The first professional dance company to operate out of Lafayette in decades, Basin Dance Collective uses mash-ups to stretch the art form’s boundaries of appeal in Lafayette, a town of many dancers but relatively little contemporary, professional dance. In 2017, the outfit debuted Stir, a collision of dance and high-end cuisine that put a new spin on dinner and dancing.
“I’m constantly interested in the intersection of things that aren’t necessarily connected,” Director Clare Cook says of her company’s work.
The concept was a smash, which figures given Lafayette’s obsession with food, and it springboarded Basin Dance Collective’s progression into a truly professional company. All six of Cook’s dancers work on industry standard contracts for monthly stipends, creating a rare opportunity for local dancers to hone their craft and get paid for it, outside the academic studio environment.
“These dancers work their asses off,” she says. “They should be compensated accordingly.”
Now, Cook and company have set their sights on another local sacred cow: sports. Debuting this week at Acadiana Center for the Arts, Sport Suites is a set of five locally choreographed pieces that probe and skewer our relationship with sports and what it says about human nature.
Cook has worked on the concept since early 2018, laying the foundation for Sport Suites with a piece called “S’nice” which explores what she calls the “two-toned” faces of women who often alternate between social expectations of gentility and the unbridled id, a contrast she thought was best examined through the lens of a ladies tennis team.
Sport Suites runs a mix of satire and physical comedy, rollicking through performances that contemplate what we all love and hate about sports: internal team conflicts, performance anxiety, obsession and violence.
Dancers soar, tumble, huddle, tackle, sweat and bleed in a set that, at its core, parallels the intense physicality of sports like basketball, volleyball and football, all of which are represented in the production. What differentiates sports and dance, Cook says, are their respective goals. For sports, it’s victory. For dance, it’s humanity.
Cook spoke with editor Christiaan Mader ahead of the performances. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You’ve said a common theme in Spot Suites is satire. How does dance do satire?
Well, for this show it would be some mixture of theater, like comedic theater. There are elements of Saturday Night Live humor, that physical comedy. So much about satire and humor in dance is super subtle. There are a few moments that are over-the-top, purposefully, and you can’t really miss them, but a lot of it is just super subtle — the way a dancer might look over a shoulder. The subtlety of movement and the way it’s crafted create these environments of discomfort or pleasure or humor. The crafting of those moments gives you that sense of satire and that sense of humor. And the music is really helpful in that way, too. We’re pulling from mostly original music but all different sounds. Percussive music, banjos, drum lines. There are two pieces that are from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. We have ambient sounds that accompany the darker places and certain parts that are in silence. The music really helps us achieve where we’re supposed to feel a little bit darker and deeper and where we’re supposed to feel the frothiness of it.
Do you see a lot of parallels in how we talk about sports and dance?
Around the water cooler at work in New York City — the dance capital of the world — there might be a conversation like “did you see [Mikhail] Baryshnikov’s latest performance in this ballet?” They’re talking about the virtuosity of a particular dancer. Here, you would never catch a water cooler conversation about Wendy Walen’s virtuosic retirement performance with the New York City ballet. But you would 100% catch a water cooler conversation about a particular athlete. It’s such a cultural difference. The arts and dance in general are less often watercooler topics of convo here, because they’re less prevalent and people don’t have as much access or understanding about what they’re doing. Whereas sports are everywhere here. For 100% of people, it’s a shared talking point. It’s how I imagine people a long time ago would have discussed art or theater — like in the court of Louis XIV. Now, it’s sports.
What is the most dance-like sport? Or what sport would best make use of the athletic prowess of a dancer?
It’s some hybrid of basketball and football. Because they both combine endurance, it’s not like a one and done, hit the ball sit back down kind of thing. They both are supremely physical and transition between levels, rolling on the ground or jumping up for something. And they both function in a team. You can’t play the game unless you’re playing it with other people and communicating with other people. That’s so much a part of dance.
Were sports a big part of your life growing up?
I was known as a “smart player,” which means, “she’s not really that good but she knows all the plays.”
What’s your favorite sport food?
Probably a good funnel cake. I’m not really a big meat eater, more of a sweets eater. Something about Cajun field, that smell of the funnel cake takes me there.
Are you a Saints fan?
Well, I’m a Saints fan because I’m from Louisiana. I’ve never been to a Saints game; I don’t watch football on Sundays. But when I lived outside of Louisiana, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, that was really exciting. And I followed it inasmuch as you do because it’s hometown pride. I spent a semester in a student exchange at University of Massachusetts Amherst. While I was at LSU, I went to the requisite football games, and they were fun. But somehow by living outside of Louisiana, it was the first time I lived for an extended period in a different community, and LSU was really good that year. I can’t tell you how much joy and comfort it brought me to watch LSU games on Saturdays, living in Massachusetts. No one watched them with me, and I would just put them on while I was doing work. Something about the connection with home and knowing there was a whole community where you were from paying attention. That’s when sports became something interesting to me.
What does S’Nice stand for?
It’s a contraction for like “it’s nice.” There’s a restaurant in New York called S’Nice. The joke is, [a friend] would always have a date with this guy there, and the guy was just like “it’s nice.” It’s a joke. It was the perfect expression of false politeness. “It’s S’nice.”
When I was in a band, the ultimate S’nice expression was “great set.” That usually meant “I didn’t watch your show, but I’m sure it was fine.” Is there a “s’nice” expression in dance?
“The costumes are so great.” (Laughs) You talk about any element besides the choreography. Comment on a tertiary detail or comment on something specific about the movement, but not necessarily whether it moved you. “Oh, the finale dance was so energetic.”
Got it. I’ll be sure not to say that ever. You’ve billed this show as inspired by what we love and hate about sports. What’s something you love about sports?
One hundred percent, the way people come together and rally around a team or a game or a victory. The communal experience.
And something you hate about sports?
I hate the machismo that can come out of sports. I don’t think it’s a necessity, but I think it can exist in certain sports where it prevents the team cooperation and forces the players to be individuals. I don’t like that. I don’t like some of the corruption that comes out of sports. The obsession with victory where it allows people to do things that are immoral or underhanded. All those types of things that come out of that obsession with winning.
You’ve thought a lot about this.
Yeah. (Laughs) I’ve been working on this show for a while. There’s a lot of corruption in sports and in other things, too. Any time all of the energy is focused on winning, it doesn’t leave a lot of space for the other components of what sports bring: teamwork, camaraderie, learning to work with other people. In many ways that’s sort of a dividing line between dance and sports. If we look at the physical aspects of dance and sports, using your body, gaining strength, learning together to be an ensemble or a team, those are pretty parallel. But dance leads from the humanness. Sports can lead from the competition.
Sport Suites opens Thursday, Sept. 12 at Acadiana Center for the Arts and runs through the weekend. Tickets can be purchased here.