Have you ever stopped to think about what would happen to local arts if all our best artists moved to more culturally active locales, like, say, New York, Chicago or even Miami? Logically, we'd be left with only second-rate (or worse) actors, singers, writers and musicians. All the quality would be in the imports, the out-of-town practitioners who were shipped in for a weekend. And just a glance at a Playbill would tell you whether to expect an evening of (elsewhere) stars, or, rather, a night of (local) mediocrities. And going to arts events could turn out to be quite a chore.
Fortunately, that's not the case. If you've ever seen Brian Shea or Susan Alexander act, heard Jonathan Harrison sing or The Florida Orchestra play, you know that there are first-class talents in this area, people who've chosen to stay here and practice their craft in spite of our status outside the center of the art world. And it wouldn't be wrong to feel grateful that these individuals have chosen to shine not in some major, celebrity-generating metropolis, but here where we need them.
Which brings me to Moving Current, the modern dance collective whose show, Falling Within, opens at the Hillsborough Community College (Ybor campus) Performing Arts Building this weekend. Thanks to Erin Cardinal, Cynthia Hennessy, Elsa Valbuena (currently on leave) and Lisa Tobias, this group of top-notch choreographers and dancers has been bringing first-class contemporary work to this dance-starved city since 1997. And their upcoming concert looks to be a fascinating one: Its seven new dances range from the survival of the fittest at the dinner table to a bombing incident in Bosnia and the tendency of spectators to want to overanalyze dance itself. There's one guest choreographer — D. Chase Angier of New York — but all the others are, typically, locals.
"I think that Tampa has fantastic potential for dance," says Cardinal, as we talk together at a Hyde Park Cafe. "I think the community here, if invited, can be open to new things. ... We're still growing, and constantly new things are coming into this city all the time. And I think that we could be on the verge of, sort of, a growth spurt, and hopefully within that growth spurt, the arts are included. Not just dance."
Cardinal tells me that at first she, too, was one of those performers who looked to New York as an artistic home. After graduating from the University of South Florida, she moved to The City and danced with the small Pedro Alejandro company. "And we did a few small concerts, and I liked the work, but for me to have a chance to choreograph my own work, Tampa is a much easier place. ... Technically, mentally, the work as a whole, the choreographers that I'm working with, the artists that I am involved with — they're just as good if not better than the people that I worked with in New York." She adds that she needs peace of mind in order to be her creative best, and she didn't find it in high-tension Manhattan.
Even so, it was really the creation of Moving Current that convinced her to make Tampa her home again.
"I feel like I'm having more of a direct impact on a community that is not affected by dance. New Yorkers can go see dance any day of the week, anywhere. It doesn't happen here. And I think Moving Current, along with many of the community members and the artists here, are trying to change that." She's encouraged by the growing turnout for Moving Current performances — as many as 500 ticket-buyers for a three-performance concert — and the support of USF and the University of Tampa in providing free rehearsal space. "We don't have our own space. And HCC has been really good at co-sponsoring our concerts when we're there."
So what's on the program for this weekend's concert? Well, there's "Wild Kingdom" by Angier, in which members of a family are represented by animals, and in which the audience is eventually made aware of the competitive nature of kinship. "Bosnian Woman," choreographed by Lynne Wimmer, is about an incident in which a woman in a public marketplace lost her child; and "Reach," choreographed by Hennessy, features two play-by-play commentators who describe and analyze a dance as it takes place. "Jam Tango," staged by Tobias, is made up of two tango-inspired sections, one personal and emotional, the other physical and liberating. And "Leaning Against the Sun," choreographed by Cardinal, features eight dancers who orbit around each other before taking their places "in the sun." Two other dances, staged by Valbuena and Peter Kalivas, feature music by Bruce Springsteen and Dee Moses, respectively.
But wait a minute. You wonder where the common thread is in all these dances? Don't look for one. "We try to present professional quality work," says Cardinal, "but the type of dance, what it's about - there's a freedom in that. We all come to a collective decision about whether this would be something for this particular concert that's coming up, or the space it's being performed in. The Space at HCC is at times technically limiting, so there are things we take into consideration. But we don't have any boundaries about what we can and cannot present."
Further, she says that she's willing to help spectators who feel baffled by a particular work: "I've always been open to people coming up to me after concerts and saying "What was it, what was it about?' And if they really, really want to know what my intent was, I have no problem sharing it. It's not a secret. And I think that most of the choreographers and dancers who work with us feel the same way. I think that all of us love dance so much that we just want to be able to share it, and maybe create 10 or 20 or a hundred dance lovers in this area also. Not just for our sake, but for the possibility of other dance companies coming through here and having audiences that are willing to see them. Creating a community here that's aware of dance."
Moving Current: it's a group of top professionals who've decided to do their best work. Not in New York, not in Chicago or Los Angeles, but here in the Tampa Bay area.
Now it's up to us to make them know that they're welcome.
Contact Mark E. Leib at [email protected] or call 813-248-8888, ext. 305.