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This last installment of my series on Tulsa dancemakers focuses on Tulsa Modern Movement (TuMM), which unveiled in 2011 with a site-specific performance on the Arkansas River. The choreographer of that piece, Ari Christopher, is now the company’s Executive Director, and I serve as its Artistic Director, with both of us also continuing to dance and make new work for the company.

TuMM has had another season of diverse events, beginning in September with “Unbound,” a collaboration with composer/violinist Karen Naifeh Harmon and photographer Nathan Harmon. “Unbound” was the fruit of almost a year’s worth of discussion (starting in the afternoon pick-up line of the school our kids attend). It was Karen who had the idea in early 2013 to launch an international call for compositions for “Unbound”; it garnered 150 submissions, five of which were chosen for our show. I got to create movement for these gorgeous pieces of music over the summer, and August saw us working with a small chamber ensemble and with Nathan’s giant cantilevered camera on wheels to create an intimate, multi-perspective evening of dance at Living Arts of Tulsa on September 6, 2013. I’m very proud of “Unbound,” both the collaborative effort that created it and the end result, and I’m happy to announce¬†that TuMM will present it again June 7 and 8, 2014, at the gorgeous Studio K, as part of Hold, the company’s season-end show. (I’ll share more in the next month about the process of revisiting the piece to be shown on Studio K’s stage, much larger than the gallery space we made it in!)


Ari Christopher and Alicia Chesser in “Unbound,” photo by Nathan Harmon

Fall and Winter 2013 saw TuMM hosting Contact Improv jams and Gaga classes for the community and relishing another chance to invite our audience to get up close and personal with our process at the company’s second annual Works in Progress Showing. (Y’all are good observers, askers, imaginers.) In January, Ari took another trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for a foray into dance film with the museum’s Sara Segerlin, on the anniversary of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” You can see their film here!

All season both Ari and I have been at work on new projects for TuMM’s season-end show. Ari is creating “Self-Storage,” a six-part experiment for five dancers in different ways to hold memory, and a look at how those ways of holding (or rejecting, or integrating) affect our identity, our sense of self. Some of the music is being composed by Michael Christopher, Ari’s dad, inspired by movement Ari has already made — a much different process from choreographing to pre-set musical structures and moods. Ari works often with movement motifs, and in “Self-Storage” you’ll see memory and identity evoked through rolling, plucking, stretching, throbbing, depositing, carrying, stacking, making space … all visual/physical evocations of a highly elusive mental/emotional reality. TuMM will perform excerpts from “Self-Storage” when it opens the May 11 performance of Tulsa Ballet’s “Creations in Studio K.”


Ari Christopher (photo by Alicia Chesser)


Ari Christopher and Aleks Weaver (photo by Alicia Chesser)


Ari Christopher, Mona Hatter, Katelyn Yeary, and Aleks Weaver in rehearsal (photo by Alicia Chesser)

I’m making something for the June show called “Envelope,” a solo for one of our dancers, Aleks Weaver, with original text by Amy Page and a sound score by Scott Bell. (If you haven’t noticed, I have a certain enthusiasm for working with artists in other disciplines. Still a kid at heart, I suppose: “Hey, you’re cool. Wanna make something with me?” There’s nothing I dig on more than sharing an idea with another artist and hearing where they imagine they might go with it. Ideas bouncing back from the extraordinary creative people in our community only get more beautiful upon their return.) I was inspired first by Aleks’s own unbelievably grounded, tumbling, round, powerful movement (she came to us from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where she got her degree in dance) and by some personal investigations into various kinds of containers (houses, bodies, relationships, boxes I put myself in … ). I began by literally thinking about an envelope — how it’s cool and white on the outside but holds a warm message, how it’s got sharp edges and corners and a waiting center, how it travels, how it folds and closes and opens — which took me, with Aleks’s constant feedback and inspiration, into thoughts about being boxed in by one’s own need for self-protection, and about how that box might be softened, about how what’s at the center of it might be allowed to reach and open the edges.


“Envelope” brainstorming (photo by Alicia Chesser)


Aleks Weaver and Alicia Chesser (photo by Ari Christopher)

In addition to these projects, TuMM has been working this season with the Harwelden Institute, taking an original production called “Afternoons with Emery” into public schools throughout Tulsa. “Emery” was conceived and created by Ari Christopher and Jessica Davenport, and features amazing props, shadow puppets, and a lot of wild imagination. Sharing this show with kids has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever been part of. (And getting to do this tour with Ari, Missye Campbell, Katelyn Yeary, and the one and only John Cruncleton of the Nightingale Theater ain’t bad, either.) Ari has taught movement and theater to around 3,000 students in schools all over the Tulsa area this year as part of the Institute’s education outreach program.


Letters to TuMM from kids after seeing “Afternoons with Emery,” via the Harwelden Institute

This weekend, on April 19, TuMM is hosting its first fund- and friend-raiser, The KiCKER, at the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa’s Hardesty Arts Center (AHHA), in support and celebration of its 2014-2015 season. The event will feature food from some of Tulsa’s coolest restaurants, plenty of drinks and desserts, a silent auction, and a live performance by TuMM’s dancers. Hope to see you there!