Most traditional dance troupes develop a repertoire of dances that they can return to again and again, performing the works onstage before a seated audience.
Then there’s Ground Series.
The nine-member Santa Fe troupe — actually, the co-founder calls it a curatorial platform and dance collective — develops works specific to a particular site, be it a warehouse, public building or gallery, and performs the finished pieces a limited number of times. Then it’s over.
And, in many cases, their performance can range across a room, building or grounds, with the audience wandering along with the dancers.
“They’re invited to come as close or as far from the dancers as they want,” said Sarah Ashkin, co-founder and co-director.
But what if the viewers get in the way of a planned movement?
“That’s an exciting and thrilling improvisation to have someone in your way,” she responded.
Clearly, this isn’t your mama’s dance company. They even put tree stumps on their heads.
You might be able to catch that move when Ground Series brings its site-specific piece, “Dancing in a Hard Place,” to the Muñoz Waxman Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts this weekend.
They will be moving in, over and around exhibits by Cannupa Hanska Luger and Ellen Babock, the latter of whom worked with the dance group to make sure her lectern-like pieces are strong and stable enough to support their action, according to Angie Rizzo, visual arts curator at CCA. “Ellen is really excited about that happening,” Rizzo said of the dance. “It’s a physical interpretation of her work.”
“There is a really beautiful congruence (of the exhibits) with the content material of the dance,” Ashkin said. “It’s dealing with the earth and its relationship with humans in a time of climate change.”
Rizzo, who has been curator at CCA for about a year now, said she is committed to an effort to bring in more performances, particularly contemporary dance, into CCA.
To develop “Dancing in a Hard Place,” Ashkin said Ground Series has been in touch with the artists whose work will be on display, learning about their work and the ideas behind it, while also inviting them to watch rehearsals and give feedback.
Also, each member of the group offered writings about the environment that they found to be significant, winnowing them down to specific quotes that the dancers found most inspiring. Small dance sections were developed to express the 13 chosen quotes and then the troupe searched for ways to sew them together into a 55-minute performance, Ashkin said.
“Dance also serves as storytelling,” she pointed out, adding that Ground Series dancers even translate phonics into dance gestures.
The company also has held open rehearsals and community conversations to involve the public in the development of the piece, as well as giving people experience in developing personal reactions to dance.
Ground Series started in Oakland in 2012, said Ashkin, but moved here when the Santa Fe native returned as a teacher and administrator in the Dance Department at the New Mexico School for the Arts. Ground Series originally started by looking at the question of how art and the community could intersect, making it more exciting and accessible for everyone, she said. After Ashkin brought it with her to Santa Fe when she joined NMAS, it took on a greater dance focus, but with similar ideas behind it.
This fall, Ashkin is heading to London to complete a master’s degree in dance, politics and sociology at the University of Roehampton, but she said she fully expects Ground Series will continue without her presence. “It’s a big corps of dancers that decided to work together here,” she said.
Ground Series previously has presented works in Santa Fe at NMSA and at Federal Park, with the dances unfolding along a central path.