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Artists Come Together for TRIP

An afternoon rehearsal for Trip the Light.

Members of DITA practice for a coming performance.

Members of DITA practice for a coming performance.

Members of DITA practice for a coming performance.

Before moving to Grand Rapids, Amy Wilson never stayed in one location for very long. She was born in Kansas, but her interest in contemporary dance came during her teen years in California where she joined her high school’s contemporary dance program. Wilson moved back to Kansas to study dance at Wichita State University and then found herself in New York where she met her husband, Erin Wilson. After the birth of their first child, the Wilsons moved to West Michigan in 2001. They settled in Grand Rapids where he became director of the historic Wealthy Theatre.

Wilson liked the community of Grand Rapids and that her children would "know this one house," but she couldn’t find much to satisfy her interest or exercise her skills in contemporary dance. “There isn’t any place to take regular classes unless you go into a studio with children," she says, "which is not always what you want to do when you’re 25, 30, or 40 years old."

In 2008, she and a friend founded Dance in The Annex (DITA). There, Wilson and her partner planned and held "master classes" from highly trained, well-respected guest dance artists who travelled into Grand Rapids from dance communities around the world, or who were in residency at local universities. DITA started facilitating master classes once a month, and the response was encouraging. Now, DITA facilitates adult classes at all levels and includes dancers with a large range of backgrounds, professions, and motivations.

"A lot of the dance artists in Grand Rapids, especially the ones that teach at the university level or have degrees from universities, are interested in being a part of this," she states. "So, I think that says a lot."

Once the classes gained popularity, DITA expanded into events. "You get dancers in a room and they're like, 'hey, let's perform!' It was very organic," explains Wilson. Almost by chance, in 2009, the dancers of DITA had the opportunity to collaborate at Grand Rapids' first ArtPrize. They performed a short piece multiple times a day throughout the event to very responsive and positive crowds. From that Artprize entry came Salmugundi, DITA's annual fall performance, and the collaborations continued.

In the spring of 2010, the nonprofit organization ArtPeers was in need of a fundraising event and decided on a collaboration between local musicians, playing live, and DITA. "It was actually Erin's idea," says Wilson, "because the (Wealthy Theatre) had seen so many bands, and the music community is so strong; and, what goes better with live music than live performance?" From this event, DITA's annual spring performance, Trip the Light (TRIP) was born.

TRIP is a huge production mobilizing almost countless individuals, including six local choreographers, two guest choreographers, and two 'dance on camera' teams. The choreographers select their pieces from a pool of original music submitted by local musicians, who then play live at the performance. "TRIP encourages 'entanglements' between artists of every discipline, and Wealthy Theatre provides a nimble platform for experimenting," says Erin Wilson. "There's an energy of not knowing what will happen next, but feeling like it'll be bigger than you could imagine."

Each year's TRIP has a theme. This year's theme, "Mythical," centers around solos, each choreographed by the dancer and scored by the band Paucity. Each dancer is also working with a local artist who is involved in everything from set aesthetics to costumes, depending on the specific piece and the collaboration between the individuals. "It's such an intimate thing when you perform with someone," says (Amy) Wilson. "Once you do a TRIP or once you do a Salmugundi, you're family."

The collaboration between all of these artists of different mediums -- most of whom live in Grand Rapids -- and also those organizing the production from behind the scenes, brings together a very diverse audience to Grand Rapids' 102-year-old Wealthy Theatre.

"I feel like we've definitely gotten a lot of attention because of what we're doing and our openness to collaborate. Just being really open to possibilities, like the last Trip the Light with Rachel and the swings," Wilson says, referring to last year's collaboration between two local forces, choreographer and dancer Rachel Finan and the band Expunk. "That was really different and really daring, and people appreciate that."

After the production is over, Wilson will use the continued success of DITA as motivation to jump into new projects. "There's a lot of long term goals," she says, including finding DITA their own space and creating relationships with donors. "Immediately, I just want to keep doing good work. I just want to keep challenging myself. I just want to keep challenging the audience and creating relationships with other artists and musicians and dancers and choreographers and lighting designers and photographers -- and just keep doing more."

Most importantly, Wilson is happy, and her passion for her craft and her peers is contagious. "If we're in a rehearsal or in a class, each time starts with us laughing and ends with us laughing," she says. "This is a really good thing. This really fills me with a lot of joy and makes me feel really good." Hopefully, this attitude and their continued successes will keep the Wilsons investing their talents in Grand Rapids for many years to come.

TRIP THE LIGHT: MYTHICAL will be performed at Wealthy Theatre this Saturday, May 11 at 8:00 p.m.

J. Rae Young is a writer, bartender, and community volunteer in Grand Rapids. She is a passionate promoter of Grand Rapids' dynamic local music scene, venues and businesses, and an advocate of cultural understanding. She has taught English to primary school students in Tanzania, Africa, and treasures personal growth through travel.

Photography by Adam Bird
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