At Elm City Dance Collective, You Meet You

Lucy Gellman PhotoLindsey Bauer — or maybe it was some version of her former self, or maybe someone else — strode toward a cluster of dancers. She stepped forward. Stepped back. Stepped forward. Kellie Ann Lynch held up a hand and looked at the group, breaking a building tension.

“Do we need a little more up, down?” she asked, her arms swinging as she spoke. Bauer nodded as if to say, yeah, let’s try that. A moment later, she was pushing violently against members of the group — and then she was airborne. 

So began a final round of rehearsals for If You Knew You Then, a new, hour-long work by the Elm City Dance Collective (ECDC) that premieres at Lyric Hall this weekend. Performances run at 7 and 9 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, as well as April 7 and 8. (Ticket information here.)

Conceived, workshopped, and choreographed by Lynch in collaboration with members of the company, the piece is a deep dive into memory, as self-aware as it is candid and funny. After finishing the premiere of Almost Porcelain in May 2014 Lynch “knew I was approaching momhood, and I was thinking a lot about what it means to grow and develop,” she said at Wednesday’s rehearsal. So she went back into memoryland, pushing herself to recall what it felt like to hang between 16 and 21 years old. The memories weren’t all good, she said, but they were all there. Even the ones she thinks she may have misremembered.

“I wanted it to go through all the ranges that one would go through during that time period — where you would feel lost and out of control and sometimes grounded,” she said.

She urged ECDC members to do the same, using rehearsals and workshops between 2014 and 2015 to work on “scores,” or free-form vignettes in which dancers would channel the quaking, angsty 16-to-21-year-olds inside of them, and yank them out. For a year and a half, ECDC dancers taped their scores. Then they looked back at the footage, and began to pull out the movements they found most resonant.

Luis Antonio saw a gesture he recognized from years ago. Nikki Carrara picked out a movement. Samantha Russell (who is not in the dance because of her pregnancy, but has been an integral part of the process, said Lynch) saw the number of similar stories that were coming out. As it worked through the nascent choreography, Lynch said, the company “talked a lot about tension. And resistance. The tug of war you have always with yourself.”

Somewhere in there, Lynch also went from thinking about momhood to being a mom, an experience she said shifted her whole view of mortality and memory.

The result is a big dance for a small space that delivers, both conceptually and literally. Performing in the round — a first for Lyric Hall — dancers weave a mesmerizing, loud tapestry from their youths, sometimes reliving moments it seems they’d rather not. They are cacophonous and wild, sexed up to the nth degree, shattered by profound isolation and then pieced back together. In one vignette, they charge as a unified front across the theatre’s small, tarp-covered floor, their mouths full of Fugees lyrics as they snap, wave, jump and clap in unison. In another, dancers paw each other to the ground and writhe there, performing a sort of beautiful and grotesque dry humping ritual. In another, a sort of have-you-ever group admission leaves no audience member untouched, fear and recollection spinning in one’s gut as dancers answer a series of questions.

But If You Knew You Then is neither a love letter to past selves, nor a regretful glance at what might have been. Instead, it’s open-ended, full of memory but also of presence and of the present, waiting for the audience to take a seat, get comfortable under the low lights, and start pondering themselves.

What is this all about? What would I have done differently? What am I proud of? What if me knew me then?

Am I here? Am I here? Am I here?

If You Knew You Then runs March 31, April 1, April 7, and April 9 at 7 and 9 p.m. at Westville’s Lyric Hall. To find out more, check out its website

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