Imagine an evening of five competitive groups of dancers paired with five choreographing duos, and they are given only one hour to create an impressive performance piece.
Then imagine that each team is also assigned a “secret ingredient” that must be worked into that dance. Add in a set of judges, the greedy eyes of hundreds of audience members and an outrageous master of ceremonies, and you will have created Repertory Dance Theatre’s annual fundraising event, “Charette.”
On Saturday, the RDT performers mingled with 35 dancers from the community and local universities, and bravely took on this daunting task.
“The dancers are an important part of the artistic process,” Linda Smith, RDT’s artistic director, said. “Really it ends up being team work between the choreographers and the dancers. Some of it is set improvisation, some of it is exact choreography; it is an exciting challenge. People are amazed at what they can do under such extreme pressure in record time and come up with such amazing invention.”
Patterned after the popular Food Network series, "Iron Chef," RDT’s version of “Charette” took the stage for the first time seven years ago. It has now become not just a fundraiser but also a regular part of the RDT schedule.
“’Charette’ in the 21st century means a kind of a group-think process of creation or problem-solving,” said KUED television personality Ken Verdoia, who acted as the event’s emcee for the fifth year.
The panel of judges included Chris Vanocur, a local journalist and Peabody award winner; Margene Conde of Miss Margene’s creative classroom and her husband, Kevin Conde; dance studio owner Janet Gray; and choreographer Peter Christie.
For the first time, a spot on the judging panel was also auctioned to the audience. The bidding was heated, but a $250 donation finally landed the lucky winner in the judge’s seat.
The dancers were divided into five groups and distributed to choreographing twosomes along with a surprise secret ingredient. This year’s secret ingredients were things found in the basement of the theater, and included items like wings and capes, folding chairs, sticks and hoops, hoses and pillows. The teams were then banished to their “creative cauldrons” to build their dances.
While the dancers worked, audience members were free to wander the halls and stop in each studio to watch the creative process come to life. Onlookers munched on goodies as dances took shape before their eyes. Patrons were able to vote for their favorite piece by purchasing RDT funny money and using that to "bribe" the judges.
“It has become a great success. People really look forward to it,” Smith said. “Every year is just a little bit different. We really want to let people know about the artistic and creative process.”
Spectators also participated in a silent auction. Vacation getaways, massages, an RDT private performance and pieces of art were auctioned to raise money for dance scholarships to RDT’s community school.
After an hour of hurried creation, teams and audiences shuffled back into the theater to view the finished pieces. Some dances were light, some were provocative, some were humorous — but all of them were entertaining.
With capes flying, sticks pounding and pillow fights spontaneously erupting, the stage became a writhing den of focused activity. RDT dancer Nathan Shaw won an award for the most memorable performance after he hefted each member of his flock of female dance companions over and around a group of folding chairs.
While votes were tallied, the eight dancers of the RDT company presented a unique piece of modern dance involving dancers frozen at random moments and then shuffled around the stage. The performance was inviting and friendly, and even more enchanting when Verdoia reported that the wrong music had been played so the RDT dancers were just making up the dance as they went along.
The highlight of the evening was the crowning of the 2012 Iron Choreographer. To overwhelming applause, Melissa Anast and Stephanie Richards were announced as the winners. Their rugged piece involved sticks used as supporting poles and dancers literally jumping through hoops.
“Everybody comes in with determination,” Smith said. “The dancers and choreographers are certainly brave. It shows another dimension of their abilities to adapt and go with the flow and just enjoy it all. This event is not intended to be critical; it is to embrace all kinds of wonderful possibilities.”