The (Not-So) Subtle Art Of Contemporary Dance

A Discussion with The Assembly’s Lara Wilson

Photo Credit: The Assembly

Short attention spans and tirelessly swiping across a screen can often lead to expectations of instant gratification. The accessibility of content at our fingertips makes it easy for people to have an experience whenever and wherever they want. Live television can be recorded and watched at a later convenience. Concerts can be captured on a phone and uploaded to social media accounts for enjoyment by almost anyone. There in an obvious benefit to such easily accessible content. The ability of artists and their fans to connect and interact on multiple platforms is undeniably beneficial. But is this mass accessibility also leading to a lesser overall experience? Enter “From The Source”, a unique one-night-only contemporary dance and performance art experience.

Now more than ever, we need activities that allow us to be in the moment, mindful, and without the distractions that pull us into the past or catapult us into the future. We constantly hear about how practices such as yoga or meditation lend us the ability to live in a place so few can access: the now. Art also has the ability to transcend the daily stresses and the burdens of everyday life. The art of contemporary dance encompasses these characteristics, and has the ability to move you in a different way and make you see and think from a different perspective. Paired with the right environment, contemporary dance can be just as electrifying and powerful, even more so, than any large-scale special effects laden spectacle.

Drawing on classical ballet, jazz, and modern dance, contemporary dance also incorporates other styles as well. Floor-work, contract-release, and fall and recovery, as well as strong and controlled legwork and changes in rhythm, speed, and direction are just some of the elements that make up this complicated art form.

When we see something incredible these days, our first instinct may be to grab our phone and hit ‘record’. Having these moments saved on our phones, computers, or clouds allow us to enjoy them endlessly. But what about enjoying them the moment they are happening? Can reliving these moments via a screen imbue the same experience as when one is present and in the moment?

Lara Wilson is the co-director at The Assembly, a company of contemporary dancers, choreographers, and artists collaborating to produce two dance-based events a year. Based in Orange County, CA, they incubate new dances by local up-and-coming choreographers. This July, they will be presenting their new, one-night-only event, “From The Source”, at the Howl in Long Beach. Featuring new works from choreographers from across the country, “From The Source” explores three specific contemporary perspectives on femininity, missed connections, and tumultuous relationships. Ms. Wilson was kind enough to answer some questions I had regarding contemporary dance and The Assembly’s upcoming event at Howl in Long Beach.

Matt: In an age of short attention spans and simplistic, brief explanations of social issues, it’s easy to rely on pop culture to inform us and in turn make us feel understood. How can contemporary dance do the same?

Lara: Most of what I think I understand in relation to pop culture is passed to me via a screen. Live performance is unmediated, so people need it now more than ever. And, it exists in a different relationship to time–it is analog, manual, et. al. Not only does it require the coordination of many moving parts at once, but there is also an art to its unfolding–choreography is paced with audience satisfaction in mind, or maybe a certain motif is repeated or sustained to drive home a point. Each person can take away from it whatever they feel or whatever connotations arise for them. There’s no right answer. Some people might walk away thinking they didn’t “get” it, but that’s not really the point. The point is just to be present, and hopefully to be moved in some way.

Matt: So bigger, bolder, louder is not necessarily better?

Lara: No! But that’s not to say that aspects of our show won’t be big, bold, and loud.

Expect a casual, social atmosphere, with three distinct choreographic perspectives presented at intervals throughout the 2500-square-foot, indoor-outdoor space. Expect intimacy, immersion; expect to be entertained.
Matt: I would guess that by being more subtle and understated, this form of art could lead to a different understanding and perspective, would you agree?

Lara: I think it’s a misunderstanding that dance is necessarily subtle and understated. Each of our choreographers are working from a specific message about being human that they felt the need to convey. Dance should cover the full range of being human–subtle at times, yes, and at others extremely dynamic, or so physically taxing that it’s almost impossible to do. I hope that what audience members experience allows them to think differently in some way–about the narratives of their own lives, about how a Thursday evening in Long Beach can be spent, and about dance in general.

Matt: When I say “subtle and understated”, I mean in relation to more mainstream pop performances that may consist of lights, fireworks, special effects, etc.

Lara: Ah, yes. There’s something distinctly non-commercial about what we’re doing.

Matt: The Assembly welcomes to their events guests who may not be familiar with contemporary dance. What can someone who has never experienced contemporary dance expect to get out of one of your events?

Lara: At one of my first shows here in California, there was a gentleman in the audience who’d never been to a dance performance before. I think he was expecting something like a children’s recital, but what we presented was just one skillful, professional dancer in a unique, all-encompassing space. He said he’d never seen anything like it before, he was blown away. I’d say, expect intimacy, immersion, intellect. Expect to be entertained. Expect to see people breathing really hard. If nothing else, enjoy the music and free beer, and Instagram to your heart’s content.

Matt: What sets The Assembly apart from other dance companies?

Lara: Dance is at an interesting crossroads right now. There are so many different forms of media we can infiltrate–photography, visual art, fashion, film and video, virtual reality, etc. One aspect of our mission is to collaborate with a variety of artists who are working in different mediums to produce cohesive dance works. This particular show is more dance-focused, but we’ve bridged a gap by working with choreographers via video and Skype–expanding our network to Boise, Brooklyn in addition to Southern California.

Matt: You typically hold your events in non-traditional dance spaces. Why did you choose Howl for this event?

Lara: It’s a more grassroots way to present work–for one, it’s less expensive, and it brings the audience on our level. It gets them close to the work in a way that’s not possible with a proscenium setting. It destroys the fourth wall. We’ve been wanting to do a “walkthrough” show–where different portions of a show are presented in different rooms–for a while. Howl’s unique layout seemed like a good format for that idea, and it seemed like it would work well with the fact that we have three different pieces to show. Also, we couldn’t ignore its great vibes!

To be a part of this unique, one-night-only event, check out “From The Source”, and for more inspirational and one-of-a-kind events, check out