'Burning' delivers dance intensity

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 9, 2011 - 6:04 PM

REVIEW: The piece about the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 is among three debut works from Shapiro & Smith.

Shapiro & Smith Dance draws upon one of the most terrifying moments in Minnesota history for "Burning Air," showing this weekend at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The new work, choreographed by Joanie Smith with the performers, captures the apocalyptic essence of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 using dance that swirls like the vortex of an inferno and hauntingly beautiful words penned by New York playwright David Greenspan.

The opening scenes sum up the town's vulnerability. As Smith narrates, we learn there had been little rain that summer, small fires were common and wood was absolutely everywhere -- the houses, the forest, the mill. Kari Mosel lights a single candle. Laura Selle Virtucio dances like its flickering flame. There's a sense of foreboding in Scott Killian's gorgeous score, Pearl Rea's red-orange-infused lighting design and the simple phrase, "Something's coming."

The choreographic imagery is indelible. Maggie Bergeron is a lonely figure flying through the firestorm while passed between dancers. There's a chaotic dash for safety in a shallow lake. The dancers huddle, gulping air, rising and falling in horror-stricken awe. We are reminded that animals also entered the water. Virtucio flings her arms to the sky while Mosel, particularly vibrant in this work, crouches nearby as a red fox, fearful yet present. The strong survival instinct, as interpreted through the troupe's powerful dramatic approach, underscores this stirring reflection on the unpredictable forces of nature.

Another premiere is Smith's "Pat A Cake," performed by the party-dress-clad Virtucio and Megan McClellan. This laugh-out-loud duet gives the dancers a chance to taunt one another, playground-style. McClellan's comic persistence is particularly sharp as she pursues the exasperated Virtucio around the stage. Sneaky slaps, aggressive finger-pointing and childhood games gone awry all lead up to a smart surprise ending.

The program also includes "New Couch," a decidedly twisted creation from company member Eddie Oroyan. Dressed like an Olympic gymnast in a nightclub, the madly grinning Oroyan attempts to impress his wife, Heather Oroyan, who sits motionless as he tumbles around her. It's funny in a bewildering kind of way, but mostly comes off like an odd inside joke.

Rounding out the evening are two repertory classics: the tour-de-force "Bolero," among 2010's best local dance works, and 1992's "Dance With Two Army Blankets," an airy, acrobatic romp.

Caroline Palmer writes about dance.


    What: "Burning Air"

    When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

    Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Minneapolis.

    Tickets: $21-$23, 612-340-1725 or southerntheater.org

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