The Cambrians bring the mashup to the dance world

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Meredith Webster and Ariel Freedman - BENJAMIN WARDELL
  • Benjamin Wardell
  • Meredith Webster and Ariel Freedman

Local dance troupe the Cambrians aren't a sedentary bunch. What began as the Nexus Project—an experimental one-off in 2013, conceived by former Hubbard Street dancer Benjamin Holliday Wardell—has morphed into a network of "dance personalities" with a growing international pedigree.

Since informally rebranding to what's now known as the Cambrians, Wardell has enlisted friends, colleagues, and former collaborators to partake in a type of nomadic residency, pairing two (sometimes three) dancers at a time in different cities with different choreographers. After learning several pieces of source material, the performers mix the choreography together to produce an original dance. As with the Nexus Project, the concept is to "treat the performers as the main drivers of what's on stage."

"There's certainly a lot of overlap," Wardell says. "It's one of those things where every relationship is different." The relationship in Empress Archer, the company's latest, "goes to far more places than any other we've done," he continues. Performers Ariel Freedman (from Israel) and Meredith Webster (California) spent time in Tel Aviv, Vermont, San Francisco, and Montreal to unpack material from 11 local and international choreographers, each with their own style and taste. There are a lot of contrasts and surprises in the remix, according to Wardell: Webster is five foot ten, Freedman is five foot two; there's aggression, tenderness, and power dynamics; the piece fluctuates in tempo; and technically the two of them are "just fuckin' crazy."

If you're wondering about the title, it's not deeply mythological; it came about during a friendly card game while Freedman, Webster, and a handful of others were in Vermont. One of the prompts had to do with word association: Freedman and Webster drew "empress" and "archer" and seemed to identify with those so-called "characters," though there's probably more to it than meets the eye, Wardell concludes.

"Usually the problem with the Cambrians stuff is there's a lot to talk about."

Empress Archer 2/16-2/19: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 1 PM, Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, thecambrians.com, $20.

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