“Ambassador” for U.S. Contemporary Dance

By Jane Morse

Staff Writer

Recognizing that many in the general public find modern dance intimidating, Seán Curran says he wants to be “an ambassador for the dance form.”

“I’d explain that contemporary dance is not this big scary thing you might like but don’t understand,” he said in a recent interview. “Contemporary dance is an abstract visual language. Ultimately it’s about communicating. We’re not telling stories, we’re not imitating scenes from life, but we are doing these sort of contemporary urban folk dances, if you will.”

Curran, the artistic director and founder of the Seán Curran Company in New York, has been taking his message around the United States since 1997. Come April, he will be taking it to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. The four-week tour he and his company will be making is part of DanceMotion USA, a cultural diplomacy program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the oldest performing arts center in the United States.

Curran is confident his audiences in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan will understand this new brand of urban folk dance. “There’s a great folk dance culture in Central Asia,” he said. “And I think a lot of the contemporary dance in Central Asia is ballet-based coming from the Russians. So I’m hoping there’s a bridge there.”

His company, he said, will be “bringing dances about the joy of dancing, responding to interesting music and this idea of connectivity. … There’s a sense of playfulness, invention.”

In addition to performances, the company will give dance lessons and meet with local dance companies. “I hope that the places we visit come away with the sense of play that we bring to the work, a sense of invention, an authenticity,” Curran said. But, he added, “It’s important that we’re going as ambassadors to show what we do. I’m really curious in what I can take away. That’s very important to me.”

“I do want to come away from each place with a piece of music or a folk dance step or a kind of costuming that I can put into my mix,” he said. “I’m interested in speaking an old language [of movement] in a new way with a different accent. This idea of invention and play is very important to me.”

The seven dancers, lighting designer and company manager that Curran will be taking with him on the tour are a diverse lot. Elizabeth Coker Giron, dancer and associate artistic director for the company, was trained in classical ballet, but among the other dancers are a philosophy major, an Afro-American history major, a writer, a circus performer, and a teacher and hockey coach. Curran himself works in opera and theater.

“We all have what we jokingly call our ‘supplementary income,’” Curran said, noting it’s hard for dancers in small companies to make a living wage from dancing alone. “But the flip side of that is we do it because we love it and want to do it.”

This is the second year DanceMotion USA is sending dance troops overseas. In addition to the Seán Curran Company, the companies slated to tour this year include the Jazz Tap Ensemble of Los Angeles, which will visit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Rennie Harris Puremovement, a Philadelphia hip-hop dance company slated to tour Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan; and the Trey McIntyre Project of Idaho, which will travel to China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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