By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer, 5/28/2004
The urge to create has propelled founding of a new dance troupe
For the past few years, dance in Tulsa could be summed up in three words: Tulsa Ballet Theater.
Jill Priest is hoping the shows being presented this weekend at the Nightingale Theater will help broaden Tulsa's idea of what dance is, and can be.
Priest is the founder and co-director of Tulsa Contemporary Dance Theater, a new ensemble that will present its debut performances Friday and Saturday at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Titled "Workaday Pieces," the show features 10 original dance works, created by Priest and several of the dance company's eight members.
The dances range from abstract works emphasizing the pure physicality of dance, like Maranda Van Straten's "Hullster" to pieces that contain narratives both personal and universal, like Rachel Richmond's "Gypsy" and "Thy Neighbor," to humorous pieces like Priest's own "siNOTra," which uses Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" as a starting point for all sorts of balletic bumblings.
Priest spent four years as assistant professor of dance at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, serving as artistic director of the GoVertigo Dance Company there.
She has choreographed everything from contemporary dance and musical theater to creating routines for gymnastic and dance teams, and she also founded and directed the Dance Works Company of Enid.
The decision to create a new company in Tulsa was borne out of serendipity and personal necessity, she said.
"I've been dancing all my life -- it's something I have to do," she said. "My husband now works in Tulsa, and I realized there this space in the community for contemporary dance."
That space was created in 2000, when the LocalMotion Foundation ceased operations. During its decade of activity, the foundation worked to promote and present contemporary dance by Oklahoma artists, often showcasing original works in its annual Contemporary Dance Festivals.
Priest began auditioning dancers for the new company in August, and opening a school, Contemporary Dance of Tulsa, a month later at 7123 S. 92nd East Ave. She serves as co-director of the school and company with Jamie Sparks.
"It's really been amazing, the dancers we've collected for this company," Priest said. "They are all people who found themselves landed in Tulsa, with no opportunity to create or show their work.
"And that's one of the things we want to do with this company -- to create not only dancers, but choreographers."
Priest, who is expecting her second child, does not perform, but she did create two of the works on the program -- the aforementioned "siNOTra" and "Solidarity in C Major," set to a Bach orchestral suite.
University of Tulsa student Katherine Feiock, whose choreographic work has been seen in Grace Ann Productions' recent "Into the Woods," created two works, "Unread Letters" and "Hearing Heart," while Caren Chillemi choreographed "Out of My Skin" to music by the pop artist Sting.
Richmond and Van Straten have additional works in the program, titled "Tick" and "Neon Wilderness," respectively.
Priest is aware that using the word "contemporary" to describe a certain art form is a potentially dangerous one, since audiences are more little to equate "contemporary" with "unpleasant."
"That's something I've run into everywhere I've worked," she said. "But one of my big concerns is to make contemporary dance accessible to general audiences. That's true of most of the works in our first program. These are pieces of dance theater that everyone can enjoy."
"Workaday Pieces" Pemiere performance by Tulsa Contemporary Dance Theater
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $8 adults, $6 students, available at the door.