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‘Dance UP’ series spotlights three exciting Boston companies

The Wondertwins are the final act of the “Dance UP” series.Sally Cohn

Boston dance-makers are in a good place at the moment, to hear some of them tell it. “Right now, the local dance community has exploded,” says Prometheus Dance co-director Diane Arvanites. “There’s more money, lots of dancers are graduating from schools and universities and coming to Boston to do their work. I think there are a lot of forces at play.”

And World Music/CRASHarts has been right in the thick of it. The organization’s annual initiatives supporting local dance have helped create connections, opportunities, and increased visibility. The latest project is “Dance UP,” featuring a trio of Boston’s most exciting dance companies over three performances this weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Art: Danza Orgánica on Friday, Prometheus Dance on Saturday, and the Wondertwins on Sunday.


“There really is a very vigorous dance scene and a really high level of artistic dance talent in Boston,” says Maure Aronson, executive director of World Music/CRASHarts. Over the years, the organization has presented evening-length concerts by select companies and multiple companies in shared evenings. This year, the format has evolved into back-to-back full-evening showcases of individual companies with three distinct aesthetics.

“Our motivation is to give a platform and opportunity for exceptional Boston-based talent,” Aronson says. “Our imprimatur goes a long way for companies to be recognized locally, regionally, and nationally.”

And the full productions that come with a “Dance UP” platform can make a big difference, says Arvanites. “Coming from the studio and self producing — being produced with a huge crew for all the things you need means you can step back and see the work in a different light. It gives the choreographer the opportunity to see the work in a way you don’t normally and can lead to a lot of change and realization about yourself as an art-maker.”


First up is Danza Orgánica, a contemporary dance theater company that explores social justice-oriented themes. Puerto Rican artist Marsha Parrilla, who founded the company in 2007, hopes the company’s performance illuminates different facets of its repertoire from the last two years. Excerpts from “Daca Yanuna” (which means “I am Mother Earth” in Taino), structured around the Native American medicine wheel, incorporate dimensions of spirit, mind, body, and nature in a quest for balance and healing. The recent “Vessel” explores the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and an excerpt from “Melaza,” a collaborative project with Puerto Rico-based artists, examines the outmoded colonial model of their country and envisions a possible future in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The company “is deeply rooted in the community,” Aronson notes, “and they dance with an incredible amount of commitment and enthusiasm.”

Prometheus Dance, co-directed by Arvanites and Tommy Neblett, is celebrating more than three decades of dance-making that is both viscerally charged and provocative, with a deeply humanistic streak. On Saturday night, Prometheus offers works that reflect what Arvanites says is a “pivotal” point in the company’s 30-plus-year history, marking new collaborative processes. “I’m 60, and we’re going through a lot of transitions because of age and identity, all the changes in the world and the country. There’s a lot going on in my mind about the artistry of the company, and slowly, over the past six years, we’ve been bringing in guest artists for workshops and residencies.”

In addition to pieces by the two co-directors, guests Riley Watts and Istanbul-based Korhan Basaran contribute new pieces created through residencies with Prometheus over the past three years. “We think they are really special and resonate with the work Tommy and I have been doing over the years,” says Arvanites. “All the pieces are about connectivity, reflecting the need in society for connection.”


On Sunday night, identical twins Billy and Bobby McClain (the Wondertwins) provide the “Dance UP” finale. Performing professionally since the age of 10, the Boston-based dancers combine hip-hop, tap, and theatrical dance. They will bring two very different works, starting with “That’s Entertainment,” a colorful, freewheeling, lighthearted homage to Broadway and Las Vegas.

The evening’s second half mines considerably darker territory. Billy McClain describes “Black” as a work about police brutality and social injustice viewed from the lens of a black man. “It’s a difficult piece to watch and perform, but we wanted to make the audience feel what many of us feel . . . to see the victim’s side, so they can relate to it,” he says.

“It’s an incredibly strong, superbly danced, and deeply moving statement on Black Lives Matter,” Aronson says.

This will mark the first performance of the full-length piece, which incorporates the words of families of victims of racial injustice as well as policemen struggling with the complexities of their jobs, plus text by Malcolm X. But “Black” also has a ray of light, including messages of hope by Dr. Martin Luther King. “It’s a very honest piece,” McClain says. “There’s so much to talk about. . . . We want to see what kind of conversation can arise.”


Dance UP

Presented by World Music/CRASHarts. At Institute of Contemporary Art. Danza Organica Jan. 25, Prometheus Dance Jan. 26, Wondertwins Jan. 27. Tickets $32-$36. 617-876-4275,

Karen Campbell can be reached at