FEEL THEIR MUSCLE 


Talk of "something different" always stirs curiosity in this town, and that's one of the reasons why the Shades of Limbo performance by the Voci modern dance company is such a highly anticipated affair. It will be spectacularly different: Inside the Mad Cow Theatre, two performance spaces – one themed "light" and the other "dark" – will be adjoined by the lobby, which will serve as "limbo." The audience, too, will be in motion, drifting from light to dark and in between, taking in the dancers' interpretations of Eric Yow's kinesthetic choreography. Excited by lithe bodies, dramatic lighting and stirring costumes, attendees should find the atmosphere intoxicating.

Voci has always been something different. In spring 2001, it was a loosely organized artists' collective struggling to define its future. One thing became apparent to vivacious dancer Adrienne Nichols: If Voci was to become a serious contender in Orlando's cultural community, where modern dance had no presence, the group would need more than talented dancers and creative vision. Voci needed to become a viable business. Several years later, Nichols, now the executive director, has done the dirty work, hanging up her dancing shoes ("I miss it terribly") in order to establish Voci as a not-for-profit operation eligible for grants, funding and its piece of the entertainment-dollar pie.

Just as important, Voci's handful of public performances over the last few years have seduced both audiences and arts moguls – all left begging for more. The recognition of the company's professionalism and quality keeps the phone ringing, says Nichols.

"And I think it's just because we, as a team, put our minds to this, and we made sure that this happened because this community really needed this. And it is evident from the feedback with the community."

That feedback, Nichols says, is not limited to "an increased number of audience members for every production that we do – particularly every production that we are headlining – but also the increase in the number of inquiries and the amount of interest that is coming in from really legitimate arts groups, like Orlando Opera, Mad Cow Theatre, etc., etc.

"We're getting money now. People are actually signing on as members of the company (www.vocidance.org)."

The out-of-the-blue invitation from Mad Cow that initiated the two-week run of Shades of Limbo was just a "fluke," says Nichols. "Mad Cow called us up and said, 'We want you to use our space and we want you to do something so totally outrageous that's never been done here before. And we've seen your work; we know you guys can do it.'"

To get it done, Nichols (who also works a full-time business job at Disney), went to her partner, Voci artistic director Eric Yow, 25, who has danced at Disney since 2000, when he came to town and began collaborating with Nichols. Yow, both a dancer and a choreographer, graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, attended The Juilliard School on scholarship and was a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Ensemble.

Nichols describes Yow's choreography as being fairly structured for modern dance and "very, very musical. He can listen to a Bach fugue, and he can take the clarinet part apart and say to the dancers, 'OK, you're going to be doing the clarinet, and you're going to be doing this flute solo over here – and oh, do you hear that undertone with the bass there?' He has this ear that is so totally amazing."

It was a visit to Mad Cow that inspired Yow's nontraditional presentation. In order to open up as many seats as possible, Yow took over both the Stage Left and Stage Right spaces as well as the lobby, visualizing his realms of light (where the dancer are "sweet little angels that are so beautiful and fluid they dance like water") and dark (with dancers that have "passion and spark and who dance like lightning – visceral and sharp").

"Generally, when you go to a dance concert you watch several different pieces," he says. "Here, the audience gets really involved. The theaters are very small – you're getting action in your face. ... The setup offers four different options and paths to follow. And I think everyone's perception will be different depending on which venue you see first."

Armed with his concept, Yow starts thinking about emotions and music that make him feel a "certain way." "When I have a piece of music that I know I want to include, I listen over and over again, and I start seeing patterns of movement in my head. And then I get with the dancers and start putting steps with the dancers." His eclectic selection of music for this production includes the soundtrack from Road to Perdition by Thomas Newman, as well as compositions by Philip Glass, John Adams, Karl Jenkins and George Winston.

"Shades of Limbo is kind of like a tug of war between light and dark on the human psyche and human spirit," says Nichols. The 19 dancers in the performance include some of Voci's senior members – Heather Gleason, Julie Colombino and Shawanda Thompson. Other dancers were drawn from Valencia Community College and Dr. Phillips High School.

"They are such amazing dancers, and I am floored by them," Nichols says. She's no slouch herself. Raised on ballet, the self-professed New Jersey "bun head" studied dance in England, France, Pennsylvania and New York City. It was when she attended college at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., that she was introduced to the miracle of modern dance.

"Modern dance is an expression of the whole self," she says. "It kind of takes dance in general off the pedestal – you know, having to wear your tutu and pointe shoes and be beautiful – and it allows the individual to be more free."

Coming up next for Voci is a December event, the details of which are still unfolding. Yow will take a break from this one, and Nichols has readied guest choreographers to deliver another unique experience to Voci's audience.

"Now is the hardest time, stepping into the public spotlight and public consciousness. And I'm looking forward to it," she says. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she adds, "And I'm scared shitless."


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