Contemporary dance lovers should make their way to the Dayton Playhouse (1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton) this Saturday, May 23, for SMAG Dance Collective’s annual Spring Fling performance at 4 and 8 p.m.
Artistic director Michael Groomes founded the nonprofit troupe in 2003 to fill a void in Dayton’s artistic community.
“Back in 2003,” he recalled, “I was teaching dance at Sinclair Community College, and so I met lots of dancers, and it seemed like there were a lot of dancers in the area looking for opportunities to perform in styles outside of classical technique–hip-hop dancers, belly dancers, different types who weren’t getting a chance to be exposed to audiences. The [local] arts organizations, back then, were more performing at audiences as opposed to trying to engage them and get them to understand the capabilities of this abundance of artists we have in Dayton and the messages they want to get out.”
So Groomes made a promise to his children. To that end, SMAG is an acronym culled from the names of Groomes’ sons, Sean-Michael and Gavyn.
“I promised my kids that by the time they were 12 years old, I would have a company in their name. In September 2003, my son was due to turn 12, and that August, I felt like it was the right time. We incorporated hip-hop dancers onstage with modern and ballet dancers…all of it, together. That was something new in Dayton.”
One of SMAG’s defining aspects has been unexpected artistic partnerships. Fueled by Groomes’ restless drive to constantly turn audiences’ concept of “art” on its head to create new ideas, SMAG has combined in the past with visual artists, fashion designers, live musicians improvising new works, and more.
“That’s something else that wasn’t really happening back when we got started,” Groomes said of the collaborations that have become a hallmark for the ever-evolving troupe. “I thought we could bring a different perspective to the table, and keep reforming that perspective.”
Expect more of these creative fusions as SMAG looks ahead to its 12th season.
“We’re working on a September fundraiser with K12 Gallery, a huge event with DJs and house music, and live performances in multiple styles. We’ll be working with the Dayton Metro Library’s outreach program. We’re trying to get to a Lakota-Sioux reservation in South Dakota to work with the youth there and learn how to fuse Native American dance style with contemporary.”
Internationally acclaimed painter Mike Elsass, a Dayton native who remains based here, has joined forces with SMAG in past years to create live works of visual art–at a previous Spring Fling show, dancers writhed and swayed across a giant canvas spread out on the stage floor as Mike wove among them painting both bodies and canvas. Groomes says Elsass will return to the fold next season for a new venture.
Additionally, fall will see a new edition of SMAGmare, the collective’s yearly Halloween-themed performance typically held outdoors in the Oregon Historic District. SMAGmare began as a pop-up event to engage arts tourists wandering Fifth Street during October First Friday festivities, and was so successful that it’s become an anticipated annual feature. Going further in the spirit of multi-discipline collaboration, this year’s performance will pull in a local theatre group.
Outreach efforts like these have resulted in an incredibly diverse following for the group; SMAG performances routinely draw some of the most diversified audiences in the Dayton arts scene.
“You look at the U.S. census for Dayton, and that’s more or less what you’re gonna see when you look around at our dancers and audiences,” said Groomes. “It’s amazing to see the different types and faces and economic backgrounds that come together when we perform, and we’ve been extremely blessed to have that kind of support from across the board, and we’re looking forward to seeing more of that at the Spring Fling.”
SMAG’s Spring Fling show will serve as a platform for new works from both emerging and accomplished choreographers, including Groomes, whose entry is a civil rights-influenced piece.
“My piece in the show,” he said, “is inspired by the lives and works of three women: Ruby Bridges, the first black female child to be integrated into public school in New Orleans; Viola Liuzzo, the first white woman to die in her efforts to achieve civil rights; and Mahalia Jackson, who spent a lot of time traveling with Martin Luther King and served as kind of a hype man for him with her rousing gospel songs before his speeches. These were three incredible women who left a great legacy, and I wanted to honor that.”
The concert also features diverse and challenging works by SMAG associate artistic director Taiesha Green, Renee MeClendon of the McClendon Institute, Shonna Hickman-Matlock of DCDC, and Jordan Daughterty of DCDC2.
“We encourage the audience to be active,” Groomes said. “If you see something you like, speak up. Shout and cheer, because when the dancers get that feedback, they continue to step it up, and the audience gets back what they put into it. We want our audience to feel like they have the freedom to express themselves.”
Tickets for SMAG’s Spring Fling can be purchased at the door, or at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/754467; prices are $10 for students and seniors, $15 general admission, and $25 VIP seating. VIP ticket holders will also receive a gift upon entry.
Dancers interested in auditioning for SMAG’s upcoming season, or community artists interested in working with the troupe can call Michael Groomes at 937-329-6948, or email [email protected].