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A Little Help from Her Friends

Kimberly Mackin Enlists Peers for BMA Showcase

Melissa McDermott performs with the Kimberly Mackin Dance Co. at the Baltimore Museum of Art April 8.

By D.C. Culbertson | Posted 4/5/2000

For the past few years, choreographer Kimberly Mackin has gotten a reputation for presenting evening-length works such as Carmina Burana, which was performed at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts with live musical accompaniment by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society two years ago.

Lately, though, she hasn't had as much time as she'd like to devote to either her choreography or her company, Kimberly Mackin Dance. She has always been very active, between working with her company, teaching, choreographing for opera companies, and serving as movement coach for the Baltimore Opera Co. But she added an even more demanding responsibility to her schedule last year: directing Baltimore's Gerstung Inter-Sport Center, an "experiential movement center" that provides instruction in dance, gymnastics, rock-climbing, and other activities to children and adults. "I cannot keep creating hours of work," Mackin says, "but it's important that dance stay alive. We want to keep it cranking here." To help keep it "cranking," she enlisted the aid of some fellow choreographers and dancers in the area to help her put together a concert that will be performed April 8 at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA).

One name that must have come easily to mind was choreographer Binnie Ritchie Holum; she is not only Mackin's best friend, but also someone Mackin has worked with since both were members of the now-defunct Baltimore company Naked Feet in the 1970s. This time around, instead of staging an original work, Holum and Mackin will remount a selection by Ellen Forman, whose Philadelphia-based South Street Dance Co. Holum joined after graduating from college.

While the performance is intended as a sort of tribute to Forman, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1990, the piece itself, called "Are You Lonesome Tonight," is anything but serious. Holum describes it as "a wonderful comic look at a longtime married couple riveted to the television set." She recruited her real-life husband of 27 years, Bob Holum, to portray her spouse in the piece.

Another of Mackin's recruits for the BMA show, Lucy Bowen McCauley -- whose solo "Matre's Dance" will receive its Baltimore premiere at the concert -- has never met Mackin in person. The two hooked up by phone through Natasha Kiryanova, a member of Mackin's company. Bowen McCauley created "Matre's Dance" especially for Robert Sidney, a member and co-founder of her company, Bowen McCauley Dance. The piece, which premiered in Washington, D.C. several weeks ago, is unusual for the choreographer because, as she puts it, "I'm usually not that smitten with solos." The solo piece is set to a percussion score written by John Psathas and performed by Evelyn Glennie. Bowen McCauley describes it as "a marathon. . . . You have to keep dancing till you drop." In fact, Sidney, who is also a triathlete, had to train specifically for the piece. "He had to get really aerobically fit," the choreographer says. "It really is an amazing feat of energy and talent."

The other two guest choreographers in the BMA show -- Jayne Bernasconi, who teaches at Gerstung, and Anton Wilson, who Mackin met through a dancer with the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis -- are well acquainted with Mackin. Bernasconi, who recently moved to this area from Boulder, Colo., has extensive training and experience in modern dance and contact improvisation. But her most recent passion is the low-flying trapeze, which she took up five years ago. Mackin says they met when Bernasconi came to Gerstung to try to market her trapeze equipment and expertise. "I said, 'Oh, this is crazy, but let's go for it!' " Bernasconi is scheduled to start teaching trapeze at Gerstung in late April.

Bernasconi's piece, 1990's "Summer Salt," does not use any kind of apparatus, however. The piece employs two dancers; its title is a play on the word "somersault" (the dancers perform frequent backward somersaults) and the fact that it was choreographed during the summer. Bernasconi describes it as "a real upbeat, really playful piece, that's very physical and aerobic. [There's] a lot of theatrics, a lot of facial expression, like two children playing on a playground."

Wilson, a Severna Park native, currently divides his time between dancing with the Jennifer Muller/The Works company in New York and teaching at the Baltimore School for the Arts. "Right now, I'm literally split in half," he says, laughing. His "Steal Away," which will receive its premiere at the BMA concert, was not inspired by the old spiritual of the same name, but rather by an Emily Dickinson poem.

Wilson is reluctant to say too much about the dance itself, merely describing the poem as "thematic inspiration." He says that discussing the piece "would detract from the audience's experience." But he will say that the dance is "about a journey -- a journey in time," and contrasts three women, who represent conformity, with a couple trying to find their own individual way.

"Memories Molded," Mackin's sole work on the program, is also a premiere. During the piece, dancers manipulate large swaths of fabric strewn all over the stage in various ways. "It's all about fabrics and shape and how memories are floating, how memories are holding," she explains. "It's a lot about painting and how you're molded and shaped by memories." In addition, video of "all sorts of nude bodies intertwining and sculptured" is shown during "Memories Molded." It's the first time Mackin has used video in a dance piece. "It's been fun putting it together," she says. "But it's also scary because I'm delving into a place I've never been before, like Star Trek!"

Mackin says she's looking forward to a concert that she describes as "a medley of movement." "It's just so nice to [assemble] an eclectic concert," she says. "[It] gives me time to experiment and go places I haven't gone."

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