It's a dance about food. Family recipes, to be precise. And choreographer Chung-Fu Chang wants the audience to feel it.
"I asked them to use their movement to describe one smell from the ingredient," he says of his dancers.
His work, "As Vines, We Walk Along the Path ..." was created as part of Ormao Dance Company's spring performance, done in partnership with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's multidisciplinary program Families. Ormao's effort, Breaking Bread, features four components, each created by a different choreographer: Tsui-Shuang Lai, Jeff Bickford, Mollie Wolf and Chang were enlisted to explore the important inner-workings of the family unit.
Chang, an internationally renowned dancer, choreographer and current Colorado State University associate professor, wrote "Vines" while inspired by traditional recipes and their familial preparation. "It's about sharing family tradition and family culture," the Taiwan native says. To better unify his dancers, Chang gathered some of their traditions and recipes and mashed them together in a "puree" of dance. Recipes for enchiladas, kabobs and more were all handed to Chang to digest.
The 15-minute long final product — in which the performers have the dual role of representing the ingredients and the preparation process — took pieces from each recipe and mashed them up into the proverbial melting pot. The objective, Chang says, is to transcend the idea of one recipe over another and to expose the universality of family tradition.
On the other side of the spectrum, Wolf worked with the idea of how a family copes with loss. Her grief-stricken piece, "Rehearsal for the Aftermath," was inspired by her own family losing their home in the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Wolf says her story is written non-linearly, and intentionally vague, to ease the audience into their own particular emotions rather than hers. "The fire is still very recent in a lot of people's memories," she says. "Even those who did not lose their home will have a recognizable reference."
The audience arrives at the beginning of a mourning period. Wolf and her dancers fluctuate from intense cathartic movement back to static despair. They break off and hold each other in desperate poses of grief, then slowly coalesce to grieve together.
Wolf's dancers had to learn how to improvise under her direction, yet keep to the story. "I let happy accidents happen," the Springs native says. "I started with a lot of improvisations, trying to teach them the specific way that I move with my body emotively."
The original soundscapes of digital composer Albert Mathias add an intense foreboding quality that has no escape. The sounds — cold and electronically disconnected — are reminiscent of Aphex Twin, Portishead and Still-era Nine Inch Nails. And when emotions get furious, they're turned past 11. For the set, Wolf has nothing more than an old box television and two ruined prop doors to hint at the presence of fire.
As with Chang's dance, this is as much about connecting with a personal experience as it is sharing one person's story.
"The dancers have incorporated their own grief," she says. "There are quite a few pieces where they are asked to improvise, bringing their real emotional selves rather than perform a specific character."