(submitted photo)
(submitted photo)

BELLOWS FALLS -- For California-based dancer and choreographer Alex Ketley dance is a personal thing that has helped him interface with the world and understand it for the last 34 years. Formerly a classical dancer, he is now a teacher and freelance choreographer, and the director of The Foundry, a contemporary dance company based in San Francisco. As a contemporary dancer practicing an art that is appreciated predominantly in urban areas and an avid rock climber who had been rappelling his way through the rural West, Ketley felt the need to find a way to, as he put it, transverse this urban/rural divide. So, beginning in 2012, he created "No Hero," a research trilogy that investigated what dance and dance concert meant to other people throughout many rural settings in the West. He traveled for weeks, talked to wonderful and interesting strangers at diners, RV parks and homes, asking them about their experience with dance, filming their personal expressions of dance with a back drop of iconic American landscapes. Ketley then offered his own impromptu performances for these strangers, also caught on film.

When Sara Coffey, founder and director of Vermont Performance Lab - a Guilford-based non-profit arts organization - heard about the western project she contacted Ketley to open the conversation about why not do something similar in Vermont? Once again Ketley was intrigued. He and dancer Sarah Woods, who had worked with Ketley in the live performances when presenting the western project, have been in Vermont for the last month for "No Hero Vermont," a four-week research and development residency at Vermont Performance Lab and with support from the Rockingham Arts & Museum Project, in order to explore Vermont and get to know Vermonters and their relationship to dance.

He had titled it "No Hero" because in concert dance dancers need to be super athletic, beautiful and young, to a degree ‘heroic.' Ketley wanted to make the point that dance is accessible to anyone and everyone, therefore, not necessarily a hero. The original Western project took about seven months from the first rehearsal to the premiere performance, whereas Ketley and Woods have been working on the Vermont project for only a little over a month. Another big difference between the Vermont project and the Western project is that rather than traveling widely from community to community, they have focused their interactions with communities in southern Vermont, providing a more intimate relationship to the area. Ketley's and Woods' MO would be to strike up a conversation with a total stranger, then when they were asked where they were from why they were in Vermont the dancers would start a discussion about dance and introduce their project. When asked about their dance stories, Vermonters shared their moving stories, some in their living rooms, some in the woods, others in social settings, and in return Ketley and Woods would say' "We'd love to dance for you!" And dance they did, often joined by their newfound friends; these short performances were also captured on film. Another difference in this project from the first one is that many of the people they had met and interviewed along the way will also be at the Bellows Falls Opera House with them on Sept. 11 to perform their dance live.

Keltley said, "What I love about these projects is, because dance is an intimate expression, when people tell their stories it always feels like they also offer something personal about their lives. So we get to know strangers in this close way, and from that get to understand a place or community better."

He described himself as fortunate in being able to investigate dance in a wide range of ways. He said, " Dance is quite beautiful, and multifaceted in how people apply it as an art form and enjoy it, so I feel lucky to engage it on a daily basis."

A sneak peek informal screening of "No Hero Vermont" will take place at the Bellow's Falls Opera House, 7 the Square, Bellows Falls, on Thursday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, and advance reservations made by visiting www.vermontperformancelab.org/events or cash only at the door.

"No Hero Vermont" will continue performances throughout Vermont as they refine the presentation, then in the fall of 2015 the second part of the trilogy the "No Hero" project, a production in collaboration with Miguel Gutierrez and filmed as they traveled the rural South, will premiere.

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-2542311 x261 or ceastman@reformer.com