The Dream Team

The sleeper wakes: Beth Corning's Waltzing in the Crosshairs explores the hidden realms of the dream state


JOAN OF ARC saw her own death in dreams. Roman emperor Julius Caesar ignored the nightly omens visited upon his wife Calpurnia; good things did not come of this. So what to make of the visions inhabiting choreographer Beth Corning's 1994 work Waltzing in the Crosshairs, now reconstructed and playing this weekend at Minnesota Dance Alliance's Studio 6A? It seems the mysterious dreams revealed through Corning's dances demonstrate just how close our nightly flirtations with the subconscious take us to the brink of madness.

"That's where the fine line is: What is a dream and what are these other worlds," explains Corning from her home on a farm in Cottage Grove. "When we first made the work, one of the lines we examined was the moment before one wakes and before one sleeps--moments of being out of control. These aren't places that I would want to live, but they aren't nightmares, either. They are like the ridiculous moments when you dream about waking up in bed and there's an audience in front of you and you address them. But you also know that this is really odd and you have to stop it."

Creating movement using the nonlinear logic of dreams proved challenging for Corning, an artist who cut her teeth on the theater-based dance techniques of Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, and Martha Graham at Ohio State University during the late 1970s before heading to Sweden, New York, Iowa City, and finally, in 1994, the Twin Cities. "I tried to make a dance where I hadn't done any of the movement before, which lent to the craziness of it," she recalls, noting that her own dreams suddenly assumed new significance. "I worked hard not to make it a narrative so I didn't have to explain who the characters were. You would think this new process was freeing, but instead it was arduous. I couldn't rationalize things, because I was looking at the irrational."

The result is a string of vignettes that drift out from the dark corners of Studio 6A like the ghosts rumored to inhabit the century-old space. Stephanie Dumaine dances a deranged solo on a tabletop, a matching baby doll in her hand. Doug Gilbert stands tethered to the windowsill, poised to take the plunge. The dancers sleepwalk among the audience. One slumbers on a viewer's lap. And Corning herself appears in an enormous green dress. She runs wildly, then trips and tumbles repeatedly over the hem of her gown like an oblivious heroine from a romance novel. None of the sleep-imprisoned dancers appear to control their dream actions, so only the audience can attempt to figure out what it means. This creates a rare opportunity to experience the chaos of another person's vulnerable subconscious state.

"The whole piece is warped," Corning laughs. "It's extraordinarily beautiful in sections but really, it's off. It's the idea of dancing in the crosshairs. There's an element of the unknown: Who will get hit next? Dreams, after all, are for the most part menacing. There's always a turn in them."

Waltzing in the Crosshairs will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at Minnesota Dance Alliance's Studio 6A in the Hennepin Center for the Arts; 458-5888.


IN RECENT YEARS, death has become an increasingly sensitive affair, what with Dr. Jack Kevorkian's ever-bolder campaigning for the right to die, and developments in livestock cloning. We live in a time when scientific reality is no different from science fiction--an intriguing turn of events for a choreographer like Japan's Kim Itoh. His renowned work "Dead and Alive--Body on the Borderline," appearing this weekend at the Walker Art Center along with the newer "3 Sex," attempts to figure out how we can continue to live freely when our death is swiftly becoming a controlled event.

In creating "Dead and Alive," Itoh found inspiration from novelist Saiichi Maruya, who once stated, "The modern Japanese are not alive or dead." From that axiom, it seemed only natural for the choreographer to aim his work's toughest questions at Japan itself. "Japanese people work so hard. It's like they are machines without any philosophy or any vision about their life. Their situation led me to create this piece, but all people can sympathize with it," explains Itoh in an interview from New York, where his 3-year-old troupe The Glorious Future recently performed for the first time.

"There are always extremes. Now we live, but we have to die someday." Itoh searches for the right English words to expand on his point, and concludes with a joke. "People are like sandwiches. We have two sides, but what's in between, that's a question for an artist to find out. It's eternal work."

Itoh's love of duality is reflected even within his company's name, which evokes an Orwellian take on the morrow. "I wanted to present a kind of irony. In Japan, people are feeling pessimistic now. I wanted to provoke them, to let them think they have a brilliant future," remarks Itoh with a sarcastic laugh. "This name is the face of the company and so the face is very bright. But behind the bright face you have a dark part, like the moon."

Such is the nature of butoh, a unique modern-dance genre created from the social turmoil of post-nuclear Japan that visits the dark recesses of the human psyche. Performed in astonishingly slow motion, like noh drama, the movement is at once beautiful and horrific. Nothing is ever as it seems. Itoh first performed butoh with Anzu Furukawa before setting off on solo tours. In 1995, he formed his own company, with an emphasis on wedding the distinctive Japanese dance technique with Western ballet and theater ideas.

In the time since, Itoh has come to symbolize the next wave in butoh. "I appreciate the old Japanese butoh dancers like Kazuo Ohno and Sankai Juku, but their style is not mine," he observes diplomatically. "As a member of the younger generation, I have to create another kind of butoh dance. People breathe the same new air, not the old air. This is the reason we are in the contemporary world."

Itoh's willingness to challenge tradition of any kind has also earned him some notoriety as "the bad boy of butoh," a WWF-worthy title the choreographer is reluctant to embrace. "I don't think I am trying to make a revolution," he says. "My work comes from the bottom of my heart, so I don't lie to myself and I don't think I tell lies to other people. Sometimes I provoke people, but I don't have a political purpose. My provocation is artistic. I'm just trying to give people the key to the door to the next world."

Kim Itoh + The Glorious Future perform 8 p.m. December 10 and 9 p.m. December 12 at Walker Art Center; 375-7622.

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