The Tampa Bay area has been notoriously inhospitable to dance. The biggest names in the art form — Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham — have trouble filling seats in local performing arts halls. Nor has the area managed to build and maintain a quality professional ballet company.
But a concert this weekend gives local dance lovers some reason for optimism.
Every year, aspiring choreographers from all around Florida, and some from outside the state, vie to have their work staged at a concert called New Grounds.
The series has gained enough prestige that officials of Moving Current, the Tampa dance collective that organizes New Grounds, can be selective about which choreographers they choose. Usually only about a third of the applicants make the cut.
This time, most of the chosen choreographers are locals. Three are University of South Florida students or recent graduates.
"USF is showing really strong this year," said Erin Cardinal, one of Moving Current's artistic directors. "I'm not sure of the reason. Maybe it's just cyclical."
Now in its eighth year, New Grounds is designed to expand opportunities for choreographers to have their work produced by a professional company. Most of the choreographers don't have much of a track record, but others are experienced dance professionals.
"Some of them are university students," Cardinal said, "but some of them are choreographers from Florida who aren't part of an official company and don't have the funds to self-produce."
This year's concert, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the USF Tampa campus, features works by Brittany Antle, Ashley Evans Hilton and Jessica Gilmore of USF, and Courtney Smith, who has recently started a company called Moving Ethos in Sarasota. The only choreographers who are not from the Tampa Bay area are Bill Doolin, the interim director of the Miami-based Florida Dance Association and Michelle Fletcher from Florida State.
One other aspect of New Grounds, added in 2004, is the Inter-Generation Community project, in which Moving Current dancers perform with members of Forever Moving, a Tampa company of senior dancers (most in their 60s and 70s), and kids from Cleveland Elementary School. With guidance from Moving Current's Cindy Hennessy and Carolina Garcia, the young and old dancers have created a piece that explored commonalities between generations. Seattle's Devin Rice has created music out of compositions and improvisations recorded by the Cleveland Elementary kids.
In a brand-new addition, local poets will read their work 15 minutes before curtain at each performance.
"We've been wanting to expand New Grounds into other art forms and this is our first try," Hennessy said. "We'd like to do something with music, too.
Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in the performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.