The Body kinetic 

Seeking a unified theory in a multimedia performance

Heidi Junkersfeld graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in physics, one of only two women who graduated from the physics department that year. She says her understanding of physics inspires her passion for choreography and dancing. Junkersfeld has produced three dance performances in the last four years, two in Missoula (Falling Static in 1999, and Visceral Hum in 2000) and one in Portland, Ore. These shows, she says, were collaborative efforts in which dancers and artists displayed and performed their own material in a showcase format. The Body, scheduled for two performances at the Blue Heron, on May 9 and May 16, will be her first attempt to produce a collaborative multimedia program bound by a common theme.

Junkersfeld is a fireball of creative energy. Fueled by an infectious enthusiasm, she has labored mightily for the last two months as producer, fundraiser, choreographer and dancer, cobbling together a program that integrates the work of 11 dancers, three choreographers, two musicians, a sculptor and painter, and two writers of poetry and fiction. This is Junkersfeld’s first attempt at creating such a diverse show, and she seems awed and exhilarated by the process.

Junkersfeld describes the overarching theme of the show as exploring our need for “a philosophy that unifies body, mind and the environment.” She reasons that unless we learn to act on an understanding of our integral relationship with the natural world we cannot avoid doing serious harm to ourselves. “By envisioning the mind as disconnected from the environment, we can dissociate from the degradation around us,” Junkersfeld explains. Each section of the show engages the possibility of cultivating an environmental ethic “without the hierarchical dominance of humans or, human-centered ideology, over nature.”

Junkersfeld and her friend Wendy, the other female physics major in her graduating class, attempt to enlighten me on the subject of field theory to shed light on how it informs the upcoming show. Field theory, they explain, is “a measurement of the potential of certain actions and interactions taking place.” From there, they went into “Physics 101 in 10 minutes or less.” Unfortunately, I get lost in the exposition on “charged particles” and how “information transfer is mass-less waves of light.” Struggling to take all of it in, I am reminded of the Merce Cunningham quote: “Trying to write about dance is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.” With that, I decide to give up any hope of explaining the physics/dance connection. Suffice it to say, Junkersfeld hopes to ensure a transfer of information by actively experimenting, in performance, with some of the basic principles relating mind, body and the environment.

The show interlaces dance and many forms of art. There are two plant-like sculptures for dancing upon, constructed by Gabriel Schmidt, poetry by Cab Tran and a musical accompaniment of frame-drum, guitar, cello and Tibetan bowls by Nathan Zavalney and Lee Zimmerman. The show begins with quiet performance art, while the audience is filtering into the performance space, blurring the definitions between art performance and art installations. Junkersfeld also plans to use the entire venue space in performance so that even the top of the bar will become a stage.

The rehearsals for the show include discussions on personal experiences of wilderness, communication, addiction and consumption. Junkersfeld’s method seems as much an act of inspiring personal vision as creating expressive movement, text and music. Much of the dancing and music in the show is improvisational. To aid the spontaneous expression she hopes to create in performance, Junkersfeld encourages the deepest possible exploration of each performer’s own perceptions of their relationship with self and the environment.

“We are creating a complex story together that deals with specific issues such as appetite, interpersonal communication, and human environmental communication,” says Junkersfeld. For example, a duet in the section entitled “One Foot in Babylon” explores the ways plants and some animals communicate over large territories. Kaila Warner describes the piece as expressing our need to find balance with nature even as we live in a society that is alienated from nature. A structured trio improvisation, in the section entitled “New Laughter in a Dark Forest” is based on the archetype of Wilderness.

The elements that make up the program (dance, music, sculpture, poetry, scientific writing, painting) have each been developed separately. Various sections of the program may consist of as many as six layered elements. In performance, the layered elements produce a richly textured, kaleidoscopic interweaving of movement, rhythm, poetry, and imagery. For example, the section of the show entitled “One Foot in Babylon” is outlined like this: There will be a blank canvas on the back wall. Gabriel Schmidt will paint during the piece with the intention of responding to the surroundings. Nathan Zavalney will create an aural atmosphere with Tibetan bowls. Kaila Warner and Heidi Junkersfeld will dance an improvisational duet on top of plantlike sculptures. The duet expresses the voiceless communication of plants and animals over large regions. Cab Tran will recite poetry, and scientific descriptions of biological fields.

Choreographer Lucille Williams, who produced MissoulaDances in 2001, closes the show with “Rosie,” a tongue-in-cheek duet that asks the question, “What is the price we pay for our good-natured willingness to conform to the unconscionable practices of our society’s dominant institutions?” Williams describes “Rosie” as “trashy performance art.” 

The Body, a collaborative multimedia performance in which 16 artists weave fiction, dance, science, poetry, sculpture, music, and space-bending techniques, launches on May 9 and 16 at 10 p.m. at the Blue Heron. $7 for students, $10 general.

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