From 1997 through 2006, the adjective in Moving Poets’ name signified three things:
• A unique style of stage movement that blended theater and dance.
• A company that shifted from venue to venue in search of the right home.
• Pieces that moved ticket buyers to laughter, tears and (fairly often) perplexity.
Then, after a decade of continuous struggle, it meant something else: Co-founder Till Schmidt-Rimpler moved his troupe to his native Germany in search of more receptive audiences and backers.
And now they’ve returned to Charlotte. The Moving Poets Reloaded show at Booth Playhouse this week will offer “Contact,” which the Poets performed in the last show before they split, and two local premieres: Schmidt-Rimpler’s “The Left Foot Smile” and Sarah Emery’s “Three.”
“Split” is the right word. From now on, Schmidt-Rimpler plans to keep Moving Poets Berlin moving forward, and Emery will be in charge of Moving Poets Charlotte. The two halves could share pieces for performance, create artist exchanges or collaborate on grander projects. (The Berlin arm has already been part of arts festivals.)
Right now, though, firm ideas don’t go beyond Wednesday night.
“We want to be careful about how much we do,” Schmidt-Rimpler says. “That kind of killed us the first time, when we started without a penny in the bank. We may someday do three concerts a year, but we’ll have to work toward that. We need to gauge community support.”
A fundraiser at Hart Witzen Gallery in March drew about 300 people at $25 a head, and the group has raised money since then. “We’ve always had a fan base,” Emery says. “People would ask, ‘Where can we see something similar to Moving Poets?’ I never knew what to tell them.”
With Blumenthal Performing Arts as a sponsoring landlord, and other groups making in-kind contributions, Emery expects to pay the rest of the bills for this gig – including salaries – entirely through ticket sales. For the moment, Moving Poets is a rarity: An arts group with nonprofit status that seeks no public money. (It received some from the Arts & Science Council in the old days.)
So what will the faithful see?
Schmidt-Rimpler’s “Contact” dates to the roots of Moving Poets, when the still-unnamed group performed in a burned-out building on Central Avenue. Robert Lee Simmons will speak text inspired by the life of Oscar Wilde; North Carolina’s Lee Baumgarten and Vietnamese-born Duy Huynh will paint on the spot.
His “Left Foot Smile” is a satiric, surreal commentary on life around the age of 50. Many South African musicians have gravitated to Berlin, he says, and the band Hot Water (with whom he works) provided the score. The piece also incorporates folkloric elements he picked up while working with Balkan and Israeli dancers there.
“Three” tells a nostalgic story, set at a time when cabaret theater prevailed, written by Katharine Goforth and developed by Emery. Actor Billy Ensley and musicians Gina Stewart, Brenda Gambill and Blake Barnes team with the dancers.
“Moving Poets was always a company for the artists, as well as the audiences,” Schmidt-Rimpler says. “With many companies, you have no relationship to the work you’re assigned to do. In ours, you have a hand in the creation.”
He calls Berlin “a crazy weird city where everything you can imagine can be found.” That description fits Charlotte about as well as a paisley miniskirt on a nun. So what brought him back to jump-start the fondly remembered, insufficiently bankrolled company that had to leave in 2006?
“In 13 years, you build friendships and relationships,” he says. (He first came here as a soloist with N.C. Dance Theatre.) “There are good artists in Charlotte, and it’s a pity how little exposure they get. We have had cultural exchanges in Berlin with Canada and South Africa, and we’d like to begin one with Charlotte.”
Emery wants to keep this community aware of Moving Poets: The troupe will join Triptych Collective for a concert at the Chop Shop in December, then work with Bridget Morris at her annual Wine and Dance evening in February – with a love theme, naturally.
And after that?
“We don’t have a structure in place,” Schmidt-Rimpler says. “How will we allocate time between the two cities? How will we communicate over 6,000 kilometers? Decisions have to be made. We never expected to come back again – yet here we are.”
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