Bodies in motion

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— Visions are something that come frequently for choreographer Jean Labaree.

"I visualize the big picture, then (specifically) how I want it to look," said Labaree, one of Steamboat Dance Theatre's oldest and most recognized dancers and choreographers.

Labaree, 53, is choreographing two of the 10 pieces of dance at Steamboat Dance Theatre's annual concert and is performing in three.

Labaree is one of many choreographers who creates a piece of art out of a vision in her head. With a production of 47 dancers and 10 choreographers, Steamboat Dance Theatre and various others will perform for the community Feb. 16-17.

At a tech rehearsal this week, lights went off, fog rolled in and the curtains rose for dancers performing the diverse array of pieces in this year's annual concert.

Robin Getter, president of Steamboat Dance Theatre and co-producer of this year's show, said Steamboat is such a transient town that it's difficult to get good dancers who'll stick around after the show or beyond when the season is over. But she hopes this year is different.

"We've got a lot of new energy and new fabulous dancers (this year)," Getter said. "I'm really proud to have a large group of people who are professionals and have devoted this time to the concert."

By professional, Getter means that many of the dancers and choreographers all have other professional careers that they take time from in order to create a vibrant atmosphere for the concert.

Choreographers and dancers prepare their works for the once-a-year-chance to show off their talent to all of Steamboat. And not only do all the choreographers create the piece, they also perform in it.

No themes surround this year's production, but a melting pot of talent will demonstrate the year-long preparation of all companies.

Modern dance, ballet, jazz, tap, Latin dance and others are pieces of the puzzle with each choreographer's name on it. For a surprise, two areas of dance not before mentioned will appear during the first night's performance. And to give readers just one hint, Getter's letter to theatregoers headlines, "Steamboat Dance Theatre Has Balls."

And Labaree has choreographed one of those surprises.

"I think people will really like it," Labaree said of the surprise piece. "It's gone over well with the others (dancers)."

Along with Labaree's surprise dance piece is her rhythm tap piece, as opposed to a Broadway tap piece. Broadway tap is flashy with kick-lines, but rhythm tap does not use any music and concentrates only on the rhythm of the flat-soled shoe, Labaree said.

In a brief history, Labaree said tap came from the African slaves brought to America centuries ago. The slaves' masters did not want them to have drums for communication, so the slaves started expressing their rhythms through pop bottle caps on the bottoms of their shoes, Labaree said.

Labaree's childhood consisted of dancing, but when it came her time to have children, she quit for 12 years. After all were born, the light in the dancer's eyes began sparkling again. Either she found Steamboat Dance Theatre or it found her about 18 years ago.

"Dance is an outlet for my creative side," Labaree said. "I get to produce things that I conjure up in my mind."

She said when she visualizes whole dance pieces, she then breaks those down into smaller pieces for efficiency and feels the energy from there.

"Some pieces will come to me very quickly, others I have to spend more time with," Labaree said. "It's always a surprise."

Labaree said she puts a lot of humor in some of her pieces, making them fun and unexpected. Last year she did an 'old people's' piece with walkers and canes. She said she was trying to send a message that life is not over at 30 and that old people have a sense of humor also.

Although both her pieces this year do not convey any messages, they do concentrate strictly on choreographed dance steps and a vision she just couldn't shake.

With auditions last fall, dancers, choreographers and producers have been practicing around the clock to make this year's production better than the past 28 years.

"It's pretty time involved, we're very well rehearsed," Labaree said of why the Dance Theatre only puts on one event of the year.

Because Steamboat does not offer its performers an arts center to rehearse and dance, space is limited around town and the companies have to use the high school auditorium during specific times.

Getter said the board of directors, recently added to the theatre, are pushing to get a facility for the performing arts because they would all like to see Steamboat Dance Theatre expand.

"Our goal is to keep building and going strong. We want to include various members of the community in all aspects of operation," Getter said.

Sharon Warner, nominated to co-produce the show, said that she has enjoyed the work, but because this is her first year producing, her work is strenuous.

"It's been very stressful, but I've enjoyed it," Warner said of organizing the dozens of people, learning computer programs and spending numerous hours on the phone.

Choreographers decide the dance and who the dancers will be for a particular performance, but stories do not exist in the theatre's production.

With Steamboat Dance Theatre being an umbrella for many other affiliates, companies like Shining Mountain Repertory have been able to dedicate more time and effort into dancing and performing for the community.

"Steamboat Dance Theatre has always had a handful of people that wanted to dance more," said Barbara Bonfiglio, founder of the repertory. "It's reciprocal. Steamboat Dance Theatre helped support us and stay on our feet and we help them out any way we can."

Being a professional dancer for about 25 years and dancing all over the country, Bonfiglio said the theatre is an organization that encourages those novice choreographers to take a chance and try it.

"It allows anyone to participate in expression through movement," Bonfiglio said.

Bonfiglio has choreographed two of the ten pieces that she described as very modern and athletic, and as a dancer behind her added, "and very tough."

Another choreographer who went his separate way to create his own company, Kent Wilson, still keeps clean ties with Steamboat Dance Theatre and doesn't have qualms about introducing a piece for the concert.

Wilson said he started Dance Vision in 1987, but he didn't become a non-profit organization until 1999. And still the theatre welcomes him with open arms, he said.

Wilson's piece in the concert, "Awakenings," was created to understand the truth about healthier and clearer relationships.

"Our movements are identical" through some of the piece "and then we separate before walking hand-in-hand as one," Wilson said. "It's the idea of two people who are growing out of adolescence and having an intellectual awakening."

Because his partner, Carole Krohn, has not choreographed before, dancing in the theatre just might give her the step up she's needed.

Labaree said her pieces include many experienced and non-experienced dancers. Many won't be back next year, but Steamboat Dance Theatre gives an avenue for those who are "closet performers."

Experience or no experience, Steamboat Dance Theatre is a place for the community to see dancing artists at their best.

"You won't find anything like this in any other town," Labaree said of community members' strong passion for performing. "Even though they're all not the best dancers, they have a love of dance."

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