HeartDance to present contemporary dance works

HeartDance, a contemporary dance company directed by Robin Bryant, will present seven of the Ashland choreographer's original dance works in a program slated to debut at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at the Craterian Theater in Medford.

Bryant and the six dancers that make up her company will welcome guest artists Rory Finney, a dancer from northern California, and Brent Florendo, of Ashland.

The company specializes in lyrical, flowing contemporary dance. Pieces in the program will range from "Autumn's Interplay," a three-person dance celebrating the beauty and diminishment of Autumn, to "Soul of a Woman," a Bryant solo representing the journey of women everywhere, to "Voices Joining," in which the company's guests will join in three pieces honoring American Indians and their stewardship of Earth.

Bryant has taught dance in Jackson and Josephine counties since the 1970s, not counting stints in New England, Canada and Africa. She took last year's Craterian concert program to France to great reviews and was planning a repeat visit with this year's show, but accommodations problems led her to shelve those plans for now.

Bryant began dancing with ballet and tap lessons at age 5 in Fullerton, Calif., and moved on to modern dance in high school. She taught in Fullerton and continued her studies with noted New York dance teacher Gloria Newman and with Martha Graham dancer Ethel Winters.

"I felt like I was studying history," she says. "She (Graham) put a new way of moving on the map."

Graham's spare dances were marked by strong, precise movements and emotional muscle contractions. Bryant's dances are characterized by more curved and flowing movements.

Bryant moved to Oregon in the early 1970s, teaching at Rogue Community College and forming a dance company which she took to area grade schools and high schools. HeartDance is her third company. She teaches weekly classes in dance improvisation and modern technique to dancers of different ages and levels.

Upcoming workshops include Dance as a Healing Art Dec. 8 and Dance as a Communication Art Dec. 9. Workshops are $50 to $65. Call 488-9504 or visit .

Bryant started work on the new program in January. "Whaaaas This!?" is a piece for three dancers portraying a riff away from conventional order. "Late Afternoon Shadows" represents a late moment in a day filled with magic and mystery. "Soul of a Woman," a Bryant solo, represents the journey of women everywhere.

With all the variety on tap, Bryant says she's particularly excited about the American Indian-themed pieces.

"I wanted to show my concern for the planet," she says. "And I wanted to honor Native Americans for their connection with the Earth. 'Joining Voices' honors a culture that was here before we came."

Florendo, of Ashland, who also teaches Native American studies, is a traditional Wasco dancer, singer and storyteller, who also studied ballet and contemporary dance.

Bryant says she sometimes reaches a point in the creation of a new dance in which she elicits a little improvisational help from her students to add texture to the dance.

"I draw movement from them beginning with improvisation," she says. "Then I help them hone it and re-shape it to fit what I want to say.

"If we need to create shapes of the Earth, then each will have a way to explore that, and I re-form it. Every person on Earth moves in a different way."

Clarinetist Larry Lewis, of Ashland, will play a half-hour music program before the dances. The dances will be accompanied by poetry by the English poet Carolyn Askar, read by Peggy Rubin, of Ashland. Recorded music will include songs by Jami Sieber, Thomas Newman, Robbie Robertson, Ulali, Pat Metheny and others.

Bryant says she develops a new dance program each year. She hopes to reach the children of Southern Oregon with new programs.

"I'm not sure what that will look like," she says. "But what I want to discover what it is we can do with dance in the Northwest."

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