Cassie Meador is standing in a dance studio, watching two company members work through a tricky, athletic dance phrase. When they’re done, she offers a critique: “It was a little more off-kilter when you did the lift this time—and I liked that,” she says with a smile. Not everything thrilled her, though, and Meador explains the sense of groundedness she’s seeking. “It’s the idea that you’re becoming a little more rooted here,” she tells the pair.
Despite the rehearsal’s collaborative air, it’s clear that Meador, 33, is in charge. The former company member became artistic director of the Takoma Park–based Dance Exchange—one of the area’s few nationally known modern dance ensembles—in mid-2011 when the founder chose her as successor. The production she’s rehearsing, How To Lose a Mountain, premieres at Dance Place March 16 and represents Meador’s first big show as artistic director, though she’s already had work commissioned by the Kennedy Center that won a Dance Metro DC award.
The current show came to Meador in 2009 after she spent a few weeks living outdoors in tropical Guyana; she returned to the District wondering about the sources of energy that powered her home. That curiosity morphed into a major project that she embarked on last spring: She walked 500 miles to coal country—specifically, the disappearing West Virginia mountain that is mined to provide electricity for the region. Her journey was intense: 10 weeks of sleeping on the ground, hiking up to 20 miles daily, and meeting with community members. But Meador’s toughest challenge was facing the daunting task of figuring out what it all meant.
She decided to focus on the limitations of our bodies and the earth, as well as on resilience in the face of loss. (Her expressive choreography now includes incredibly physical leaps and lifts along with moments of stillness.) While at work on the project, Meador has also encountered a few unknowns, such as her increasing discomfort with the amount of electricity the productions require. Mindful of ways to offset such consumption, the company repurposes set materials and works with Clean Currents, a local wind supplier, to educate audiences about clean energy options.
Back in the studio, she watches a dancer’s elegant solo to a song about death and reveals that the new work has shifted her overall vision, too. “I thought as a dancer I was going to spend my career getting people to see the power of movement,” Meador says. “But I’m actually spending equal time now getting people to see the value in stopping and looking at what a place offers you.” How To Lose a Mountain premieres March 16 at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE, 202-269-1600