Movement is her medium

Dancer and choreographer Rain Ross wins the ‘Amy’ award for young artists.

The third try proves the charm for dancer/choreographer Rain Ross; twice before nominated for an Amy Award, she is this year’s winner.

“I was really quite excited and proud,” Ross said. “I felt that the work I’ve done for the past few years has really shown that I am an emerging artist and working toward developing my art.”

Established four years ago to commemorate island art student Amy Anderson, the “Amy” recognizes the creativity and dedication of a young Bainbridge artist.

The award – which includes a ceramic tile created by Woodward Middle School students as well as a cash prize of $3,000 – offers crucial encouragement for artists like Ross struggling to establish a career.

After graduating from Bainbridge High School in 1995, Ross studied ballet at Bainbridge Dance Center and Cornish College of the Arts before becoming an apprentice of the Playhouse Dance Company in Durban, South Africa.

But Ross found that the traditional distribution of power in the classical ballet company, with dancers something like pawns in the hands of the artistic director, didn’t allow her to be fully creative.

She returned to the States and enrolled at Mt. Holyoke College in western Massachusetts, where she began to develop a choreography that encouraged a more collaborative process between dancer and director.

After brief stints in New York City and Denver, Ross returned to Bainbridge, to carve out a niche as a “creator and performer with movement as my medium.”

While she began as a dancer, Ross says that her interest in choreography – creating movement for other dancers – has deepened, offering an avenue to express what she is always noticing in her environment: patterns of movement.

Much of her work focuses on the dance troupe she founded three years ago, Lehua Dance Theater, named for the bloom of a Hawaiian tree.

Lehua’s nine dancers and two students presented “Beauty and Martyrdom (and other stories)” at Bainbridge Performing Arts last February featuring Ross’ original choreography – the third performance of the new troupe in as many years.

A grant from Mt. Holyoke College helped underwrite “Time Alone,” a solo piece Ross choreographed and performed at Seattle’s Velocity MainSpace Theater in 2001. Ross returned to the Seattle venue the next year with her new troupe to present “Beyond Blue.”

She has also taught at Bainbridge Dance Center and choreographed recent Bainbridge Performing Arts productions that include “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “The Fantastiks.”

But presenting her own work is still Ross’ first choice.

“In choreography, my true voice can be expressed,” she said. “I have the chance to decide the movement that most explains the images I wish to convey.”

Ross will invest a portion of her $3,000 award, and use the balance for a visit to Paris that will expose her to new influences that may enrich her work.

Ross believes that, in order to continue to grow and develop, she has to keep learning, looking to other art forms for stimulation.

Her awareness of other forms is not surprising: Ross’ father is island sculptor-woodworker Cecil Ross.

Growing up in a house filled with art and artists, she received early encouragement to pursue her own vision

“It is extremely important to my work and process of creating that I open myself to the methodologies of other creators,” she said. “I look to other artists for the chance to learn and for the chance to teach. I recognize that these interchanges will allow me to mature as an artist and strengthen the expression of my own voice.”

When she returns from Paris, Ross says, she will be immersed, for a time, in obtaining non-profit status for her Lehua Dance Theater.

“I’m mostly just trying to get more structure and people to help me,” she said. “We’ve gotten larger than just a small ‘pick-up’ company.”

But Ross is determined that the diversion into paperwork will not keep her long from dance and choreography, her primary interests.

“I am an artist because it is the only path I can travel,” she said. “Everything I see and the interpretations I have all become translated into art. In return for providing me with these experiences, I give back to my community by choreographing and presenting my work.”

* * * * *

The Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council presents the fourth annual Amy Award at an award ceremony and dinner, 6:30 p.m. on May 3 at the Four Swallows. Tickets are $30 for BIAHC members, $35 for non-members, at 842-7901; call by April 26.

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