Stepping into your place in the world

Acia Gray, director of Tapestry Dance Company
Acia Gray, director of Tapestry Dance Company (Photo by Bret Brookshire)

It's a Friday afternoon in early November, and Acia Gray, director of Tapestry Dance Company, is clearly disturbed by the escaping time. Back in the rehearsal studio after a two-city tour, the company has only two weeks to put together its new evening-length piece, Footprints. And with only 20 minutes left on this week's rehearsal schedule, there is not enough time to run the new piece from the top.

Most of the seven dancers, in sweats and footwear that ranges from tap shoes to sneakers to bare feet, have a more playful air. Some look as if they are more likely to be spotted at a skate park than in a dance studio. Occasionally, chatter or giggles break out, only to be automatically shushed by Gray or her collaborator, dancer Tasha Lawson. They're all working to piece together seven sketches and sections – developed months ago by Gray and Lawson as well as dancers Brenna Kuhn, Katelyn Harris, and Jason Janas – to form a cohesive production. Within the next several days, they will have to incorporate a live band – the world-fusion group Atash – and guest Anuradha Naimpally, a classical Indian dancer who will keep the narrative moving and infuse the piece with an Eastern vibe.

Racing against the clock, Gray decides to have the dancers walk quickly through the piece, paying special attention to the new and binding elements. Barefoot in a T-shirt and jeans, Gray works in a quick but unruffled manner, directing the dancers and conferring with Lawson. They discuss the logic of each entrance, exit, and transition: With whom? From which wing? Why? Gray is not dancing in this production – a first for Tapestry – and she blames the quick schedule. "It's so difficult to be inside and outside," she explains. "There wasn't time." Instead, Gray relies on Lawson for the "insider" point of view and devotes her own energy to shaping the big picture.

As the dancers rush through the sections, the eclecticism of the production is evident. In contrast to last year's all-tap season, this is a multiform work, containing elements of modern, tap, and body percussion. One section features Janas in a body-percussion solo he choreographed. When two women join him, all sound is slapping: feet against the floor, hands against hands, hands against bodies. Another section begins in silence, with dancers doing flowing yet rhythmic movements until the percussive music begins. "You're all awake!" reminds Gray at a musical cue. "That moment is really important."

Despite the tight schedule, Gray's focus remains on the grand theme of Footprints. It's one of awareness, she explains, and of understanding one's place in the context of the world. At the beginning of the show, the dancers move blandly, as if they're simply going through the motions. During the course of the piece, Naimpally will bestow upon each an ornate vest that Gray says is symbolic of "having arrived." As the dancers move between forms, they also move between cultures, but strong rhythms are a unifying thread. "It's about laying your footprint in the world," Gray explains. "Where did you step? What influence did you make?"

Tapestry Dance Company presents Footprints Friday, Nov. 16, 8pm; Saturday, Nov. 17, 2 & 8pm; and Sunday, Nov. 18, 2pm, at the Helm Fine Arts Center, St. Stephen's School, 2900 Bunny Run. For more information, call 773-7827 or visit www.tapestry.org.

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Tapestry Dance Company, Footprints, Acia Gray

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