Collide choreographs story about the importance of human connections

By Anne Murphy

As performing arts organizations across the Twin Cities continue to reel from the repercussions of COVID-19, Collide Theatrical Dance Company and Gremlin Theatre are collaborating on the presentation of a dance cabaret at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26, in the parking lot just east of the Gremlin at 550 N. Vandalia St.

Set in the Roaring ’20s of a century ago, The Cafe is a jazz dance production that explores the peaks and valleys of modern-day relationships and emphasizes the importance of human connection. Taking the show outdoors allows Collide’s dancers to reconnect with audiences and gives people a safe way to experience the joy of live performance, according to Collide artistic director and choreographer Regina Peluso, who wrote the show. Social distancing and masks have been a part of all rehearsals for The Cafe, she said, and will be employed in the performances as well.

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Collide Theatrical Dance Company director and choreographer Regina Peluso demonstrates a move for dancer Jarod Boltjes during a recent rehearsal for The Cafe. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We’ve used the (past few months) to pivot our thinking so that we can provide access to the arts to a community that desperately needs the unity and connection that dance provides,” Peluso said. “We’ve recently danced outside at a few nursing homes in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but we needed more.”

“The story is actually about love,” Peluso said. “Not all of the relationships are happy, but all of the characters are intertwined. And by the end of the performance, audiences will see the connections and the importance of human relationships. People will walk away feeling a little better, refreshed.”

“I love the way Collide’s productions focus on storytelling and bring the audience along every step of the way,” said dancer and Midway neighborhood resident Renee Guittar. “Our show this month will feature choreography from the whole cast and a story that weaves all of our characters together. Regina did a great job in creating a narrative that brings a cabaret to life. We’re so grateful for the opportunity after so many months of not being able to rehearse or perform. The adjustments we had to make to keep everyone safe have been worth all of the work in order to get back to dancing.”

“I’m thrilled to be working with Collide on this performance,” said Macalester-Groveland neighborhood resident Heather Brockman. “As a dancer, choreographer and performer, the past months have been a challenge, not only because of the difficulty to continue dance training, but because of the shutdown of all live performances and the opportunities to engage artistically with fellow dancers and audiences.

“COVID has certainly tested everyone’s ability to adapt,” Brockman said. “Though it continues to be a struggle to find ways to keep the company working and training together and our performance season will most certainly be more sparse, Regina has reached out and found ways to collaborate and discover opportunities for our dancers to work with the goal of live performances, which is what we’ve all missed so terribly.”

The Cafe grew out of discussions between Peluso and Gremlin artistic director Peter Christian Hansen. Collide is headquartered at 755 N. Prior Ave., less than a mile from the Gremlin, and the two organizations had been looking for a way to do something outside, according to Peluso. “We said we can do this if we can make dancing on concrete all right for our bodies,” she said. “But our dancers are seasoned professionals, so we thought this would work.”

“Regina and I had talked a couple times in the past about working together in one capacity or another,” said Hansen, who also lives in Macalester-Groveland. “And this show just sort of manifested itself. There has been a lot of brainstorming in the arts, and this falls into that category. We asked, ‘How can we be of use to audiences and artists at this time? What can we do along these lines?’

“We’re basically giving Collide a big assist,” Hansen said. “Regina conceived the performance. We’re providing the space to perform and help with design. We’ve asked, ‘How do we light the space? How do we create an interesting background? How do we create a cool and interesting and simple space behind the performers?’ The focus needs to be on the performers.”

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Collide Theatrical Dance Company members (clockwise from left) Chelsea Rose, Jarod Boltjes, Regina Peluso, Betsy Nelson, Heather Brockman, Rene Guittar and Rush Benson take a break while rehearsing at their studio. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Peluso settled on a cafe as the setting for her story. “I think this shows the power of having one common place where people can gather,” she said. “All of that has been taken away right now. The Cafe will give the feeling of that connection again.

“The story is actually about love,” she said. “Not all of the relationships are happy, but all of the characters are intertwined. And by the end of the performance, audiences will see the connections and the importance of human relationships. People will walk away feeling a little better, refreshed.

“I love the concept of (setting the story) 100 years ago,” she said. “The Roaring ’20s were a time of hope and optimism. Now it’s 2020 and no one saw what was coming. But I think we’ll come roaring back. The arts will come roaring back, and dance will come back with a big bang.”

The Gremlin parking lot is being given the look and feel of a Prohibition era speakeasy, and the dancers will be in flapper costumes reminiscent of the Jazz Age. In fact, the costumes came from Collide’s previous production of The Great Gatsby, a choreographed work based on the 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

All of the music for The Cafe is prerecorded. “This is the first time we haven’t had live music,” Peluso said. “Financially we just couldn’t do it. But the music we have will empower the dance and help tell the story. The music is all pop, but with new arrangements that match the setting.”

The Cafe will also be presented at 7 p.m. Friday, September 18, on the outdoor stage of the Zephyr Theatre, 601 N. Main St. in Stillwater. It may be seen in person or live-streamed online. Tickets are $25, $15 for those age 18 and under. For more information, visit collidetheatrical.org or gremlintheatre.org or call 1-888-718-4253.

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