The Dance Partner

Dean Magraw is standing in the middle of the Southern Theater stage doing a little hand jive and hip-shake. He smiles rather sheepishly as a few dancers on a rehearsal break applaud the impromptu performance from a man better known for his skill on the guitar strings. It seems that choreographer Megan Flood, Magraw's partner in this weekend's premiere of Trippin' in Eden, has made an impression on the musician. And judging by the fusion of movement and song seen during a recent Sunday afternoon run-through of the duo's first collaborative concert, he has returned the favor.

Of all the artistic disciplines, dance and music arguably enjoy the most symbiotic relationship, yet, because of widespread budgetary constraints, it is increasingly difficult to find a dance program featuring live musical accompaniment. Flood and Magraw, who first met two years ago as performers in Ruth MacKenzie's Finnish epic Kalevala, leapt at the opportunity to share the boards last fall, and have since found the time to forge a common aural-kinetic language. And through hours of improvisational experimentation, the pair has seen their patient yet refreshingly lighthearted approach pay off personally and professionally. "I usually shut my eyes when I play," says Magraw, who will be joined by musician Jim Anton and vocalist Esther Godinez this weekend. "Watching Megan dance changes the way I place things note by note." Flood adds, "It changes the way I hear music to have Dean around. There are so many dialogues created around improvisation."

Indeed, when the time comes for Flood and Magraw to do some self-described "noodling" in rehearsal, the connection between the two artists becomes most apparent. Each responds to the other's creative impulses with no obvious visual or physical cues, as if their minds had established an electrical link during the four months they've worked together. Though there are stories being told through the work, Flood and Magraw's attempts to elaborate on the show's subtext suggest that a set of subconscious images have eluded the logic of language. "The first part is about letting the dance be about the spaces between things," explains Flood. "Then there's a section called 'Village Life,' and the next part is all about angles and weirdness."

Mystery dance: Megan Flood, Dean Magraw, and guitar boogie down at the Southern Theater
Mystery dance: Megan Flood, Dean Magraw, and guitar boogie down at the Southern Theater

Magraw pipes in: "It's all tangled and untangled."

"It goes from the village to the Hard Rock Cafe!" Flood answers.

"No--it goes from the village to heavy meadow!"

Flood, a member of Zenon Dance Company since 1991 and a versatile muse to many choreographers about town including Wynn Fricke and Cathy Young, marks her premier foray into dancemaking with this concert. "Normally putting on your first show can be a lonely experience," she observes. "This is a good way to get into it."

Dancers Christy Coughlin, Amber Ellison, Jennifer Holt, Claire Hruby, Gretchen Pick, and Danielle Robinson also appear in two of the evening's works, including "Trippin' in Eden," a tricky, fast-paced romp among straight-backed chairs, named for a track on Magraw's recent CD, Seventh One. An as-yet-untitled piece summons up images of medieval vision quests and magic set to an old folksong "reharmonized" by Magraw into a chant.

Flood and Magraw are most satisfied with the fact that their work thus far has transcended the easy route of dumb juxtaposition. In some collaborations, artists simply place their ideas onstage and hope for compatibility by virtue of sheer proximity. Such an approach usually yields little in the way of substantive work, and at its worst leads to a boring clash of egos. Trippin' in Eden, by contrast, demonstrates a true unity of perspective. "It's so much bigger than just adding ourselves to each other," says Magraw. "You see that when dancers are working together. And it's the same in music: Instead of hearing four individual Beatles you hear just one sound."

 

Trippin' in Eden plays 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at the Southern Theater; (612) 340-1725.

 
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