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Longing and Belonging: Full Circle Dance Company

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Most Full Circle Dance Company members’ professional artistic lives begin again at evening rehearsals. After leaving their jobs in law, education, and science, where they rely on their mental attention, here they begin to engage their other fine-tuned instruments: their bodies. Shoes are replaced by ballet slippers, and suits are shed for leotards. The dancers, diverse in their appearances, ages, and backgrounds, start to warm up in unison, and there is a collective melting of the day and melding of the group.

The company’s home dance studio is in Morton Street Dance Center, which resides in the restored 19th-century Meadow Mill complex. The company, now in its 22nd year, is rehearsing for its newest showcase, HOME: Longing and Belonging, which takes place on November 19th and November 20th, 2022, at the Baltimore Theatre Project. The eighteen company dancers will perform six unique works developed by six choreographers on their interpretation of home, four of which are premiere pieces.

“It brings together so many different perspectives on what it means to have a home, feel at home, and be at home,” says Donna L. Jacobs, Full Circle’s Artistic Director. There will also be a more casual (and free) “picnic-friendly preview performance” on October 9 at Eager Park (900 N. Wolfe Street), which will also feature youth artists from Morton Street Dance Center.

Ahead of the upcoming shows, I photographed some of the company’s dancers and interviewed Jacobs to learn more about the dance world in Baltimore.

 

Dancer Amanda Rosenbaum
Teresa Hinton, Hope B. Byers, and Marina Wright
Teresa Hinton, Hope B. Byers, and Marina Wright

Saskia Kahn: What kind of dance does Full Circle specialize in?

Donna L. Jacobs: We draw on various modern dance traditions to tell important stories we think will be meaningful to our audiences. We always want to create opportunities for our audience to think, to be moved, and to connect. We believe dance can help us explore our commonalities and our differences. It can challenge us, but it can also delight and inspire us.

What are some of your signature movements or themes that you have returned to as a company?

Our signature way of working is to take a deep dive into a theme, commissioning diverse choreographers to approach it from any angle and giving them the tools they need—dancers, costumes, time, rehearsal space—to make something substantial. Often the themes we choose to touch on are issues related to justice and inequality. We know dance can provide a productive new lens on complicated matters. It is amazing how different the completed works are, yet they always shed reflective light on the theme.

Tell me how the concept of “Home” was chosen for the upcoming showcase of dance pieces.

When we set out to choose a theme, we often begin in a circle. We have 18 dance artists of very different ages and backgrounds. We raise potential themes to explore, and we see what resonates. We need a theme that feels authentic and important to our artists. It is often a long conversation, and also often a tearful one, as people share personal stories that relate to the themes.

I think the pandemic, when so many people were confined to their homes while others were trapped abroad and could not get to their homes, added resonance to this theme. And we could not ignore the highly visible members of our community who are not in stable housing and the public discussion of eviction policies during the pandemic. Finally, after 22 years of making art in Baltimore, understanding ourselves and our place in our home city seemed important. Our dancers come from all over the region, but for every single one, Baltimore City is a dance home.

 

Choreographer/Dancer Hope B. Byers (left) and Teresa Hinton
Dancer Ni’Kera Perkins
From bottom left: Ni’Kera Perkins, Kakuti Davis Lin, Elizabeth Hafey, and Nicole Tucker-Smith
Dancer Elizabeth Hafey

What music should new audiences expect to accompany the dances?

The music is rich in its variety. The score for one of the new works includes an original poem created and recorded just for us by nationally known local poet Gayle Danley. It grew from conversations with the dancers about women’s experiences as we age and how we can continue to feel at home in our bodies. It is powerful and personal, and it seems really relevant right now as we discuss women’s autonomy over their physical bodies. In this show, the audience will also hear all sorts of instrumental music, a protest anthem, and snippets from historical speeches.

During rehearsal, you mentioned that sometimes you see the choreography in your “mind’s eye while sitting on the couch or driving in the car” before arriving at the studio to bring it to life. Will you share more about how choreography goes from concept to form? How long does an original piece take to complete?

