There’s a dance company in town that’s just as likely to perform on a sand dune as a stage. It also tackles hot-button social issues head-on, challenges the dance world’s notions of body image, and combines dance with mediums like poetry and film. It’s called Collateral & Co.
Caitlin McCarty, the group’s founder and artistic director, has been dancing since she was 3 and began working with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre at age 6. She minored in dance at UNR, where some visiting artists taught an improvisational technique called Gaga, in which dancers’ movements originate in their own bodies and minds, rather than from a choreographer’s instructions. McCarty liked that idea.
She also liked that Gaga is practiced without mirrors. “Growing up in ballet … there’s a constant worry about what the body looks like,” she said. “Gaga truly is about not aesthetic, but how the movement is making you feel … and less about ‘I need to look perfect all of the time,’ and that was really appealing.”
In 2016, McCarty moved to Brooklyn to work with Gallim Dance, the company that had brought Gaga to her UNR class. A year later, missing the mountains and the high desert landscape, she returned to Reno and launched Collateral and Co.
The group’s first performance, Gunpowder and Femme, premiered in fall 2017—a few months before the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and just after the #MeToo movement went viral. With a finger firmly on the pulse of the moment, McCarty and her dancers used the performance to explore both gun violence and feminism—“things that I think need to be talked about and not always are,” she said.
In particular, the show held a mirror to a conflict that many women feel. McCarty borrowed a phrase from Laura Kipnis’ book The Female Thing to describe it: Women are “left straddling two rather incompatible positions. Feminism and femininity are in a big catfight.”
“I had a group of dancers in lingerie, and, mind you, a lot of our audience then was family members, dads, for example,” she said. “My point with that piece was that you can look at a woman and appreciate who she is and her body without objectifying it, without feeling uncomfortable.” Some audience members—for example, dads seeing their daughters onstage in lingerie—saw it differently. To McCarty, that meant the piece was a success.
“The point is to make people a little bit uncomfortable so that they see there’s other ways,” she said. “There’s other feelings. There’s other things to think about in this light. … I really encourage them to look at the other side or to explore different avenues of thinking about a certain subject, because I think that’s what really makes a difference.”
Poetry in motion
The same year McCarty launched Collateral & Co., she also went back to UNR to study writing. In Gailmarie Pahmeier’s poetry class, she connected with an unlikely classmate, the late Joe Crowley, former UNR President, then in his 80s and a published poet. She momentarily detoured into journalism and wrote a charming profile on Crowley for the Reno News & Review.
Next, she found ways to bring poetry directly into dance performances. “I went to Gailmarie Pahmeier, and I said, ‘Give me names of all of your poets that you think would be interested in doing a dance-meets-poetry show,’” she recalled. That request resulted in a 2018 performance at Sundance Books for Nevada Humanities’ Lit Crawl. McCarty also based two subsequent performances—Dust Horizon and Dust Settled—on poems that Pahmeier had written as she’d traveled to Nevada state parks on a Nevada Arts Council Fellowship, reflecting on the landscape and the people who use it.
Collateral & Co. doesn’t just use the landscape as a concept. They also use it as a set—dancing at places like Sand Mountain or Topaz Lake. They film these dances from several angles and edit them into short films, some of which have appeared in the Third Coast Dance Film Festival and garnered awards in the Utah Dance Film Festival.
When McCarty tells stories about the doors that have opened for her, those stories tend to begin with her knocking. (“I bugged them until they gave me an internship.”) (“I bugged them some more, and they gave me an associate position.”) Persistence is one of her strongest traits. She said she her parents instilled it in her early.
“If you want something, then you work hard, and you ask for it, and you ask for it respectfully, but yeah, you knock on people’s doors until you get it—that has always really served me,” she said. It even served her in 2020, the year that frayed the performing arts industry to its core. Under McCarty’s guidance, Collateral & Co. didn’t merely survive the pandemic—it became a non-profit that now includes Assistant Artistic Director Leslie Balzer, a six-member board, and several dancers who work as independent contractors.
Next steps for McCarty include finishing up her MBA at UNR this December. Next steps for the company likely include training with New York’s Mark Morris Dance Company to bring a dance program for Parkinson’s disease patients to Reno.
Meanwhile, you can get to know Collateral & Co. up close and personal tonight at the Virgil, where they’ll do a live performance and screen their newest film Felt Like Five, followed by a Q+A and cocktails.
“Drinks, Dance & Discussion: An Evening with Collateral & Co.,” an Artown event, takes place at 7 pm tonight, July 21, at The Virgil.
The event includes a screening of the film Felt Like Five. In this work, the dancers travel to five different Nevada locations, coming to terms with a year that has felt like five. The film features commissioned poetry, choreography by Caitlin McCarty and Leslie Balzer, and performances by Collateral & Co. dance artists.
Cover image: Collateral & Co.’s film Dust Horizon premiered at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2019. Photo: Caitlin McCarty.