Where there’s Smoke: A 1990s Atlanta band sparks David Dorfman Dance’s latest

Photo above, The musicians accompanying "Come, and Back Again" are, from left, Liz de Lise, Timothy Quigley, Jerome Begin and Zeb Gould. David Dorfman will also be in the band.

You have to follow inspiration where it leads you. When starting to develop its latest work, David Dorfman Dance used a lot of Patti Smith music in rehearsals and workshops.

Eventually, though, the path led to someone who was likewise galvanized by Smith: the leader of a little-known band out of Atlanta in the 1990s called Smoke.

The group was led by Benjamin Smoke, who was, as David Dorfman says, "a colorful character." Smith wrote her song "Death Singing" about Smoke.

"As Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen say in their documentary 'Benjamin Smoke,' Benjamin Smoke was a train wreck, but they were so attracted to his odd charisma, his beautiful, poetic lyrics, and his bravery and uncompromising approach to making and performing music," Dorfman says.

"With a little research, I completely fell in love with the music, his spirit, and his connection to Patti Smith."

David Dorfman Dance performs the resulting piece, "Come, and Back Again," Friday at Connecticut College.

Dorfman, who is also professor of dance and chair of the dance department at Connecticut College, says the dance company members are thrilled to bring the catalogue of unknown artists to the public.

"It's really a test and a challenge for us - in a good way - because we don't have previous connections to the music. So that's been a very exciting process," he says.

The five dancers will be accompanied by a live band. For the Conn performance, that band will include two students, one local musician and Dorfman himself on saxophone. On tour, they will recruit musicians at each location to join in.

Some of the themes explored in "Come, and Back Again" grew out of Patti Smith's music and writings. A main one was her "defiant and joyous take on loss," as Dorfman describes it. Smith lost her brother, her husband, and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe, but instead of a "pity me" attitude, Dorfman says she believes in taking time to mourn but then getting back into the world, armed with the history of these wonderful people and ready to do strong, great things.

So "Come, and Back Again" deals with themes of memory and loss, joy and triumph. But it explores issues beyond that, too. Among them: the notion of recession.

"When we were growing up, we thought everything gets better," Dorfman says. "It's going to be a sunnier day. This day's sunny? The next one's sunnier. Your parents do one thing? We do better."

Benjamin Smoke didn't have an easy life. He was, as the documentary film company said, a "fringe-dweller, speed-freak, occasional drag-queen and all-around renegade."

Smoke, whose real name was Robert Dickerson, survived HIV but died of Hepatitis C in 1999 at age 39.

But, Dorfman says, he created beautiful songs about love, love lost, the environment, and how we rebound. He was, he says, "an honest, beautiful human being."

"Come, and Again" explores, Dorfman says, "what's our humility, our dignity. Each of us face death, but, even beyond that, even using death as a metaphor, there's the death of ... the bigger-and-better notion. How do we live our lives in an everyday way with that knowledge, with these little deaths? They're just a part of life."

"Come, and Back Again" examines, too, the questions of: how do we live with less, and what do we do with our mess? There will be an actual backdrop of mess - of junk and discarded objects - onstage. It's ceated by New York sculptor/artist Jonah Emerson-Bell, who is working in collaboration with New London-born street/installation artist Caledonia "Swoon" Curry.

David Dorfman Dance's "Come, and Back Again," 8 p.m. Friday, Palmer Auditorium, Connecticut College, New London; $28 ($25 seniors, $14 students); (860) 439-ARTS, onstage.conncoll.edu.

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