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Off the Map defies dance boundaries

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As many groundbreaking artists will point out, they aren't much concerned with audiences adoring their works, so long as they are engaged in a thoughtful manner.

For performers, much of the fun lies in the experimentation. Ormao Dance Company's Jan Johnson sums up the interaction quite objectively: "There may be things that people don't like [about the performances], but who cares? That's art."

Johnson's Ormao joins the Colorado-based dance companies of Michelle Ellsworth and Kim Olson this weekend at Manitou Art Theater, in loaded evenings of dance titled Off the Map. Each company will perform a variety of creative pieces within half-hour time slots. Music, text and even a solo operatic voice intend to inspire movement and highlight expert techniques.

Ormao has been choreographing professional modern dance in Colorado Springs for more than 15 years. During that time, the company has been committed to developing a reputation for broadly scoped works, ranging from delicate and pensive to boisterous and spontaneous. The company's repertory boasts comedic works that win audiences quickly, as well as more stirring, elaborate pieces.

In Off the Map, Tiffany Tinsley-Weeks uses beautiful live vocals provided by the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Johnson will help re-stage a favorite Ormao piece from the repertory, in which excerpts from a 1950s home-economics textbook provide the backdrop.

"It's basically a humorous study of the absurd things that women in that era were supposed to live up to," says Johnson. "We do the "vacuum mambo' and put on a dance extravaganza with convenience products and home appliances that were supposed to liberate women."

When not dancing with toasters and falsely promissory, futuristic gadgets, members of Ormao's dance company also teach movement at their local school. Johnson focuses on experimentation, applauding the differences and diversity of students, rather than enforcing a rigid, specific movement vocabulary.

Though students must, of course, master the basics of dance and the general foundation of ballet work, they are encouraged later to diverge from that framework and venture off the map, so to speak.

"We've chosen modern dance as a vehicle for our communication," says Johnson. "The language of dance is our creative spark."

Speaking specifically of Off the Map, Johnson adds, "We are crossing over into theater and performance art. ... I don't think people will leave saying, "Oh, just another dance show.'"

capsule

Off the Map

Manitou Art Theater,

515 Manitou Ave.

Thursday, March 16, through Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $14; call 685-4729 for reservations or visit

themat.org for more.

  • Off the Map defies dance boundaries

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