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Baran Dance’s ‘Homegrown’ Feeds on Edgy Sunshine

A mix of local talent from multiple mediums

Dancers in black exercise clothes rehears Baran Dance's Homegrown show in a white room
Rehearsal of Baran Dance’s ‘Homegrown’ show, scheduled for June 1-2. (Photo by Perry Tannebaum)

Is Audrey Baran the lead dancer at Baran Dance or is she the lead choreographer? Yes! 

As an evening at Parr Center during Baran Dance’s Homegrown show this weekend will confirm, Baran is still the throbbing heart of her company’s performances and choreography. But after 12 years at the forefront, Baran admits she’s withdrawing — a little.

“It’s been nice for me to relinquish some of the creative work and also to lean into that mentorship role that Baran Dance is really focused on,” she explains. “For a while, when I was the only choreographer in the company, I was performing so much in my own work, which is really hard to do. So I’m leaning into being just solely the choreographer for the pieces that I make and then being a dancer in other people’s work.”

Of the eight pieces on the bill for Homegrown, scheduled for June 1-2, Baran has choreographed three, the leadoff piece, “Tumbleweeds,” and the two closers, “Blood of Fools” and “Night Vision.” Among the remaining five pieces in-between, Baran will be onstage at Central Piedmont Community College’s Parr Center dancing in another three, Carolina Quirós Otárola’s “Regresar,” Ashley L. Tate’s “Carry the Weight,” and “Ouroboros” by Rahquelah Conyers and Lydia Heidt.

For Baran to say that she is “a dancer” in these latter works is shameless modesty, grossly understating her enduring energy, her luminous grace and her expressive charisma on the floor. Nor is the originality of Homegrown limited to the performances and the choreography we will see; all of the music is also original and homegrown.

Although rehearsals for Homegrown began early in January, planning for the Baran Dance season began in early fall with all the musicians on board.

Audrey Baran emphasized that ‘Homegrown’ was supported by the Infusion Fund ‘and its generous donors.’ (Photo by Perry Tannebaum)

“Yeah, it’s been a lot of work, a lot of artists going into it,” Baran admits. “The musicians all were asked to create new music. And so we had most of the music or at least a rough draft from them before we started choreographing. But there was certainly a lot of conversation and back and forth with each choreographer and their respective musician about tweaking the music and — maybe the choreographers had ideas — just talking about what the music means to the musician or the band and then what the dance means to the dancers and the choreographers.”

Baran Dance is a resident company of Open Door Studios, where half of Homegrown was workshopped on Cinco de Mayo (with drinks and snacks on the side). BD2, a youth company for high school students, was layered onto the main company in 2015, and BDU, an intern program for college students, began in 2022. 

Read more: Open Door Studios Makes a New Charlotte Home Inside Eastway Crossing

The network of local colleges connected with Baran Dance includes Winthrop University and Central Piedmont Community College, while UNC Charlotte, where Baran is a visiting professor, supplies the steadiest stream.

Ties to the musical community begin close to home, as Baran’s husband Mark plays with local indie-rock foursome Moa. So why wouldn’t Moa lead singer Lindsey Ryan wish to contribute her original music to Homegrown? “Pleiades” will also showcase choreography by two company members, Lauren Bickerstaff and Kate Micham.

“I’ve known Lindsey for years and years and years,” Audrey says. “Her voice is just beautiful and ethereal, and she plays a lot of solo piano, and it’s very minimal in a lot of ways.”

Baran says that “Pleiades” is definitely the most feminist piece on the program, inspired by female friendships. A bold claim when you’re talking about a company whose dancers and choreographers are overwhelmingly female.

“Male dancers are just not easy to come by, especially in Charlotte,” Baran shrugs. “So we definitely have a feminist-leaning aesthetic, and I think choreographers coming in know that and see that. But also it doesn’t matter because, as far as partnering or roles that people might play in a piece, women partner women.”

The heaviest lifting will likely surface in the aptly-titled Carry the Weight, a collaboration between longtime musical associate Derrick J. Hines, or DJHayche4Now, and Ashley Tate, a newer colleague of Baran’s now in her second year at UNC Charlotte. 

