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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

‘Horse of a Different Color’ highlights diversity through dance

Dance Alive National Ballet will perform at the Phillips Center Feb. 18

Ani Collier doesn’t ask her dancers to dance – instead, the Dance Alive National Ballet choreographer asks them to paint with their bodies. At the end of every rehearsal, Collier asks them to sit, breathe and make noises at her for 20 minutes.

This experimental approach is the foundation of Dance Alive’s most proximal performance, “Horse of a Different Color.” Displayed at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 18, the experimental ballet will take viewers on a journey to a different realm where anything is possible. 

“The dancers at the beginning, they're like one organism that starts peeling off,” Collier said. “And we have one that ventures out and then asks somebody else to come out and explore. And for me, it is very magical and imaginary.”

Featuring music composed by acclaimed resident composer Stella Sung, matched to video created by documentary production professor Lisa Mills and intricately designed costumes by Chris Takashima, the production quality behind this piece is rich with skilled diversity and unique perspectives.

Transporting viewers from the bustle of immigrants arriving on Ellis Island to the ethereal world of the Siberian Taiga, the long-running performance will cover the breadth of the human experience in a way that can only be accessed through dance. 

“Horse of a Different Color” first began in the 1990s, but performances are altered every year so the dancers never perform the same routine twice.

Collier is a guest choreographer who was invited to design a dance from scratch for Horse of a Different Color. Originally from Bulgaria, Collier arrived in the United States with $20 in her pocket. Collier has been a part of Dance Alive for over 30 years. She went through rigorous training at the Russian Ballet in her youth before the Iron Wall came down. 

Today, she owns BlackCProduction, a contemporary art gallery and performance space Downtown. Collier jokes she has been trying to leave Gainesville for many years but hasn’t been able to leave behind the family she’s created here.

Collier said she enjoys exploring the creative limits she can break while collaborating with her dancers on her pieces. 

Her piece, “Ephemeral,” is a continuation of a world that continually appears in her mind’s eye, she said. Openly collaborating with the dancers, Collier describes her dance as a whimsical observation of the adventurous side of monotonous decision-making.

“It's kind of ethereal,” Collier said. “I was very curious as I kept listening to the music, I kept feeling the breath. My body started moving with the ebbs and flows of what the music gave.”

The metaphysical approach she takes to choreographing the piece creates the imaginative energy that bleeds out from the dancers and into the audience. 

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Collier knows viewers will all have a different approach to how they view her piece, she said. She encourages anyone who sees the show to attend the talkback after the performance, which features dancers, choreographers, designers and composers who produced the show.

“I want them to forget time and enjoy,” Collier said. “And we can talk. I like talking about images and stories.”

In addition to the talkback, during intermission audience members will be able to visit the Immigrant Museum, a collection of stories from the company’s ancestors. There will also be a world map where viewers can pin their ancestors’ locations. 

In her research, co-founder Judy Skinner asked her company members for stories of their ancestors and how they found themselves in the United States. 

After compiling the stories, Skinner created the Immigrant Museum where viewers can read about the challenges the immigrants faced. 

Co-founders of Dance Alive Kim Tuttle and Judy Skinner are sisters who inherited their mother’s dance studio. Following in their mother’s footsteps, both agreed that the artistic direction involved in the production of this piece would be intricate and detail-oriented.

Tuttle, who is also the artistic director, said the program for this year’s edition of the ballet is more challenging than years past for dancers, experimenting with contemporary techniques to highlight the breadth of the dancers’ and choreographers’ talents.

“The dancers come from everywhere,” Tuttle said. “I just want the public to see how comprehensive we are in our diversity, which can be a kind of narrow word. I want them to embrace this company.”

In the interactive intermission, there will also be a puzzle – one, Skinner said, that has yet to be solved by anyone she knows. 

The six-piece puzzle was created to be a measure of mental acuity for immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Skinner said she is looking forward to finding out if anyone will be able to solve the puzzle this year.

Skinner hopes this interactive element will attract viewers to immerse themselves in this world before the show even begins. 

Before sitting, each audience member will be given a name tag with an immigrant’s name on it, similar to those given on the boats over to Ellis Island. During intermission, they’ll be given the opportunity to find their person’s story and read more about that immigrant’s journey.

Many members of Dance Alive are immigrants themselves, so the performance holds an additional sentimental layer of expression for the company as a whole. 

Jose Ramos, 48, has over 30 years of experience dancing. Cuban-born, Ramos moved to Brazil and studied dance for 22 years. In 2015, Ramos was invited to join Pofahl Studios as a principal dancer and has been enthralled as a member of the team ever since.

In “Horse of a Different Color,” Ramos choreographed multiple pieces and solos for one performance. Ramos said he wants viewers to apply the messages they receive through the dance to their own lives.

“I think they have to be free to feel whatever they are feeling in their own lives,” Ramos said. “It's going to impact each of them differently. I don't know how they're going to feel, but I’ll just express with my movements what I want to say.”

Contact Loren at Follow her on Twitter @LorenMiranda13.

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Loren Miranda

Loren Miranda is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She is also a copy editor for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys watching either critically acclaimed films or cheesy reality TV, no in-betweens.

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