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"RIG" CAN MEAN to cheat. Poker games are rigged. So are boxing matches, and national elections. Negative connotations aside, however, rigging is also about "manipulating your environment to suit your desires." So explains dancer Sarah Gordon of the choreographic duo RIG, offering the word as a perfect analogy for the dancemaking process: an act, which usually involves more than a little prodding and shaping. Gordon's co-venturess Gretchen Pick, a lifelong sailor, opts for a nautical definition: "I think of pulling and tying the ropes on a boat, making sure everything's hooked up. It's about going through the process of making a hand-created support system that can go somewhere." Gordon squirms appreciatively on the couch in her South Minneapolis apartment. "I like that better than cheating!" she says. The mutual admiration society is in session.

RIG is not the most obvious of collaborations, yet their combined business savvy and slumber-party rapport feel organic. The 24-year-old Gordon is a Southern California baby ballerina who morphed into a modern dancer under Bella Lewitsky's tutelage at the progressive CalArts. The self-described "kid with a mohawk" has a sardonic streak plus a useful hyperactivity that taken together project a compelling presence. Minnesota native Pick, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a shy, ultrahealthy woman. But according to Gordon, "she drinks tons of coffee. She's constantly eating little goodies, and she reads voraciously." The 27-year-old Pick grew up competing in gymnastics and studied dance under the rigorous eye of Viola Farber at Sarah Lawrence College. Now she's a technician in the best sense of the word, a movement innovator with a flair for athletic partnering.

Pick's penchant for the outdoors is a little bit country next to Gordon's more punk sensibility--a happy dichotomy the pair embraces in their upcoming show, Nature Hiking in Go-Go Boots. Like local contemporaries Hijack and Concrete Farm, not to mention recent collaborators Zenon and Ballet of the Dolls, RIG's cooperative outlook is an anomaly in dance. As resources dwindle, however, such partnerships have become a necessity. "It's the only way young choreographers are going to survive," says Gordon. "Art is harder [to make] which means you can't do it yourself. I wouldn't just hand over my career on a silver platter, but somehow we're doing that for each other." RIG also hopes to serve as a vehicle for other artists' work. Martin Curley will present a duet in this weekend's program, and future endeavors will have a variety-show format.

The best place to see RIG's dynamic in motion is the studio, where they've spent many hours of late. Although Gordon and Pick do not choreograph together, they plan to in the future; for now they serve as each other's brain and body doubles. During a recent rehearsal, for example, Pick ran "Indicate What You Want," a quintet bursting with momentum and mid-air body snags set to a score by Scott Miller. While Pick's work can appear to be an exercise in pedestrian movement, there's also an undercurrent of danger. Loosely inspired by a trip to Poland, the quintet's spatial exploration reflects an emerging confidence in unfettered dancer interaction.

Gordon, on the other hand, is a self-professed "dance fascist"; she favors a strict vocabulary and sure adherence to a concept. In rehearsal for her trio "Live Live Nude Nude Girls Girls," Gordon addresses a challenge--constructing a dance that involves toplessness and headstands but doesn't exploit either one. She describes the work as a "feminist lap dance," but in rehearsal it seems less doctrinaire than that label might suggest. The piece involves a trio of women who never face the audience and constantly cup or drape their arms across their bare breasts. It's a sly subversion on the strip-bar dancer. Pelvic contortions are traded for the contortion of balancing on the head. Gordon effectively answers the all-American breast fixation without showing more than the passing suggestion of flesh.

Watching RIG bolt through Gordon's rigorous duet "The Mallard," it's clear they aren't afraid to risk a few bone-crunching dives at the floor--or the wall for that matter--which makes the partnership seem all the stronger. When one soars the other rolls securely underfoot. "We're both very willing to jump off the cliff," Gordon says. "We're both willing to stand on the edge and get ready for the leap. But sometimes self-preservation instincts kick in and the other needs to push."

RIG performs July 4-July 13 at the Hennepin Center for the Arts; call 335-8200.

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