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Classical 101

The Columbus Modern Dance Company Premieres New Dance Works

 Columbus Modern Dance Company rehearses Dustin Crumbaugh's 'Seek'
Jennifer M. Hambrick
Columbus Modern Dance Company rehearses Dustin Crumbaugh's 'Seek'

Death is one of the great mysteries of life.

In the new dance work Seek, St. Louis-based choreographer Dustin Crumbaugh explores the ways we seek to understand death and come to terms with our own mortality.

The Columbus Modern Dance Company (CoMo Dance Company) commissioned the work and will give the first performances of it on a program called Seek/Find. With this program, CoMo Dance continues its tradition of collaborating with choreographers nationwide.

Crumbaugh says a quote he read about the nature of death inspired him to explore the subject in dance.

“It was either (Buddhist masters) Thich Nhat Hanh or Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche I was reading, and I came across a passage about life and death being two sides of the same coin,” said Crumbaugh. “It was something that triggered me into really thinking about ideas and images around the limit of what our senses can perceive and the idea that we are not these separate entities in ourselves, as we tend to think that we are.”

Throughout Seek, a long black piece of fabric twists and turns, serving as a metaphor for death and the many ways it affects us.

“The fabric really dances and behaves and morphs in several different ways,” Crumbaugh said. “Sometimes it’s something that is obscuring a moment to keep it a mystery, or it’s revealing something that the audience hasn’t seen before, or it’s literally helping propel bodies around the space.”

Crumbaugh created the choreography for Seek in collaboration with Columbus Modern Dance Company. He gave the dancers prompts and questions to respond to in movement. Together they refined those movements into a cohesive vocabulary, from which they built the piece.

“It gives everyone in the room a sense of ownership or a stronger connection to it than just me giving instruction,” Crumbaugh said.

Some of the movements that emerged during this collaborative process suggest fear, others are playful, still others evoke feelings of heavy grief.

“Everybody has very individual perceptions and attitudes towards death slash the afterlife slash whatever happens next. And I wanted to try to encompass as broad of a slice of that as I could imagine in the work,” Crumbaugh said.

In addition to Seek, CoMo Dance Company will also premiere Pittsburgh-based choreographer Kelsey Bartman’s new commissioned work, The Bluebell, as well as CoMo Dance Company member Kimberly Taylor’s new work Until Dawn. The company will give its first complete performance of Lindsay Hawkins’ Conversations and Fits, in a restaging by St. Louis-based Elyse Guttmann, who performed in the Modern American Dance Company’s (MADCO) original cast of Conversations and Fits before retiring from dancing two years ago.

The live dance works will be interspersed with screenings of video pieces the company created during the pandemic. Among the videos is Collective Solitude, CoMo Dance Company Executive and Artistic Director Laura Puscas’ video interpretation of choreographer Ellen Vierse’s dance piece break-through. The video speaks to the unique ways technology has brought people together amid the isolation of the pandemic.

“(Break-through) is about being boxed in and being isolated, so we felt that it was really appropriate to take that and turn it into a video where we actually filmed one dancer at a time, for safety reasons,” Puscas said.

“We make it look like there are four dancers dancing at a time.”

The Columbus Modern Dance Company performs Seek/Find Sept. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. in the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s Van Fleet Theater. Information at comodance.org.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.