Kristin Alexander always noticed a painting in her mother-in-law's house — one that her MIL, Leslie Alexander, had actually painted. In the impressionistic rendering, a shadowy figure walks alone in front of darkened adobe-like structures. All the windows are dim except for one. The light beams down on the figure, shrouding it in an aura. The painting always gave Alexander pause — its allure transcending easy description.
"I think it's significant that the image could stay with me even when I'm not around it," Alexander says. "The first impression that the painting made on me has been something that as an artist I continually go back to. You find the right time to investigate it. This was the right time to investigate it. I had to have the right context and maybe I needed to have the right collaborators."
Alexander found the right context and collaborators. The mysterious painting was the inspiration behind Annex Dance Company's latest work, A Light in A Window. As head of the modern dance group, Alexander's mode of creating the company's work always stems from sources other than the art of dance itself.
"What makes Annex unique is that in every piece that I create there's some kind of collaborative element or outside inspiration that's pushing the creative process," she says.
The process of going from a painting to choreography required Alexander and the other dancers in Annex to write stories based on her mother-in-law's work, manifesting their own thoughts on the art, to take the initial steps toward their choreography.
"We decided what was important about the painting," Alexander says. "It was the light in the window. We didn't focus on the fact that there was a significant figure in it. We took it as that could be anyone. This started all as one point of view but we each had our own point of view of what it is about this light in the window."
Some of the dancers wrote about what was happening inside the house. Others wrote about what it was like to see the light in the window. Dancers began working out their movements to their stories and sharing ideas with each other on those patterns and routines. Alexander came in to weave it together so that the individual choreography became a whole story in movement.
"The fact that the dancers all had an opportunity and were asked to improvise about the text and the painting allowed us to each have our own authentic voice and create the movements," Alexander says.
That improvisation was the context Alexander needed to draw out a dance from the painting. Such a technique also stands out from Annex Dance Company's prior work. With A Light in A Window, Annex utilized spontaneous and intuitive movements to shape the story more so than in other creations.
"A couple years ago I don't know if that's the kind of work I would have been creating," Alexander says.
The collaborative element that Alexander needed to fulfill her painting-based choreography came from Evan Perry, an acting instructor and colleague of Alexander's at College of Charleston. Alexander has worked with Perry in the past, and he proved to be fundamental in the new work. It was Perry's suggestion that they use the Viewpoints technique to mold their work. That technique of taking in the surrounding space, shape of bodies in relation to each other, as well as factoring in time and tempo with emotion, movement, and story proved to be crucial in taking a painting and making it into a dance.
"[Viewpoints] developed this way of seeing and hearing and being aware of one another," Alexander says. "That influences how we are throughout the entire dance."
While this idea of dancing to a painting might seem abstract, the composition that such a process creates is one that Alexander believes will prove seamless for the audience. In the end, it's all art.
"There's one section where there's four of us dancing," Alexander says. "I don't know if the audience will know it's actually improvised because the way we find one another and lead one another feels so organic. That's a really nice feeling to be that close to each other in understanding and awareness of each other's movements."