As San Jose choreographer Margaret Wingrove prepares “Heartbeats: Songs From the Soul,” a nine-piece retrospective celebrating the Margaret Wingrove Dance Company’s 30th anniversary, she finds her choreography revealing itself anew.

“All of these pieces, in calling them back, I see there’s a certain continuity,” Wingrove says. “I am expressing an admiration for the human spirit—and that is what I set out to do in all its foibles and all its wonderful aspects.”

Both the company’s longevity and its organic maturing process are a rare gem as dance companies go. And Wingrove is the first to admit that the depth of her work derives not just from her own maturing process but also from that of the company dancers who return year after year and take part in the work’s evolution—dancers like Lori Seymour, Michael Howerton, Annette Williams, Andrea Moody.

“Keeping the art alive is not an easy thing,” Wingrove admits. “It’s so nice to have Mike and Lori and Annette and Andrea. They’re kind of the core; I mean they’ve been with me for so long, they help keep that continuity.”

The upcoming program will also benefit from dancers like Travis Walker, from Ballet San Jose and Smuin Ballet, who will dance the role of the son in Shattering, a powerful 1989 piece Wingrove wrote on the death of her son from AIDS.

In the upcoming performance, Michael Howerton, who originally danced the son’s role, takes on the part of the surviving brother. “He wanted to do it in a little bit different way than it had been done before,” Wingrove explains. “So I rechoreographed it for Mike, and I chose a little bit different music.”

Wingrove choreographed some of her most technically focused dances in the ’80s, such as Two Into One (1984), which reflects the early positive influence of the late choreographer Lucas Hoving, with whom Wingrove studied technique. From there, Wingrove’s work seems to have evolved neatly according to the decades.

The ’90s began a period of collaboration with other organizations: San Jose Taiko, Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San Jose. “Heartbeats” will include two pieces from that decade, including a role choreographed for Lori Seymour to be reprised by Seymour: Sylvia Plath in Tulips.

A piece with no music, Tulips is danced to the voice-over of a Sylvia Plath poem. “She’s doing it differently,” Wingrove says, remarking that Seymour always finds new shadings in reprising a role. “She is just extraordinary to me in the depth of where she can go and bring things out. It’s just almost second nature to her.”

Starting in 2000, Wingrove “got into the full-length productions.” The decade brought Wingrove’s The Great Gatsby, The Glass Menagerie, The Distant Land of My Father and Great Expectations. Signature numbers from many of these works, like the Paradise Dance Hall duet from The Glass Menagerie, have made it onto the “Heartbeats” roster.

Ending the program, Transcend departs from Wingrove’s recent narrative work, possibly pointing to a new direction for the company. Based on a James Thurber quote, Transcend starts in silence, relies heavily on patterns and is textured with symbolism. And “it’s a little bit more demanding of the audience,” Wingrove announces. “They have to be focusing and thinking and seeing. But I think that’s good.”

The idea of being aware is as critical to Wingrove as it is to Transcend, which takes five dancers from silence and indifference to interaction and responsiveness. “To have a conversation and look into someone’s eyes,” says Wingrove. “I think we need more of that.”

After delving back through her long career, Wingrove has concluded that her “Heartbeats” retrospective presents a body of work that, like Shakespeare, has held up a loving mirror to our human nature. “Art is supposed to be a reminder,” says Wingrove, “that, yes, you do have a human soul.”

Heartbeats: Songs From the Soul
Margaret Wingrove Dance Company
Jan. 6-9, 2011
Thursday, 7:30pm, Friday–Saturday, 8pm, Sunday, 3pm
Stage Theater, San Jose
Buy Tickets Now