Tapestry Dance Company’s 25th anniversary show combines poetry and dance

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Poetry and tap dancing share the stage in Tapestry Dance Company’s 25th anniversary show, “XXV - Anticipation of Next.” 

Director, veteran choreographer and dancer Matt Shields’ concept for the show, which incorporates dance, poetry and jazz, involves the audience gaining a look into the human mind. 

“I thought it would be interesting to create work that comes from the inside and is really real,” Shields said. “People are going to relate to that, because everyone has a conscious and contemplates choices and decisions they have to make in their everyday life.”

In order to make his idea a reality, Shields invited poet Ebony Stewart to perform spoken word throughout the show. Her voice serves as the conscience and narrator of the thoughts going through the minds of the dancers.

“I was sitting in rehearsal and writing what I saw, and then I would ask the dancers questions to see how they felt about a particular section,” Stewart said. “I wanted to write from what people could relate to, and what I thought people might see when looking at the dance.” 

Stewart wrote easily understandable poetry that is consistent with the dreamy style of dance portrayed by the tap dancers. 

“We wanted it to be relevant to people’s dreams in a metaphorical sense and in an actual sense. It’s very human poetry,” Stewart said. “I know sometimes poetry can be metaphorical, kind of a deeper meaning, but this is very surface level and at the same time thought-provoking.”

Stewart said that working with the various artists involved with “XXV - Anticipation of Next” was a challenge because she had to relate spoken word to different types of art. 

“It allows me to be versatile, so instead of just writing poetry, I get to then make my poetry match what someone else’s poetry might be,” Stewart said. “I feel like jazz, that’s their type of poetry. Tap dances, that’s their type of poetry. So I have to take what I know and make it fit and make it work.”

The idea of working with multiple types of artistry in one production has been around since Tapestry Dance Company was established 24 years ago. Under the artistic direction of Acia Gray, the company focuses on using mixed mediums as well as training its dancers to view tap in an unorthodox way. 

“In my opinion, what makes Tapestry what Tapestry Dance Company is, is that we take tap dance and put it in, wrap it up or attach it to an emotional, human condition,” Gray said. “To a place that means something on a spiritual or everyday life level.” 

As one of the original founders, Gray takes great pride in the company and its mission. In the past, she worked closely with dancers as the head director of shows, but she was recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

“Obviously it’s major surgery, and it comes with two other surgeries right after it, and I just finished the second one not too long ago which kind of put me out of it for the beginning of the rehearsals and the preliminary set up in November,” Gray said.

Although she is recovering, the surgeries caused Gray to give more direction responsibility to Shields for this show and several before it. 

“It’s always challenging working with a group of people, especially when you’re the quote-unquote ‘leader’ or the person whose vision it is,” Shields said. “Trying to make people understand what you see and what you feel as a choreographer and to try and relate that to others is one of the biggest challenges.” 

Gray said she was extremely proud of Shields for stepping in and taking responsibility during her absence. 

This show both celebrates the legacy of Tapestry Dance Company and looks forward to the future. 

“What’s wonderful about it is that Matt is part of a legacy of Tapestry and what Tapestry really means, and he started with me when he was 19 years old and has grown into a beautiful artist,” Gray said. “So the legacy of Tapestry and his growth really emend to the 25th anniversary.”