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Copley challenges Dance Theater 2

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Copley challenges Dance Theater 2


Amidst the hubbub of the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater engagements, a small local company can get lost in the shuffle. But Dance Theater 2, appearing next weekend at Performance Network, has its own unique story to tell.

Originally organized as Ann Arbor Dance Theater in the early ’70s, the company was revived in 1979 by Christopher Watson and Kathleen Smith and renamed Dance Theater 2. By 1983, new challenges had drawn them both away: Watson moved to Minneapolis and Smith went to Connecticut, leaving the company’s future uncertain until the DT2 board appointed J. Parker Copley artistic director last January.

Born and raised on the West Coast, Copley’s initial dance training was with the San Francisco and Oakland Ballets. When he decided to make the switch to modern dance, his first inclination was to study the Graham method. But he soon found the technique too demanding for his body. “I love the movement,” he said, “but found it was not for me.” In addition, he found the classes stark and severe, with many a dogmatist among the Graham teachers. He then investigated the Limon technique and also studied with Bella Lewitzky; both experiences were more to his liking. When New York beckoned, he followed, performing with various groups but eventually finding a home in the Mel Wong Company.

“We are actually a lot alike,” Copley mused. “Mel also grew up on the West Coast and had many of the same influences I did.” The Oriental culture of the San Francisco area, indigenous Native American culture and love of open space that are characteristic of many dancers from Western states are reflected in their work.

An escape from the sweltering New York heat brought Copley on a visit to Michigan last summer. The trip was the catalyst he needed. “I believe that art can be created any place, not just on the coasts,” he said. “I was ready to move on to new challenges.”

Copley taught classes in Jackson and Ann Arbor (he still teaches in both cities), pondered the situation a few more months in New York, then made the move to Ann Arbor. Soon after his arrival, he learned that DT2 was looking for a director and applied for the job.

His first task after getting the job was to assemble his dancers. Company auditions attracted 40 hopefuls. If not totally captivated by their technique, he was struck by their ability to move with energy and spirit. From the group, he selected seven dancers and eight apprentices. Among them are Laurice Hamp, Gordon Van Amburg and Thomas Ward (who danced with the last DT2 group), all local performers/teachers who are familiar to local dancegoers.

Works slated for the upcoming concert reflect Copley’s inclinations and concerns. “Clouds of the Unforgotten,” to music by Philip Glass, was inspired by the Hopi Indians and deals with life out of balance. “Ascendendo,” with original music by Chris Reed to be performed live on keyboard synthesizer, is a duet about seeking and high aspirations. “Domains” deals with confines of societal demands. Copley labels it “provocative.” “Wind, Willow, Whisper” has both Oriental and ritualistic overtones.

On the lighter side, “La Memoire de Mer,” to music of Satie, is a playful romp at the beach, “Gravity’s Angel” is a comical solo co-choreographed by Copley and Laurice Hamp, and “Something Mambo” is a down-home country dance set to mountain music.

Dance Theater 2 presents its season premiere, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and next Sunday at 4 p.m. at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. Tickets are $5 at the door. Call 9954242 for information.

Dance Theater 2 includes, from left, Terri Sarris, Gordon VanAmberg and J. Parker Copley.