The dancers kept moving, spinning, pausing for arabesques or stretches. Over most of a December afternoon at the Mirror Lake Studios, they rarely stopped, whether rehearsing specific routines or not.
Choreographer Lauren Ree Slone also moved and as she talked to the women, developing some ideas and beginning others. Her words sounded clear, about transitions, things that continue, overlays, trees — yet her sentences could not be understood only by hearing.
These sentences must be seen.
On Friday, they will be. Beacon, a collaborative concert among modern dancers and choreographers with ties to St. Petersburg and Tampa, kicks off its third year at the Palladium, an active partner in the annual production. Slone and Helen Hansen French, one of the dancers on the floor, founded the event in 2015 to call attention to the wealth of dance talent in St. Petersburg and Tampa, people out of school and working professionally.
Most know each other and have worked together in groups of two or three, Slone said. But with six choreographers and 16 dancers, Beacon 2018 represents the largest dance concert of its type in St. Petersburg yet. Those numbers don’t include the singers, musicians and videographers making up five dance pieces and an original film. It’s all original, new work, much of it with a local focus.
Slone, 36, is a former artistic director of a dance company in Morgantown, W.V., whose work has garnered multiple residencies and a National Center for the Arts fellowship. The title of her piece, Mother Phrase, is a nod to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of the Urban Bush Women dance company and Slone’s mentor who coined the term. A mother phrase is a starting metaphor, a root idea that germinates within movement.
It’s also a tribute to Slone’s mother, Dottie, 71, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
"I’ve been thinking about her remarkable qualities," Slone said. "One of them is that I see her as a person that finishes anything she starts. And so in terms of this, I’ve been thinking of those past things that I never finished."
Mother Phrase consists of unfinished abstract pieces, stitched together with Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos and eight other women who have contributed to its form and content. They appeared in segments of three or four, moving like parts of a clock or hundreds of other things. In a typical moment, Slone paused to hear an idea from French, a former principal dancer with the Buglisi Dance Theatre.
"I thought I’d do …," French said, uncoiling like a dervish inside a wine glass, then spiraling back up and over the side.
Slone nodded. The piece ended with all the dancers on stage, leaping backward and lunging forward like a field of blossoming flowers, about 30 reps. Afterward, for the first time in two hours and 15 minutes, they looked a bit winded. The break allowed dancer Mary Chase Doll to take a question about what the piece means to her.
"An image I have, just from knowing these ladies, is that mothering comes in all forms," said Doll, 39, who teaches dance at the University of Tampa. "We all have our own mother, but we get nurture from all different people in all different walks of life."
The rehearsal continued after a breather, because some things are never quite finished.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.