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The Innocence We Defend

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Sometimes a choreographer chooses a piece to create. Other times, the piece calls for creation.

When Explore Dance Company's Artistic Director, Justene Vaterlaus, was pursuing her Master of Arts Degree at NYU she was inspired to create a work reflecting the precious innocence of a child's mind. Around the same time Explore was gifted three red dresses. We'd also just selected Operation Underground Railroad as the beneficiary for our 2022 charity benefit concert. It is astonishing how prevalent human trafficking is today. O.U.R believes that the end to the problem is shining a light into the dark places and 100% of the proceeds from our show's silent auction would go to O.U.R. and the work they are doing to rescue children from trafficking.

"It felt like the perfect storm of creativity swirling together. Red dresses, O.U.R., child-like innocence. The ideas were bouncing around in my head and crashing into each other. I couldn't' stop thinking about it," described Vaterlaus. "I stayed up for hours one night trying to find the perfect song. I had to make this piece. But then as I thought more about it I realized it wasn't just one piece I had to create. It was two."

She started with Through a Child's Eyes (affectionately known as Roses within the company), a dance-for-film piece showcasing the world as a magical place when viewed from the perspective of a child. It features her daughter, Everlee, in addition to three dancers: Hannah Jarvis, Melissa Petty, and Robyn Tucker and was filmed by Jake Rapp with Kanyon Rapp as 1st AC and Lorraine Fisher as the producer. We shot it one hot summer day at the Nampa City Rose Garden and a second day in September 2021 at Boise Contemporary Theatre. The dance paints a picture of what needs to be protected––the innocence of a child.

There is never a dull moment with Explore but filming outside in the dead of summer in three skin-tight, long-sleeve leotard dresses is just plain hilarious. If only you could have seen the dancers huddled together in front of one tiny fan, all the while shoving tissue into their armpits to prevent sweat stains. Definitely a missed opportunity for the ideal "behind-the scenes" moment. This is also the perfect time to point out that one of the three red dresses was a child's size large. We'll let you figure out who squeezed into it and took one for the team. (It took two people to get it on and off!) But all's well that ends well and after two long days of filming and even more days of rehearsing, we were done.

First dance––check. Now for number two.

Rather than creating a second film, Vaterlaus decided to juxtapose Through a Child's Eyes against a piece that would be performed live at Exploration (2022). She was inspired by works of art displaying the sacrifices mothers make to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children, specifically one by Kevin Carden Photography. Defender, performed by the entire company, is a warning to those who would dare defile or take away the innocence of a precious child. There are people who will stand in the way and fiercely protect the children around them.

"When I created this piece, every single dancer in Explore was a mother. We had nearly 40 kids between the 13 company members," explained Vaterlaus. "The idea of needing to guard our children struck close to home."

While each of the two works are beautiful alone, paired together they weave an arresting story of strength, innocence, love, and sacrifice.

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