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In Kate Weare’s dances, tenderness, brutality, and spike-heeled platform pumps

Kate Weare, Leslie Kraus, and Douglas Gillespie of the Kate Weare Company, which will make its Boston debut at the ICA.

Kiera Heu-Jwyn Chang

Kate Weare, Leslie Kraus, and Douglas Gillespie of the Kate Weare Company, which will make its Boston debut at the ICA.

NEW YORK — It is a cloudless day outside, bright and a bit brisk for the first week of April. But while sun streams through the windows of the Mark Morris Dance Center’s Cole Studio in Brooklyn, the Kate Weare Company dancers inside navigate some dark emotional terrain. Front and center, Luke Murphy and T.J. Spaur manipulate Leslie Kraus through all manner of convoluted couplings and lifts that send her swirling up and over the two men. The dynamics seem to morph from collaboration to confrontation and back again in a heartbeat.

Off to the side, Douglas Gillespie wrestles with a pair of 6-inch spike-heeled platform pumps, tottering in a low squat. You can tell each step, in a kind of arched-back booty walk, goes against the grain of his musculature as he works to provocatively tilt his pelvis. “Yes, that’s it,” says Weare with excitement, enjoying the contradiction of the moment. “It’s girly, but it’s as if you can’t help but be super masculine. Would you have the balance to really stretch the leg forward?” Indeed, he does. With great concentration, he extends a long muscular leg that seems to stretch forever with the help of those shiny black patent leather heels. “Beautiful,” Weare says.

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For Weare, whose company makes its Boston debut at the Institute of Contemporary Art Friday and Saturday, it’s all about identity and relationships. World Music/CRASHarts executive director Maure Aronson calls Weare’s dances “sensually charged and very compelling,” in exploring the intimacy and power between men and women. He attributes a lot of that to Weare’s superb dancers. “She uses these very powerful bursts of movement often followed by silence and stillness, and the relationships between the dancers is essential to executing her vision,” he says. “When you’re doing work that is this sensual, there has to be a synergy, and they’ve got that.”

In Weare’s world, dancers are never merely beautiful bodies moving through space. They are human beings searching for connection amidst rapidly shifting negotiations for trust, power, and control. Weare explains, “It’s been my experience of my own emotional life that feelings are not linear. They’re really paradoxical, and they contradict themselves even in the moment that we’re having them. I’m experiencing that so powerfully right now with my [7-month-old] baby. Even as she’s calming down and softening, like when she’s getting sleepy or nursing, her little fingers are grabbing and she has this constant need to explore. Some of that remains in us even as adults, that we feel tenderly toward someone at the same time we resent them, that we can love someone and also fear them. I try to find a way to let those kinds of contradictions resonate in the dancing.”

For this Boston engagement, Weare’s company offers three area premieres. The most substantial is the 35-minute “Garden,” and in rehearsal just two weeks before the Boston debut, Weare is still tweaking the 2011 quartet. Intense and animated yet soft-spoken, the 1994 CalArts graduate has seldom been one to rest on her laurels. “I want to research to see if we need as much impact as we’ve been doing,” she tells the dancers. “This piece is coursing between brutality and tenderness. It’s virtuosic and powerful. I’m looking for those moments of vulnerability, and when you can establish yourselves as a kind of tribe. As we get ready for Boston, let’s continue to search for that end of the spectrum.”

Weare describes “Garden” as an exploration of human frailty and social structuring in the face of nature’s power and unpredictability, represented in part by a tree hanging upside down from the rafters and a giant stump off to the side, providing a kind of safe spot for the four dancers in turn. But she says the work has changed dramatically since its premiere, partly in response to what the new dancers in her company have to offer, and partly because, she says, “that’s how you stay alive in a work. The dancers are not empty vessels that I’m filling. They bring complex identities — their own sets of artistic instincts, their training history, their culture, their sexuality. I absorb that into the work and make use of it. Of course, it’s refracted through my perception of them.”

The 2006 duet “Drop Down,” which won the top honor in the Joyce Theater’s 2007 “The A.W.A.R.D. Show!,” deals with subconscious sexuality. Weare recalls the work’s genesis. “I was studying tango, and I was really fascinated by how threatening it was for me. As a modern dancer, I was so unused to the idea that I wasn’t in control, the man [controls partnering]. I got totally obsessed. It’s an extraordinary form, really interior, that really throws your issues about relationships back in your face. It’s an extraordinary metaphor to explore how you are in relationships, and I realized certain things about my own hang-ups. ‘Drop Down’ is me telling myself the truth about my issues, so it’s a very combative piece about a man and a woman, sort of the way a woman negotiates male dominance and power, harnessing it and trying to control it.”

The three-part “The Light Has Not the Arms to Carry Us” uses some of the material featured in “Garden,” but, Weare says, “It’s recontextualized. ‘Light’ is more distilled. It is three studies about strong feelings. The first is abasement, about punishing oneself. The second is a tribal dance, a dialogue of rhythms. When they go into unison it becomes this anonymous force. The third, a duet for two men, is set to Piazzolla, so there’s a tango influence. It’s more emotive, almost romantic.”

Romantic is not a description Weare’s athletic, viscerally charged work often elicits. In fact, she recalls one particular concert on tour in which an audience member during the post-performance Q&A said that she was troubled to see so much raw aggression in Weare’s dances. “Then a man spoke up and said that aggression is so much a part of our age that it felt totally present and resonant for him. That was his experience of the world. It’s great when two people watching the same dance can have totally different responses. I think art is a gift. You just give it, and people take what they want from it or turn away. It can help people understand themselves.”

She adds, “I ask the dancers to do a lot of questioning, how and why. I’ve never been interested in dance as abstract mark-making, but I’m not looking for narrative either. I’m interested in meaning and form and how they connect at the crux. The beauty of dance is its ambiguity, so people can bring to it what they need.”

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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