February Dance event features re-imagined work

Choreographer Trisha Brown's masterwork "Astral Convertible" premiered in 1989, with costumes and sets by artist Robert Rauschenberg and a score by Richard Landry and later by John Cage.

Starting this evening, Dance at Illinois will present a "technologically turbocharged" or re-imagined "Astral Convertible," this time with a score by John Toenjes, director of music for Dance at Illinois, and new costumes, sets and lights that use cutting-edge technology.

February Dance, to be presented tonight, Friday and Saturday, also will feature new pieces by faculty dance artists Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Renée Wadleigh.

Brown, a New York-based dance artist, gave the dance department permission to re-imagine "Astral Convertible," a 32-minute piece that a New York Times critic described, upon its premiere, as "something startling, stunning and exciting."

The original version featured an interactive set, lighting and sound design using car head lamps, cassette tapes, and towers.

"Imagine a highly theatrical universe of metal towers – part oil derrick, part construction site –- framing humans in silvery tights whose every move is intended to activate the headlights and electronic recordings attached to these structures," Anna Kisselgoff wrote in 1989.

The re-imagined piece will use towers designed by the UI Department of Theatre. The dance department updated the interactive aspects of "Astral Convertible" by using Web 2.0 social networking, electronic components and wireless technologies.

For those aspects, the dance department collaborated with computer scientists and engineers from the UI's Institute for Advance Computing Applications and Technologies, and edream, the UI's Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute.

"The dancers have sensors embedded in their costumes that sense their movements and wirelessly communicate them to a computer," said Nettl-Fiol, concert director. "The computer then translates the data into gestures."

Nettl-Fiol called "Astral Convertible Re-imagined" a big project for the dance department and the first time it has done a piece by Brown. UI dance alumna Kathleen Fisher, who danced in Brown's company, taught the piece to nine UI students.

Also helping with the project was Thecla Schiphorst, a media artist/designer and faculty member in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

For the project, Dance at Illinois received an American Masterpiece Grant from the National Endowment for Arts and Dance USA.

Because of its technological requirements, "Astral Convertible Re-imagined" will be presented first, and then followed by an intermission.

The second part of the concert will open with Nettl-Fiol's piece and close with Wadleigh's.

Nettl-Fiol was inspired to create "In the Storm of Roses" after having heard mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli sing at Krannert Center in October 2005. She immediately bought a Bartoli recording and listened to it over the years. Her new piece, 21 minutes long, is danced to Bartoli music and is really a homage to the singer.

"From highly ornate and demandingly virtuosic to melting and flowing melodic lines, the piece travels from jubilant to melancholy, from poignant to joyful," Nettl-Fiol said in a news release. "Created for a cast of nine dancers, the choreography is designed to offer a kinesthetic experience that colors and interacts with the music.

Wadleigh's roughly 30-minute piece, "In Praise of Verisimilitude," features guest dancers Renay Aumiller, Stephen West and Nicholas Duran, as well as Wadleigh, performing along with six female UI dance students.

"Separate casts function independently, one shimmering in color, the other in black and white, as each investigates repetition, frustration,and disjunction, while playing between the boundaries of conceptual intent and contradiction," Wadleigh said in a news release.

The Wadleigh piece includes a musical score by rapper Gucci Mane and Bob Dylan.

If you go

What: University of Illinois Department of Dance presents February dance, featuring new pieces by faculty members Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Renee Wadleigh and a "re-imagined" version of Trisha Brown's "Astral Convertible," a dance originally created in 1989

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Where: Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U

Tickets: Single: $17 for adults, $16 for senior citizens, $15 for students and $10 for UI students and youths of high school age and younger

Information: 333-6280, www.krannertcenter.com and http://dance.uiuc.edu/

Also: Gay Morris will present The Lorado Taft Lectureship on Art: "What is Post-Modern about Post-Modern Dance," from 5 to 6 p.m. today in the Dance Rehearsal Room on the lower level of Krannert Center. The lecture is free and open to the public.

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