The progression of the dancers is relentless, driving, even mesmerizing as they walk in a deliberate pattern around the rehearsal space. Occasionally one breaks out, pausing for a moment to strike an angular pose, but he or she quickly returns to the group, pulled back into lockstep.
The dance, set to instrumental music performed by the avant garde Fireworks Ensemble, is Georgia Corner's "Anti-Panurge," which premieres Friday, Nov. 13, in Overture Center's Promenade Hall. (The title refers to Panurge, a character in a story by Rabelais. Panurge throws a sheep overboard a ship he's traveling on, and the rest of the sheep follow.)
With seven choreographers for one 90-minute program called "Autumn Heart," the modern dance company Kanopy Dance will present multiple artistic visions, each with an individual theme. The program's eight works include six premieres. Works range from romantic and pastoral to starkly political, with the only unity of vision being that there is not one.
Kanopy's co-artistic directors, the husband and wife team of Lisa Thurrell and Robert Cleary, said that every choreographer was free to do his or her own piece, with no over-arching theme.
"We do have this mission as a repertory company, which means it isn't just my and Robert's choreography," Thurrell said. "We bring in guests, we re-create older works, we re-stage works, we try to get guest performers."
Incorporating many visions is not only more interesting to the audience, it's a joy for the directors as well.
"It's very artistically fulfilling for us," Cleary said, "watching Jim (Lieberthal)'s process, watching Maureen (Janson)'s process, watching Georgia's process, and going, ‘Oh! I'm not too old of a dog to learn new tricks.' It's been fascinating."
In "Autumn Heart," which simply refers to the season, Thurrell and Cleary include dances of their own plus work by three guest choreographers and two Kanopy dancer/choreographers.
It's a way of sharing what the company has - rehearsal space, trained dancers, a venue to perform - with choreographers who may not have access to such assets.
"Lisa and Robert gave us the freedom to create what we want to create," said choreographer Corner. "And I think that's a pretty special thing, to be able to have access to the studio and wonderful dancers ... it's an amazing resource, actually."
Corner, who now lives in Madison, spent many years dancing in New York, choreographing "in bits and pieces." Her new work with Kanopy provides an opportunity to take on something more ambitious.
"It's very hard for one choreographer to program a whole evening," Corner said. "The way a lot of the concert dance world is organized is that one person is a genius ... the thing is, all of us have a spark of genius, but maybe not everyone has the resources to be constantly producing genius-level work that takes up a whole evening."
Jim Lieberthal, an independent choreographer from Minneapolis, created a solo for dancer Kerry Parker as well as one for a trio called "The Bottom Fell Out ... and then ...," in which he'll perform. He described "The Bottom Fell Out" as the story of a dysfunctional relationship, referencing the way couples talk about "the relationship" as though it's a third person.
"This piece is very assertive," Lieberthal said. "It starts with a smack and it ends up with a prayer. It's very physical; we literally throw each other at different points."
By contrast, "INwards," the solo he choreographed for Parker, is introspective and solemn, set to the gorgeous "Meditation" from Jules Massenet's opera "Thaïs."
Lieberthal uses feedback from his dancers to create a piece, as does local choreographer Maureen Janson. Janson made "Afterthoughts" for Parker and Juan Carlos Diaz Velez, two experienced dancers with ballet training.
Janson's piece uses the work of three diverse composers, including world music and ambient composer Greg Ellis. Janson was hesitant to describe her piece further, but said viewers might see "a little bit of humor and darkness," athleticism, perhaps elements of ballet with pedestrian, everyday movement mixed in.
Dancers Parker and Meg Johnson, dancing in five and three dances, respectively, by different choreographers, also made their own pieces for the show. Johnson's is called "Obverse, Veiled Mirrors," and she calls it "a study of persona, identity."
Parker took her inspiration for "The Dialogue" from Catherine of Siena, a 14th century mystic and Catholic saint who had vivid visions. St. Catherine's book, which gives the dance its title, is "a conversation with God," Parker said.
For the music, Parker chose ancient works to reflect the inspiration for "The Dialogue." She starts with a percussive Spanish piece from the 13th century, which leads into "Stella Maria" performed by the Norwegian group Trio Mediaeval. The work finishes with "O Cieco Mondo," an Italian piece featuring recorder and viola.
Co-artistic director Thurrell draws on Norse mythology in her 2006 piece "Yggdrasil" (the "world tree"), which the company will reprise in "Autumn Heart." It features guest artist Kiro Kopulos as a massive tree of life and includes a cast of children from the Kanopy school.
The warm tones of that piece contrast with Cleary's, whose premiere of "Fear is the Enemy" with six male dancers is deliberately sharp and political. The music is sinister, even threatening, and includes songs by Tom Waits and Michael Daugherty.
Cleary is very pleased with how "Autumn Heart" has come together. Several months ago, Cleary said, he was afraid they'd asked too many choreographers. But as the weekend approaches, the dances are fitting well.
"I'm really proud of this concert," he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Kanopy Dance presents "Autumn Heart"
Where: Overture Center, Promenade Hall
When: Friday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $24, $22 for children/students