That mission, which can be summed up as a commitment to interacting with the community at large instead of the more cloistered modern dance community, is behind a global pastiche of dance the company will perform from Thursday through Saturday for its annual spring series at the church.
In a four-part show each evening, Nimbus will present a premiere of a work in the Cuban danzón style by the Latin choreographer Pedro Ruiz; the martial-arts-inspired “Butterfly Dream,” by the Taiwanese choreographer Xiao-xiong Zhang; a percussive dance called “Priye Ginen,” by the Haitian-American choreographer Jean Paul Jr., a member of Nimbus; and Mr. Pott’s “Bloodlines 1944,” which traces the memories of a World War II soldier.
The audience for modern dance “is largely other dancers,” said Mr. Pott, who currently takes no salary from Nimbus and pays the bills as a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. “But I’ve always felt that’s not a very healthy situation,” which is why the nonprofit Nimbus, now in its seventh season, goes out of its way to involve those who are not necessarily savvy about dance.
While Nimbus participates in high-profile events like the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, in which it performed last summer, for example, it has also recruited local seniors with no dance experience to participate in some shows.
And a signature piece, “Memo,” calls on audiences to share in the creative process by writing down, in five words or fewer, something they never want to forget. The troupe then reads the memories — “which are sometimes very poetic,” Mr. Pott said — during the dance. In a different twist on “Memo,” the company works with the writers of the memories, all nondancers, to craft a more personalized version of the dance, involving them in the choreography.
Since 2006, when Nimbus first started performing for audiences of up to 120 on Grace Church Van Vorst’s makeshift stage, spring shows have consisted mostly of modern works by Mr. Pott, with contributions from an occasional guest choreographer, he said.
The cross-cultural focus this year has its roots in an ethnic dance program in the Jersey City public schools, Mr. Pott said. That program will be this year’s installment of the Nimbus project “JC Grooves,” which presents a work by the troupe and a small group of middle-school volunteers to seventh-graders in Jersey City each spring; four performances took place at the Frank R. Conwell Middle School No. 4 last week, with four more scheduled for this week.
“But we’re more of a contemporary dance company, and we don’t do ethnic dance the way it’s normally conceived of, in terms of dance that is specifically linked historically to a culture,” Mr. Pott said. His solution was to present the work of three other choreographers “all linked to different dance traditions, even though they all consider themselves contemporary choreographers.”
Mr. Pott said the project gave rise to interesting questions, like, “Is this ethnic dance, even though it’s made by 21st-century citizens?” He sees these as “really valuable questions for students in the 21st century in Jersey City, since they’re exposed to kids from all different backgrounds all the time,” he said.
As for Mr. Pott’s own background, he spent his childhood in Manhattan and went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he did not intend to study dance.
“I was really into sports and visual arts when I was growing up. But then I saw a performance by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and that was kind of my initiation,” he said. He signed up for a dance class and soon found that “dance has a way of taking over people’s lives,” he said.
After a few years of dancing with the Oakland Ballet in California, Mr. Pott returned to the East Coast and joined the Princeton-based American Repertory Ballet. He was a member of that troupe when he formed Nimbus in 2005.
SAMUEL POTT named his dance company Nimbus Dance Works, he said, because he liked the idea of forming an atmospheric cloud — a nimbus — of dance, and also because of its definition as “sort of an enigmatic aura that surrounds something.”
But a more important consideration was that the troupe not bear his own name.
“I wanted to make it clear that I’m directing this company, but that the company has an idea and a mission that’s bigger than me,” Mr. Pott, 35, said before a recent rehearsal at Grace Church Van Vorst here.
“We started very informally,” said Mr. Pott, who is married to PeiJu Chien-Pott, also a dancer with Nimbus and Martha Graham; they live in Jersey City and have a baby daughter. He and some other American Repertory Ballet dancers wanted “to create work, and we had some off time in the schedule, so it was just something casual,” he said.
In 2006, they developed “Memo,” as well as a relationship with Grace Church Van Vorst. Nimbus’s opening-night performance on Thursday will be followed by a reception honoring both the church and Michelle de Fremery, a Nimbus dancer and board member who is planning to move to Washington.
Many of the 10 Nimbus dancers, all of whom are from New Jersey or New York, are friends from Martha Graham and the American Repertory Ballet, he said. “But the type of dancer who gravitates toward Nimbus, and the ones I’m interested in, have to be top-notch technically and also want to use dance as a vehicle for promoting a larger dialogue.”
Myssi Robinson, 20, of New Brunswick, is one of them.
“What I like about Nimbus is that it comes from a place that isn’t fake,” she said while stretching on the wooden church floor before the “Bloodlines, 1944” rehearsal. “It’s never just movement for movement’s sake. There’s a lot of kindness and integrity in this company.”
Nimbus Dance Works performs Thursday through Saturday at Grace Church Van Vorst, 39 Erie Street, Jersey City. Tickets cost $18 ($10 for students and seniors). Tickets to the Thursday opening night celebration, including the performance and a Champagne reception, cost $45. For tickets: brownpapertickets.com. For information, (201) 377-0718 or nimbusdanceworks.org.