Every choreographer’s process is different. Some come to the studio with choreography ready to teach. Others come with ideas, ready to experiment. Some begin with musical inspiration. Others invest hours in research before even considering creating a step. Some seek extensive input from the dancers, both in terms of storytelling and improvisation. I think the beauty of our method for putting together a show is that it allows all of these artistic approaches to coexist. This challenges the dancers and is a complex road, but in the end, we can present these different lenses and voices to our audiences.

Are any of the movements improvised?

We often use improvisation during the rehearsal process. In fact, our recent free workshop at the Baltimore Museum of Art used improvisation extensively to develop ideas incorporated into the work. Sometimes we also use improvised elements on the stage. Each choreographer works differently, so each piece has completely different ground rules. That’s the exciting part!

How does someone become a company dancer?

Our dancers are selected by audition. Often, they get to know us first by taking our open company class. Auditions are held as needed. Our dancers often stay with Full Circle for a long time. Roughly half of the current roster has been with us for a decade or more.

I noticed that many of the dancers’ other professional lives are not connected to dance, and that rehearsals usually occur at the end of a weekday. Can you share how the dancers balance their everyday lives with their commitment to the company?

It’s a challenge! It is true that our dancers include teachers, scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, a NASA engineer, a physician, and more. Many are also parents. But Full Circle is not a hobby for our dancers. These are professionally trained and committed artists who bring their extraordinary life experiences to the table as we strive together to create high-quality and important work. They are in rehearsal 11 months a year and perform all the time. We try to treat each other with empathy and support while also making the work we do a top priority in our lives. It is indeed hard to balance, but I think most of our dancers would feel profoundly unbalanced if they were not dancing.

 

Choreographer/Dancer Kakuti Davis Lin
Choreographer/Dancer Hope B. Byers
Artistic Director Donna L. Jacobs leading rehearsal for Full Circle Company Members at their home studio in the Morton Street Dance Center

The dancers’ bodies are diverse in size, age, ethnicity, and race. What role does inclusivity play in Full Circle?

As an African American woman who has often functioned as “the only” in many corporate environments, diversity is very important to me. The arts, in my view, are often the best place to foster change. There is often a special, serious kind of willingness to adapt. Why not use this medium to effect change? Diversity has been a hallmark of Full Circle since its inception. Our dancers have had many transparent, insightful, thought-provoking, and even difficult conversations. And although sometimes challenging, it may be the glue that keeps so many of us coming back.

While the dance world is changing for the better, true racial diversity remains rare in professional dance companies. The more diverse we are, the more able we will be to reflect multiple aspects of the human condition in our work. Regarding body diversity, our interest is in each artist’s ability to use the body as a nuanced instrument to convey ideas, emotions, and stories. Our artists are all highly accomplished and highly trained dancers. We value and indeed relish their different strengths and wonderfully varied beauty.

What is the culture of professional dance like in Baltimore? Where do you see the future of dance in Baltimore heading?

Baltimore is a training ground for some of the best dancers in the world. We have at least two excellent high schools—Baltimore School for the Arts and Carver—that train extraordinary dancers. We have some of the best college dance programs in the country right here—Peabody, Towson, Goucher, UMBC. We have HBCUs turning out terrific dancers. We have strong studios. We have a vibrant dance crew scene.

I would hope to see growth in both support and opportunities for homegrown professional dance organizations so we can keep all this wonderful dance talent in Baltimore. Baltimore is so rich in art. We have incredible museums, music, and theatre. I think professional dance currently has a less stable base of financial support than these other pillars, though no less a talent pool, and so I think and hope we will see that change.

 

*****

Get tickets for HOME: Longing and Belonging, on November 19 and 20, 2022, at the Baltimore Theatre Project.

Free Performance: There is a more casual and free preview performance on October 9 at Eager Park (900 N. Wolfe Street), also featuring youth artists from Morton Street Dance Center.

 

 

Header Image: Choreographer/Dancer Nicole Tucker Smith

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