Taking Flight

BY Marimar McNaughton

Photography by Allison Breiner

When are ordinary movements elevated to the status of dance?

At a popular Third Street gas station that amplifies loud disco dance music at its pumps clients fuel up in full view of the public in a concert of everyday choreography.

Along the riverside in Historic Downtown Wilmington residents and visitors stroll down Water Street early Saturday mornings during the Farmers Market threading their way through a maze of pedestrians and local growers who once a week sell their hand-cut and fresh picked flowers fruit and vegetables.

At Johnnie Mercers Pier in Wrightsville Beach anglers carry their coolers to a favorite fishing spot high above the Atlantic and another curtain rises over a series of rehearsed movements.

On the beach below a family plays bocce pitching their brightly colored balls into the air while a man touches the shoulder of the woman near him to whisper into her ear as a boy rides his skim board along the littoral where the ocean meets the land.

“I think dance ” Karola Luttringhaus begins “… is this preconceived idea of what it is and how good it can possibly be or how much it can possibly interest someone who hasn’t seen it before.” Her Sarus Festival transcends the obvious boundaries between performer and audience.

Luttringhaus is the festival’s founder lead choreographer and visionary genius who migrated to the area last year from Winston-Salem — by way of New York by way of her native Berlin Germany — to build a nest of public support for her alban elved dance company and to stir up a dialogue among artists and followers.

Adopting its name from the Sarus crane the world’s largest flying crane Sarus the festival will land on August 4 for two back-to-back weeklong multi-cultural traveling indoor and outdoor dance experiences that hold the promise of challenging what the public perceives as traditional dance.

During Sarus dancers may pop up in pickup trucks ride into the center of town on motorbikes appear out of the fabric of a familiar beach scene surface among the exhibits of a local art museum or materialize inside a shopping mall. Impromptu performances may take place at any or all of these locations. The audience can expect the lines to be smudged; demystifying the medium of dance is part of the festivals ambition.

Like the Sarus cranes which are indigenous to Pakistan and India some dancers are native to Wilmington and others will fly in from other climates and cultures to cluster in small groups. When Luttringhaus and her colleagues company members and fellow choreographers take to the stage that staging area may literally move from place to place or figuratively transform an unlikely setting into a performance space enlightening and engaging the audience to the possibility that dance is ubiquitous — ever present everywhere.

“I think it’s the best platform to bring dance into the community and raise the awareness for it and an appreciation and understanding ” says Luttringhaus. “We expose people to dance without them actually choosing to go. It’s going to happen where they are. They can stay as long as they want without having to pay. They can take their children. They can leave when the children start to cry. There’s no pressure in that sense.”

Luttringhaus says the Sarus Festival is not just for dance; it’s for any art.

“I’m trying … to push dance because it needs the most help in this community but its going to be overlapping into other media and art genres to music and to theater visual art sculpture and I want to continue to grow it in that direction.”

This year the festival will grow from one week to two and from New Hanover into nearby Pender and Brunswick counties to build a bigger audience for the performances and for the master classes that will be led by visiting choreographers.

“What it wants to grow into — right now it’s wearing shoes that are too big — it wants to bring in dancers from other communities to take classes like a summer program.” Luttringhaus also says the festival wants to embrace cultural diversity.

“Not just dance but dance  film … modern dance … ballet … Indian dance African dance … different genres represented as much as we can find it in this area and as much as we have funds to bring in ” she explains.

Funding is always an issue. Reconciling herself to that task Luttringhaus who writes exhaustive grant proposals is perpetually answering the question: Why do what you do? She has several answers.

“Its what I do ” she says. “Its what I identify myself with. I make performances … as a 501(c)(3) … it’s the best opportunity to make ourselves known and give something back to the community. I need more of an artistic charge here. I need to make a little bit more noise; be louder. It’s a challenge. I like challenge.”

In the year that her company was in residence at the University of North Carolina Wilmington she mounted two full-stage dance productions: “Rooms” in February and “Days of Remembrance” in May. Those who attended will not soon forget the haunting viscerally expressive yet playful quality of her work nor her own performances in her pieces.

The dancing and the classes begin Monday August 4. The festivals opening party takes place two days later on Wednesday August 6 at Bottega Gallery + Art Bar. Beach performances are scheduled in Carolina Beach on Thursday August 7 to coincide with that towns weekly fireworks display and in Wrightsville Beach at sunrise on Saturday August 9 as well as later that same day. Lectures demonstrations and dances continue Sunday August 10 at the Cameron Art Museum. Two companies Jennifer R. Kostel and Turning the Wheel will perform around and on the carousel inside Independence Mall at various dates and times throughout the weeks.

The African dance ensemble Otesha Creative Arts will perform in Burgaw at the train depot on Friday August 8; alban elved will commit its truck dances at Bailey Park on Front Street and Riverfront Park on Friday August 8 and on Saturday August 16 at the Red Barn Studio. Various artists will perform during the Farmers’ Market on Saturday August 9. With a health fair master classes for dancers and children yoga and tai chi instruction and even an evening of acoustic guitar music Sarus takes flight and lands smoothly at a black tie fundraising finale at WHQR gallery on Sunday August 17 to benefit alban elved the mothership.

Less than two months out from the festival’s opening day Luttringhaus is pecking through her cache of creative ideas deciding which ones to loft into one of four pieces in as many locations that will adapt to the festival’s two-week schedule. She will back-burner the administrative work by half and turn up the heat on her own choreography narrow things down make her programs adaptable to these locations. Luttringhaus says “It’s a puzzle basically. I just hope the community will see the potential for this and support it; that organizations will come forth and see that this is good for the cultural landscape.”