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Room to Stretch Their Legs

Dim Sum Dance moves to Grace Street for its largest performance yet.

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During a recent Dim Sum Dance rehearsal, a lean woman with a scarf tied around her head, wearing sunglasses a la Jackie O, crouches just behind an imaginary line marked by two sneakers on the floor. The sneakers belong to choreographer and Dim Sum artistic director Julie Mayo, who's set them on the studio floor to mark the edge of the "stage."

Five dancers are about to run through "On the Count of Three … Love," a piece Mayo describes as "on the cusp of being finished."

While "marking" through a piece (not moving full-out), the dancers sketch the architecture of the dance through the air and across the floor of the studio. They might sing the music if it's not playing; they talk to themselves and each other. At one point while marking "On the Count of Three …," one says, "I still hear that other music when we do this phrase," evidence that the concert is still changing, growing.

The piece, a premiere, is one of seven being presented during "Warehouse She Seep," Dim Sum Dance's first concert at the Grace Street Theater.

Since she formed Dim Sum Dance in 2003, Mayo has presented work in Richmond in gallery spaces and at the Firehouse Theatre, which has a small stage and limited technical possibilities. The move to Grace Street allows her to work with a higher production value and a larger audience potential.

Mayo's looking forward to seeing "how the work is perceived in a larger, more formal, less intimate space," she says, because "there's a formal aspect to my work."

"On the Count of Three ...," Mayo says, "shifts quickly from world to world" as the dancers adopt different personas and explore the notion of love on command, as demonstrated through social obligations such as smiling for the camera, a contrast to emotions experienced at a deeper level.

Mayo offers a second work new to Richmond audiences titled "Warehouse," a solo she developed in collaboration with Seattle-based choreographer Stephanie Skura. Mayo generated ideas for the work by exploring abandoned spaces such as the Byrd Park Pump House and her own basement.

She found life in both places — organic growth and decay at the Pump House and a sense of potential energy in the basement that made it "ripe for imagination." The solo dance, performed by Mayo, ultimately "explores ritualistic behavior and the effects of confinement," she says.

The concert's title, "Warehouse She Seep," combines concepts embodied in the dances. "Warehouse" comes from the work of the same name, and Mayo describes "Seep" as a reference to the growth she discovered in her "Warehouse" research, as well as a playful, "dada-esque" term that lends a surreal air to the name. Why "She"? All the performers are women. Though her work is not overtly feminist or focused on women's issues, Mayo says, "I'm interested in the female psyche."

The program also includes a duet with Dim Sum dancers by guest artist Mickie Geller of Ohio University and a dance film created with Dim Sum by Richmond video artist Dave Miller.

In considering what audiences might take away from the concert, Mayo likes "the idea of dance as being able to wash over people" and "the images or feelings evoked in a moment [that] might reappear later." Through her work, Mayo says, she's "looking for a broader definition of what dance can be." S

"Warehouse She Seep" comes to Grace Street Theater March 23-24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$15. Call 828-2020 or visit www.dimsumdance.org

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