Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chevy Chase group dances on the Fringe

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Photo courtesy of Nancy Havlik
Performing choreography by Nancy Havlik are Dance Performance Group members (clockwise from top) Malcolm Shute, Polly Thibodeau, Adrian Moore and Joseph Perna.
Words inspire Nancy Havlik. The Chevy Chase resident studied speech as an undergraduate and graduate student at Northwestern University, followed by a decade as a speech therapist. Her subsequent exploration of the relationship between words and movement led to a second career. In 1989, she formed the Dance Performance Group, a small dance⁄theater company, ‘‘as a vehicle for my creative work.” That group is performing ‘‘Cabaret Extraordinaire Dance! Theater! Music!” tonight and Thursday evening as part of the second annual Capital Fringe Festival.

Dance was certainly not a new venue for Havlik. While growing up in Pittsburgh, she says, ‘‘I started dancing quite young, and began choreographing and directing dancers as a teenager.”

And quirky is not new either.

‘‘As a senior in high school,” she adds, ‘‘I choreographed a part of ‘Swan Lake’ for the high school football team in drag.”

When Havlik moved to the Washington area in the 1980s, because of her husband’s job at NIH, she recalls, ‘‘the dance scene was quite lively and welcoming.” She became connected to dance again, taking classes with Ethel Butler, the well-known Martha Graham teacher, Jan Van Dyke Cunningham and Colette Yglesias, who taught the Cunningham and Limon techniques respectively. About the same time, Havlik began leading Arts For the Aging creative movement workshops. Initially, she acknowledges, it was just a job, ‘‘a means of supporting my creative work,” but she soon discovered she ‘‘really enjoyed” the workshops.

And thus, the career switch had begun.

‘‘Gradually, I was less a speech therapist and more a choreographer,” she says.

Yglesias, who Havlik identifies as ‘‘a Montgomery County resident, a graduate of Juilliard and an important teacher⁄dancer⁄choreographer” of the era, encouraged her to develop and present her own choreography. And by 1989, she had formed and incorporated Dance Performance Group, and its distinctive blend of words and movement.

‘‘I have always been inspired by language,” Havlik says, ‘‘and have been drawn to performers who can speak and sing as well as dance.”

An interactive way of working has become the company’s standard operating procedure, with composers, designers, musicians and writers all a part of the creative mix.

‘‘We engage in a collaborative rehearsal process, including improvisation, exploration of text and visual art, to realize the finished dances,” Havlik explains.

On the program for the Fringe show is a premiere of Havlik’s own ‘‘Is Dave Dead?” It’s described as ‘‘a dance quartet of murder and mayhem ... a tale of lost clues and scurrying detectives, rushing hither and yon following the heartbeat of live electronics and saxophone.”

‘‘I’m particularly excited about this work because for the first time, I’ve written the script,” Havlik says. ‘‘It’s a slightly bizarre noir take on crime, sort of a cross between Nancy Drew and Joan Didion, two of my favorites.” Composer Steve Hilmy wrote the score, which he’ll perform live with saxophone player Peter Fraize.

In the piece, Havlik says, ‘‘my wonderful dancer⁄actors — Adrian Moore, Joseph Perna, Malcolm Shute and Polly Thibodeau — have quite a workout: talking, dancing, throwing themselves around while holding on to their wigs and their hats.”

The group also will present Havlik’s trio ‘‘Pure Elizir,” which, she says, ‘‘conjures up river snakes, shamans and archetypal spirits evoking the Amazon and hovered over by live percussion.”

Finally, Havlik promises ‘‘juicy new work” by company members Perna and Shute. Perna’s piece ‘‘evokes a society on the precipice of disintegration, a carnival dance on the edge of collapse ... or renewal?” And Shute’s Human Landscape Dance offers ‘‘Non-Stop,” described as a ‘‘a chronicle of a group of travelers as they shudder, cling and splinter over the course of a long-distance journey.”

‘‘It’s going to be a great show,” she enthuses.

Beyond the Fringe, Havlik plans to build on her solid foundation. She defines her greatest accomplishment to date as ‘‘beginning to find a way to combine language and movement so the impetus for words receptively and expressively comes from the physical body.”

But, she emphasizes, that’s only the starting point.

‘‘I’m just beginning to understand the connections, and have wonderful collaborators in my performers, composers and musicians to continue this exploration.”

Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group will present ‘‘Cabaret Extraordinaire Dance! Theater! Music!” as part of the Capital Fringe Festival tonight at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theater, 1333 H St. NE, D.C. Tickets, $15, are available online at, 1-866-811-4111 or at the door (cash only). Visit