), Charles’ status and track record are nowhere near that of a neophyte.
A profoundly accomplished veteran upholding a rock-solid reputation, she danced in companies across America, among them Room to Move Dance Company (Atlanta, GA), Susan Warden Dance Company (Kansas City, MO), Modern Lab Dance Company and Pittsburgh Choreography Continuum. She studied as a fellow at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and was founder-principal instructor of Discovering Dance (Atlanta), founding principal-executive director at Main Street School of Performing Arts, and director at Perpich Arts High School. Since 2010, she’s been a member of the International Association of Blacks in Dance.
It goes without saying that a knowledgeable, experienced hand is at the reins. Additionally, sitting on the Threads Dance Project board of directors is as influential a ringer as one might hope for — Twin Cities dance legend, and Karen Charles’ mentor, Mary Easter. Easter asked her at one point, when TDP was getting on its feet, “What exactly are you trying to do?”
The answer came: “I want to touch people’s spirits. That’s very hard to do, but that’s my ultimate goal, when someone leaves my show and they feel uplifted.”
Easter’s response was a succinct, affirming “Okay.”
For a climate quick to congratulate itself for multiculturalism, the Twin Cities arts scene is conspicuously compartmentalized. Charles sustains cross-cultural participation as a staple of the diverse, 10-member Threads Dance Project that range in age from 21 to 40.
“[The] dancers are from all walks of life. All shapes, sizes, ethnicities.” Including one Wilson Jesus da Fonseca, hailing all the way from Brazil. “A woman came to [our] first show and said, ‘Oh, your dancers just look so different.’ That just resonates with people.”
She notes that dance is a perfect vehicle for communicating across cultures. “When [da Fonseca] came here last year, he spoke very little English. But in the studio, we don’t need the words. So, that’s the kind of message I like to resonate with people. If you have the moment, you can still express [yourself].
“The diversity enriches the company, and I’m looking for more of that. I won’t have finished my mission until Threads Dance Project completely reflects the diversity that exists.”
Threads Dance Project’s next performance run is at Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave S. in Minneapolis, from Thursday, October 11 through Sunday, October 14. See their website at www.threadsdance.org for more information.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.