Banning Bouldin Has Given Nashville Something to Talk About—A New Dance Language With Its Own Accent
by Cat Acree | Photograph by Hunter Armistead
There are a number of reasons for the unexpected success of New Dialect, Nashville’s emerging contemporary dance collective, but it all comes down to Artistic Director Banning Bouldin, who recognizes two very important things about dance. It is a universal language and therefore one of the most accessible art forms—but a lot of people don’t think of it that way. So even though Nashville native Bouldin started New Dialect exactly when the local arts landscape was hospitable to change, she never predicted the overwhelming level of support.
Like so many dancers before her, Bouldin fled Nashville in 1998 to pursue the type of fusion dance modeled at Julliard, which offers the best techniques from the past and the best tools from the present to propel the evolution of choreography. “We need people on this planet who devote themselves to the preservation of said techniques or said approaches,” Bouldin says, “but we also desperately need people who are interested in gleaning from them, peeling them back, digging in to find uncharted territories, so the art form can continue to evolve, and so that we also have a voice in the present tense of what dance is right now.”
After entering the Julliard BFA program and then traveling the globe with a Stockholm dance company, Bouldin returned to Nashville in 2009, when “the city was ready.” In April 2013 she established New Dialect, intending to focus on providing relevant training for dancers, choreographers, and teachers who want to pursue careers in the field of contemporary dance. But in June 2014, Centennial Park invited New Dialect for an ongoing creative residency, which provided the opportunity to plan their first performance. They debuted at OZ in August 2014, expecting an audience of 150 to 200 people. Almost 700 attended, pressed together with standing room only.
Following the OZ success, commissions began pouring in. The Frist asked them to participate in their Kandinsky retrospective; TedXNashville invited them to open their CREO conference, and OZ commissioned the upcoming Trisha Brown retrospective at Zeitgeist.
“I was anticipating having to till through a little more concrete to get traction,” Bouldin says, “but the timing has been so right for many burgeoning contemporary art organizations in Nashville right now. There’s such a hunger from the public to see this sort of work.”
Starting in April, New Dialect performs two original works with INTERSECTION, Nashville’s new contemporary music ensemble, for their debut at the Platform. Bouldin has designed a work called Murmurations for the twelve-minute Concordanza, which vacillates between “vast spaces of time, almost as if you’re listening to the sound . . . of cosmic harmony” and abrasive, idiosyncratic outbursts that transform New Dialect dancers into a twitchy, agitated hive as they swarm and swoop again and again. The second work, B-Sides, which will accompany the “almost sentimentally melodic” Eleven Studies for Eleven Players, is a compilation of some of Bouldin’s favorite choreography that had to hit the cutting-room floor in previous works.
Every weekend in May for OZ’s Trisha Brown retrospective, New Dialect will perform Brown’s 1968 installation Planes at Zeitgeist, with three dancers climbing and traversing a wall while aerial-view projections cover their bodies.
For a more intimate New Dialect experience, Private Edition is hosting a fundraiser for the company on April 16, with 10 percent of sales benefiting the company. Also, New Dialect rehearsals are open to the public at the Centennial Park Arts Center, Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.
Bouldin wants contemporary dance to be accessible for as many people as possible and recognizes that buying a ticket to a contemporary dance performance requires the ability to take a risk. Stripping away any remaining elitism, affordable ticket prices enable potential audience members to feel more comfortable taking that chance.
“There are people on this planet who have taken it upon themselves to learn more than just their mother tongue, so they can communicate with a wider variety of people,” says Bouldin.
“Inside each language we have our own accents, our own dialects, that have to do with where we’re born, the experiences we had, where we moved, who our partner was.” Body language is no misnomer. This is a new voice for Nashville, but we all have bodies, so our mother tongue must be the same.
All dance photographs courtesy of OZ Nashville. Support New Dialect at their fundraising event Cocktails, Cosmetics, & Contemporary Dance at Private Edition on Thursday, April 16, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. See the group perform Planes at Zeitgeist most Saturdays in May. For more information and event details visit www.newdialect.org.