Words // Phyl Newbeck
Photos // Todd Stoilov // www.toddstoilov.com
Burlington-based dancer and choreographer Heather Bryce believes that anybody can dance. That’s why Bryce Dance Company includes a community component which features multi-generational participants. “I’m really attracted to creating works for people and bodies you don’t always see on stage,” she said. “Everyone can move and express themselves through dance, and it’s important to give people that perspective.”
Bryce founded her dance company in Boston in 2006 when she mentioned to her fellow dancers that she had choreographed some works. “Suddenly I had rehearsal space and four dancers,” she said. Within two years, Bryce Dance had grown to nine dancers and was performing throughout Boston.
In 2008, Bryce relocated to Montpelier. She had only planned to spend the summer in the capital city, but fell in love with the Green Mountain State and decided to stay. Having no connections to the area, it took some time to get her troupe going, but by 2011 she had begun to work with other dance companies. In one of her early productions, Bryce organized, directed, and danced in a benefit for victims of Tropical Storm Irene.
Bryce describes her company’s style as contemporary performance dance. “Part of our mission,” she said “is to bring performance to communities and gather stories and build that into our work.”
These days, Bryce is in the process of establishing non-profit status for her company with the help of a four-person board of directors. Bryce Dance has two parts: a seven-person touring group and a fifteen-person community company with dancers ranging in age from their early teens to sixties. The community troupe goes out and creates works based on the spaces in which they perform. In 2012, they visited Cathedral Square independent living facilities and the Brattleboro Senior Center, holding workshops in which they asked residents to come up with movements they associated with concepts like dignity. These movements were then incorporated into multi-media performances with dance, music, and video projection as well as oral histories of the residents as part of the sound score.
This spring, Bryce initiated the Montpelier Project, in which she collaborated with local visual artists on a series of events designed to showcase what makes Montpelier unique. The month-long festivities included twice-weekly performance pieces, Sunday morning site-specific dances, and a Tuesday night dinner series, all curated by Bryce. Over 50 artists participated and over 400 audience members took part.
Bryce hopes to replicate the project on a slightly smaller scale in the Queen City next spring. The progression from dance and choreography to curating events like the Montpelier Project—organizing and selecting artists much as a museum curator finds art for and plans an exhibit—was a natural one for Bryce. “I like building a community of artists from different disciplines who are interested in engaging each other,” she said.
In 2015, Bryce Dance Company will take part in six different collaborations with other creatives including artist Alisa Dworsky, DJ Frank Grymes and body painting artist Kadina Dinash of The Human Canvas, composer and pianist Andric Severance, and more. Most will be in Central Vermont, but others will travel across the country. Bryce is particularly proud of a site-specific piece which will take place at Wrightsville Reservoir in Middlesex on August 15. The reservoir covers what used to be the town of Lonesome Bend, and for the 80th anniversary of its creation, Bryce will develop a piece that calls attention to the history of the site and focuses on displacement and homelessness. Residents who have experienced homelessness or were temporarily displaced by Tropical Storm Irene will be invited to take part.
Bryce likes to finish performances with a question and answer session, but in contrast to many such discussions, she is the one who asks the questions, often inquiring how audiences felt about a particular piece and what it meant to them. “Art has the potential to change lives and change people’s positions on issues,” said Bryce. “We have an interest in opening dialogue.”
For more information on Bryce Dance Company, visit www.brycedancecompany.com.