Forty years after four Detroit dancers set out to create a professional contemporary dance studio in the city, DDC Dances studio has continued to move and groove through the decades. Owned and operated by founding member Barb Selinger, DDC Dances still succeeds at choreographing beautiful, deep performances.
One Detroit producer Sarah Smith caught up with DDC Dances members while they practiced for their upcoming show, “Stomping Ground,” a reflective dance that will touch on topics like mental health, climate change and more.
Amy Hutchison, Senior Company Member, DDCdances: The traditional forms of modern dance continue to speak to an ever-changing world.
Barbara Selinger, Artistic Director, DDCdances: The essence of dance for me is about humanity. And there’s so much in this world today to express.
Amy Hutchison, Senior Company Member, DDCdances: DDC is a group of performing artists that bring modern dance throughout Detroit and the Greater Detroit area. And also we provide outreach education programs throughout Michigan.
Barbara Selinger: DDCdances began in 1980. We were founded at Wayne State University, actually. The founding members were Paula Kramer, Anita Surma and Sue Ellen Darr and myself. We focused on a technique that was developed and designed by Doris Humphrey and Jose Limon, Pioneers of modern dance.
Barbara Selinger: And really, the genre today still really works because it’s based on how human beings like to move in space and time. So that’s what we liked about working in that way. And so obviously, after 40 years, it’s developed into something a little bit different because those two Humphrey and Limon, wanted future generations to develop their technique.
Amy Hutchison: I started out in ballet growing up and in college, I first discovered modern dance really fell in love with it just because of the expressivity, the freedom, yet its connectedness and roots to ballet and to a strict technique. It just really allows for expression and a lot of creativity in terms of music choices, choreographic choices, choreographic sites.
Barbara Selinger: I really like to look not just for technique, but for performance skills. Who they are as people and what they communicate through their body. We work a lot through improvisation, so when I’m making choreography, it’s the idea of breath and gravity. It’s all-natural elements that surround us.
Barbara Selinger: So we work on improv that’s based on ideas that interest me as a choreographer. There are dances in our upcoming concert that deal with climate change, that deal with mental health. That deal with extinction. So all of these things are important to society today, and we’re expressing how we feel about these issues through movement.
Amy Hutchison: So there’s a lot that goes back and forth. As a dancer, you’re not just simply a dancer, you’re a choreographer, you’re innovating with the artistic director, which is a really beautiful part of this company.
Barbara Selinger: She comes in puts the bench down in black and she’ll sit down and be forward and lights and music go together. Today we are doing a check for each of the pieces, so you’ll be watching us create the lighting. And then once the lighting is created, then we will run the piece like a dress rehearsal.
Barbara Selinger: Getting the right lighting design to enhance the dance and to really be a partner with the dance. So stage lighting is really very important. It becomes a marriage between the dance, dancers and the space. Well, the first piece of the program were excerpts from a whole evening work that we did at Jam Handy last fall. It’s called Rock On, and I’ve always wanted to create a concert based on rock music, so there are some small excerpts from that.
Barbara Selinger: So you’ll see dancers performing to some of the classic rock music that we all know and love. One of my young dancers and emerging artists, Lizz LeClerc. She choreographed a new solo. I really like to give young, emerging artists an opportunity to show their work. So her work is actually based on mental health. It’s really interesting the way she communicates those ideas.
Barbara Selinger: There’s a piece that I choreographed 30 years ago. It’s called Journey’s End, and that’s based on environmental change. And 30 years ago, we were talking about environmental change, and this piece is still pertinent today. It happens to be performed to the music of the Beatles. The last work is called Absinthe. It’s a brand new premiere for me, and it deals with the idea of loss. What has been lost or gone may never exist again, and the dancers all wrote their own stories.
Barbara Selinger: So that was like a jumping-off point for the work. They all created movement based on the idea that they had written on their story. And then, you know, we improvised with it, and then I take it and I mold it and I change it and I structure it to express the full piece and what we want to say in terms of that particular idea.
Barbara Selinger: Each of the individual dancers in the company bring their own voice to the movement. So whatever that means to them, they create gestures, perhaps our entire movement phrases that deal with their story.
Amy Hutchison: The wonderful thing about it is that oftentimes there are many interpretations to it, so it doesn’t have to have a certain like one specific meaning, as is the case in many different forms of modern art. It’s really inspiring to dance with my colleagues. They all have their strengths and we’re all unique in our ways. But we come together and, you know, are stronger as a group, I think.
Barbara Selinger: I’m really proud of the company because I think we have a variety of ways to communicate the art form. Our heart and soul really goes into our productions. Our classes, our workshops. Everything we do with the community has meant so much to us, and we are hoping it has meant a lot to the people that we serve.
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