Dancers in black exercise clothes rehears Baran Dance's Homegrown show in a white room
Rehearsal of Baran Dance’s ‘Homegrown.’ Audrey Baran is in the middle. (Photo by Perry Tannebaum)

Perhaps what Baran enjoys most about watching the piece — and dancing in it — is the different way it moves.

“It’s more progressive,” she declares, “more jazz or hip-hop influence than things we may have done recently, I think. But I did tell her ‘I want to be in your piece.’ So I hope that she was happy to have me.”

After watching its partial premiere last summer at Open Door, Baran says she begged Otárola to be in that duet, now the middle section of Regresar, with music by Liza Ortiz, aka La Brava. The evocations of migration, migrant camps, and the burdensome travails of travel are unmistakable and epic. Baran, Otárola and Ortiz all relate personally to them.

Baran also knew Otárola, who’s originally from Costa Rica, for years before she joined the company as a dancer in 2021.

“Carolina is also an aerialist and a circus performer, so her work is very heavy with partnering, with contact,” says Baran. “She really loves using props and posing new challenges to dancers, which I love.”

The midsection of Ortiz’s music, clocking in overall at more than 10 minutes, peels away the guitar and electronic accompaniment from the vocals to leave us with a purely yearning a capella. Through duetting or maybe sleek studio overdubbing, there’s a strong sense of female bonding. Emerging from beneath a blue fabric, Baran dances the memorable duet with Heidt.

Dancers in black exercise clothes rehears Baran Dance's Homegrown show in a white room
Rehearsal of Baran Dance’s ‘Homegrown.’ (Photo by Perry Tannebaum)

Baran’s most impactful piece is the one she least wanted to write: “Blood of Fools,” with music by Jeremy Davis, who performs as Elonzo Wesley. She had already choreographed a work about the shootings at UNC Charlotte in 2019 titled “Luck of the Young.” Then it felt to Baran like she must address this one incident directly, along with the issue of gun control.

Post-pandemic, she’s seeing the ongoing scourge through a different lens.

“This is a little more from the angle of the epidemic of shootings at schools with younger children,” Baran stresses, “and the impact it has on each of us at whatever stage in our life that we’re in: public school students, college students, or parents.”

What is the shooting count — or the body count — at US elementary schools, high schools, and colleges for 2024? Amid the hand-wringing over October 7 and Gaza, most of us have lost track. Wesley has some pungent words for how we’ve reacted to our own campus carnage.

“Thoughts and prayers/ The way the bullshit fills the air like sunshine/ Their memories, oh how you piss on them with all your pandering/ The rhetoric, a lack of oxygen is suffocating me/ While wisdom bleeds out of the halls of democracy…” 

Balancing this bitter mourning, Baran has programmed a celebration of youth. The most youthful Homegrown work, “Continuum,” turns out to be a family project. Guest artist Gray Laxton choreographed the piece and their twin brother Jacob created the music. 

The twins’ sister, Mikaela Laxton, is in the main company, but since she’ll be a member of a wedding party this weekend, won’t be able to perform. Meanwhile, she’s been the rehearsal director.

The Laxtons paired up to pitch Baran on ways they could combine and contribute, so she opened the door at Open Door for a youth segment in Homegrown.

Rehearsal of Baran Dance’s ‘Homegrown.’ (Photo by Perry Tannebaum)

“I thought this would be a great chance for them to work with some of our younger dancers,” Baran recalls. “So that piece has dancers from our apprentice company, BD2, and some of our [BDU] interns as well.”

After graduating Central Academy of Technology and the Arts in 2021, Gray Laxton relocated to the Big Apple, pursuing a double degree — BFA in choreography and a BA in graphic design — at Marymount Manhattan College. Brother Jacob’s soundtrack is cool, polished and deftly multi-tracked. We’ll hear synthesized beats and instruments, episodes of rock and turbulence, and sprinklings of squawking birds and ocean waves.

If Gray’s choreography and the dancers’ work are equal to the music, “Continuum” will be a winner, interns or not.

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