Alternative Energy

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars: Wynn Fricke's Borrowed Bones Dance Theatre

Corridors of Sleep
Wynn Fricke/Borrowed Bones Dance Theatre

In the physics of dance, the concept of energy has nothing to do with brute exertion. You could have 10 eager daredevils hurling themselves at one another for an hour, and the event might lack energy. Neither does it have much to do with speed, though speed tends to rouse and excite. Finally, a dance that conveys energy is not synonymous with an energetic dance, a difference that is hardly a matter of semantics. Energy in dance has to do with the idea that space is too tight for what is going on, that the movement, however small, leaks through its visible boundaries.

In this respect, the dances of 34-year-old Minneapolis choreographer Wynn Fricke are all about energy. There is a moment at the beginning of Ibuki, a 1997 quartet set to the rhythms of Kodo drumming and the traditional Gagaku music of Japan, when Eric Boone lies prone downstage center, with his right hand creeping away from his chest. Everybody else on stage is absolutely still as Boone's hand tightens and grips the floor, the smooth muscles of his arm bulging beneath the skin. It's a small moment, and it draws attention not just because the stage is otherwise frozen, but because Boone's hand seems to bore through its assigned two inches of space.

Further into the piece, the men (Boone and Devin Carey), holding the women (Fricke and Christy Coughlin) upside-down by their pelvises, spin around, making their partners' legs and arms fly. The move is hard to describe and doubtless harder to execute, but Fricke seems to relish that. Her choreography is guided by extremes of physicality. Part of the pleasure of watching it is that the difficult appears effortless; the tiny and delicate, Herculean.

A lot of the credit for that must go to Fricke's formidable dancers, Zenon regulars assembled under the name Borrowed Bones Dance Theatre, performing a two-week run at Studio 6A of the Hennepin Center for the Arts. All six dancers have incredible range, and they articulate Fricke's vision with selfless equanimity. Carey and Greg Waletski, though utterly different from each other in physique and quality of attack, are alike in their quest for a rough-around-the-edges virtuosity. Boone is more subdued, calmer. In the duet "Figures in Tension," the contrast between the men drives the dance. Waletski heaves and grunts, neglecting to soften his landings. There is an urgency to his enormous moves that recalls the strokes behind Van Gogh's drunken landscapes. Boone dances large but with measure. Where Waletski erupts, he merely bubbles beneath the surface. In the moments they come together, the subtleties of control and abandon appear in the ways they touch each other.

Fricke doesn't differentiate between female movement and male movement, but the women of Borrowed Bones Dance Theatre are clearly women. They lift, dive, and show the stamina of horses, yet there is a fine-tuned femininity to their presence--a remarkable point, considering how much heavy lifting they actually do. Fricke herself is a commanding presence. She shares Boone's intensity and approaches slowness with the focus of a Buddhist monk. Coughlin, who has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year, has the legs of an Amazon and uses them like weapons. Partnering Carey in a vertiginous sequence, she swings her limbs in arcs bigger than his body. Megan Flood is small and gets lifted a lot, but she, too, packs a punch into her movement. In Corridors of Sleep, the title piece on the program, she dances a springy, elated solo, and the lines her limbs trace through the air seem to linger an extra nanosecond, the afterimage on an X-ray screen.

This last piece, Fricke's newest and most ambitious, deals with entrapment. Corridors is inspired in part by the etchings of 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a man whose aesthetic vision was not exactly Baroque. "Il Carceri" ("The Prisons"), the etchings which inspired Fricke's choreography, feature otherworldly, subterranean chambers accented by enormous drawbridges and precarious ladders leading nowhere. As the eye wanders from corner to corner, various details emerge--a gargoyle, a stone arch, a blurry human figure in a dark cloak. If Piranesi was drawing from life, 18th-century Italian prisons were the epitome of hell.

Corridors of Sleep is not about a biblical hell per se (never a wise choice in dance), but about the hidden and the contained. There are three large, square wooden boxes upstage, which the dancers use as barriers, dens, traps and platforms for terrific aerial movements. The squareness of the boxes extends to the whole space, which is free of wings and looks like a room rather than a stage. The space in Corridors is either too small or too big; either way, the people in it clearly aren't happy to be there. It's a situation somewhat reminiscent of No Exit, except that the verbal jabs have been replaced by breathtaking partnering and urgent unison.

In the powerful last third of the piece, going through walls is the only option. Sprinting from one end of the room to the other, Boone, Coughlin, Flood, Waletski, and Carey push off the walls and bounce back several feet into the space. They get up and repeat the act, like birds pounding at the glass of some enormous window. It's chilling to watch. There is no door at the end of the corridor--only impenetrable, full-length windows.

Corridors of Sleep runs Friday through Sunday at the Hennepin Center for the Arts; 335-8200.

 
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