Dance, Preview

A New Vision of the Dance: 3rd Law

Preview Article by Betsy Schwarm

3rd Law Dance

Fine dance is more than tutus and pirouettes. In the world of 3rd Law Dance/Theater, it’s a vibrantly collaborative art of today. The company’s upcoming spring production unites the company’s dancers with local composers Conor Brown, Jesse Manno, and Tom Wasinger to present new works intended to capture and reward the attention of current audiences, rather than just recreating what ballet has traditionally represented.

3rd Law artistic co-directors Katie Elliott and Jim LaVita attest that the production isn’t only dancing to new music. Elliott says she shaped much of the choreography from recorded conversations with the composers, rather than from the music on the page, the better to express what the composers cared most about in their creations. Then, the three composers were invited to attend dance rehearsals and view the works-in-progress. Sometimes, this led to ideas about how the music might be reshaped in some fashion to allow even more pointed dramatic impact. This was especially the case with composer Conor Brown, who, unlike his colleagues (indeed, unlike most composers in general) has an active background in dance. 

Not only is the music new; the program will also feature some innovative instrumental choices. One of composer Tom Wasinger’s works will feature a gamelan-like instrument with resonating bars of stone, rather than the traditional metal. This alteration of material, using something very old in a distinctly new fashion, promises a different timbre, mellower, perhaps earthier than is typical of gamelans. Furthermore, through his position on the music faculty at CU-Boulder, composer Jesse Manno specializes in world music influences and has no intention of delivering something that sounds quite like familiar ballets.

3rd Law artistic co-director LaVita feels that there are strong advantages to working with local composers. Not only is one investing in the vitality of the local artistic establishment, but also the creative interaction can be ongoing. It isn’t a package of music that came in the mail: it’s something with the potential to grow and change. Moreover, the exchange is not unidirectional. The dancers, too, can impact the shape of the music, which was certainly not the case when the Ballet Russes was handed The Rite of Spring in 1913. Any creative artist likes to feel that his/her needs and desires are being taken into account in the final art form. Audience members, too, likely appreciate the fact that the work they are experiencing grew out of their own community.

Jim LaVita, Co-Director

At 3rd Law, there’s a definitive give-and-take directly reflecting the company’s name, which itself recalls the last of Sir Isaac Newton’s three scientific laws: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” LaVita sees the creative process as a a truly collaborative experience with the “push and pull of ideas in the studio.” Composers, dancers, choreographers, ideally even stage designers come together to create a unified vision the expressive power of which can be shared with others.

And the audience? Elliott admits that those in attendance won’t be commanded to join in the dancing. However, she’ll make a point of speaking to the audience about each selection on the program, offering insights into the developmental process. “We want to fill our audience in on how it all happens, and give them hints about things they can expect to see.” She admits to modern dance having, in some eyes, a reputation of being challengingly abstract. With 3rd Law’s productions, whether or not there is a specific story to be told, there is, nonetheless, a creative structure that audience members can view through their own individual perspectives.

In a time when the arts have been facing increasing challenges, 3rd Law’s LaVita says his company’s presentations attempt to “speak to what we consider important here and now.” “The arts do matter,” he maintains, “especially in live performance.” Getting a glimpse of something on YouTube bears little resemblance to experiencing it personally and reacting viscerally to how it affects one at a specific moment in time. Arising directly from the resources of the Colorado Front Range as influenced by world music, 3rd Law’s productions promise to reflect the visions not only of those in the creative partnership, but also of the broader community.

At their very best, the performing arts are of the present, not of the past. Having been founded at the start of the new millennium, 3rd Law states that its purpose is to communicate “the power of live, in-the-moment performance.” For the Boulder-based ensemble and its audiences, dance is a living art form, rather than a museum.

3rd Law’s spring production, the Elision Project Vol. 2, will be on stage at the Dairy Arts Center, 26th and Walnut in Boulder, April 21, 22, and 23. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 730pm; the Sunday performance is at 4pm. Then on Saturday, June 3, 3rd Law will appear at the Arvada Center with a different production. For tickets or information, visit the company’s website

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