Jacksonville native Laura Roth has been dancing her entire life. Ever since her early days of being in and out of studios in Jacksonville as a youngster, dance is truly her passion. However, she shares, “I didn’t really consider it as a profession until college.” She knew that dancing is a highly competitive field with countless applicants, and limited opportunities. She shares, “There was a moment where everything clicked in [my] sophomore year.” A professor assigned her a part in a piece that had previously been done by a very skilled dancer that had now graduated. Roth had just one month to prepare the part. “I had a choice,” she shared, “be really fearful and timid, or just throw myself into it, and really commit.” Roth chose to commit. She reflected, “That turned me into an artist… where I realized I just had to trust my instincts and do the pieces the way I interpreted them.”
After that, things started rolling. College progressed and Roth grew in her skill and confidence. As the semesters passed, her career began to take shape, just like the movements she practiced in the studio each day. In her senior year, she saw Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company of St. Louis in performance. She shares, “I fell in love with one of the pieces they performed, and wanted to dance with the company” observing that the dancers in Common Thread had “unique movement.” After completing an intensive under the Common Thread Founder, Jennifer Medina, she was offered an apprenticeship. Follower her graduation from college in spring 2013, she was promoted into the dance company.
Thus began a new level of commitment, relationship, and cause for the young Jacksonville dancer. In commitment, dancing was now officially her career. In relationship, she began networking and connecting with her fellow dancers in beautiful ways. And in cause, she didn’t just dance for the spotlights. She shares, “Dancers are really passionate about social justice. Many of the pieces we do have social justice themes as undercurrents.” As a whole, Roth states that the dancers in her company are “passionate about helping each and making the world the best place for everyone.”
On January 28th, Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company is coming to perform at Illinois College’s Sibert Theatre. Roth shared glimpses into their program, which, in Common Thread form, will explore many social justice themes. Their entire first act is based on a piece about transitional faith – exploring the concepts of workplace dynamics and “how a workplace can be healthy or unhealthy. The piece pushes into the territory of bullying, which was an interesting idea for us to explore – especially since we were making it during a time that felt very tension-filled” (spring 2016).
Another piece on the program is called, “Women of the Cove,” and is the original piece that inspired Roth to dance with Common Thread. She explained that the story of this piece is “loosely based on midwives in this cove in Tennessee, before [modern] healthcare had caught up to keeping women and newborns alive.” In a sober but beautiful way, this dance piece explores the concept of tragedy.
Other parts of the program include a piece based on the Christmas truce in World War I, set to the story by Walter Cronkite, and “Intermezzo,” a piece that is loosely based on an epic called the “Yellow Wallpaper.” Tackling the complicated subject of mental health issues, Roth states, “I leave the audience to interpret it as they want to.”
As a dancer, “interpretation” is a word Roth uses every day. She shares, “Interpretation varies depending on what piece you’re doing… ideas can come from the movements. Other times, a choreographer has a specific idea they want to build on. I like both of those things. If I just had one formula, I would get stagnant.” One of her techniques for inspiration is having a story or short essay to draw ideas from. She stated, “You can draw a lot from how reading makes you feel, and translate that into how you move.”
Alongside her work with Common Thread, Roth has also freelanced quite a bit over the last four years, including working with ANNONYArts, Faith Church, St. John Church – Ellisville, St. Louis Community College, Vance Baldwin, Gabby Deakin, and more. Freelancing has its challenges, but Roth is up for each one. She shares, “One particularly special freelance partnership I’ve formed is with Masterworks Chorale. Last year, the director, Dr. Stephen Mager, created his own arrangements of folk hymns for a choral ballet we titled ‘Land of Rest.’” In choreographing and performing the ballet with two of her dance colleagues, Roth reflected, “It was a wonderful experience!”
In addition to her dancing, Roth is completing certification to become a physical therapy assistant, in hopes that she can incorporate a part-time job in physical therapy alongside her dancing. She shares, “There is a difficulty in staying inspired with art, when there are a lot of things in the schedule. After years of doing it, rehearsal is a place where I can focus on one thing. Being in the studio, and working on choreography, can get me in a place where I have a singular focus….”
As she prepares for her company’s upcoming performance in Jacksonville at Sibert Theatre, Roth communicated that there is a heightened level of emotion and nostalgia in this performance. She said, “So many people in Jacksonville helped raise me, and helped cultivate my love for the arts and dance. Getting to come back and dance where they can come see me feels like I’m coming back to say thank you.”
Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company is performing at the Sibert Theatre on Saturday, January 18th, at 7:30p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door, available online at www.ic.edu/fas, or by calling (217) 245-3260. All students of all ages receive free admission.