It wasn’t until he began compiling music to use in his latest dance work that choreographer Paul Besaw noticed how prominent a part God played in the bluegrass and blues music he’d listened to growing up.
So he decided to shape the piece around it.
Besaw’s evening-length performance, The One-Stop Dance Tramp Family Band Tour, which debuts at Burlington’s FlynnSpace this weekend, features exclusively Christian music, from “I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning” to Muddy Waters’ “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You.” “Which is funny,” Besaw says, “because I’m so not religious. But I suddenly realized that all this Christian music is in me. It’s not part of who I am, spiritually, but it’s in me.”
In the show, all that music comes out. Local musicians strum it on banjos, guitars and mandolins, while Vermont dancers move, stomp and sing to it.
The core group of performers is part of Dance Tramp, a new collective that grew out of another Besaw work, Self-ADDRESSED, and choreographer Clare Byrne’s The Poor Sister Clare’s Traveling Dancing Monk Show last spring. Both works featured many of the same dancers. “We all just got along really well and were having a good time,” says Besaw.
This latest work, Besaw says, was inspired in part by Poor Sister Clare’s, in which Byrne explored her Catholic upbringing. But while that work dug deeply into ritual and prayer, Besaw’s One-Stop is a secular celebration of religious music. His seems more like a homespun, foot-stomping dance party than a formal contemporary dance work.
In large part, that’s because of the rollicking live music.
“Old-time church music is really good at getting people together; that’s kind of its purpose,” says Jom Hammack, an associate psychology professor at the University of Vermont and one of the show’s musicians.
Besaw has encouraged the dancers to perform as if they’re musicians in a band. “I’ve become infatuated with musical performance conventions,” he says. Orchestras perform with highly stylized ritual, but when bluegrass or rock bands play, “there’s a release and a break, and people applaud,” Besaw says. “Whatever mode you’re in when you’re a musician, you seem to go back to being yourself.”
Besaw has been playing with that release in this show, allowing the dancers to relax from their performer personae between the songs. Sometimes that means mingling with the audience.
One-Stop showcases an array of vivacious Vermont dancers — all of whom collaborated on choreography — from the Montpelier Movement Collective to Middlebury College’s newest dance professor and founding artistic director of New York’s INSPIRIT dance company, Christal Brown.
“I had this idea of pulling as many people as I could into a room,” Besaw says. “I think this Vermont dance community is really fantastic.”
"The One-Stop Dance Tramp Family Band Tour (and other works)," choreographed by Paul Besaw. Saturday and Sunday, December 1 and 2, at 7:30 p.m. at FlynnSpace in Burlington. $16-20. flynntix.org, facebook.com/DanceTramp