Zephyr and Breakbone dance companies explore concept of home through dance

November 11, 2010

By Lucia Mauro

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(Photo by Carl Wiedemann)
Course of Empire explores the architecture of human physicality and psyche.
(Photo by Erika Dufour)
Andrea Cerniglia, Michelle Kranicke and Emily Stein.
(Photo by Erika Dufour)
Michelle Kranicke and Andrea Cerniglia.

Whether you’re a soldier or a civilian, home and food are comforting thoughts. Eight Forty-Eight dance contributor Lucia Mauro previews two dances that explore those items in fresh, abstract and wholly unexpected ways.


Breakbone Dance Co. perfroms Course of Empire
Nov 11-20
The Viaduct Theatre

Zephyr Dance performs Chewing
November 11-13
Holstein Park Auditorium


It’s one of the most reliable universal truths: the rise and fall of civilizations. Atalee Judy, artistic director of Breakbone Dance Company, probes this concept at the granular level, right down to the dauntless spirit behind the bricks and mortar used to erect a city. She then ponders the tragic beauty of distressed or neglected spaces before commenting on human folly – often a key culprit in the grand-scale collapse of cities. Her new one-hour work, titled Course of Empire, bounces between architecture’s ability to inspire and to intimidate; to welcome and to drive out.

The performance is a multimedia adventure set in the expansive Viaduct Theater…It’s a warehouse with bare walls and large ventilation fans. Judy and her two dancers, Anita Fillmore and Mindy Meyers dress in vintage costumes that recall Amelia Earhart. But instead of being airborne, these dancerly duplicates of the famed pilot are more grounded.

Each dancer represents elements of building: the surveyor, stonemason and visionary. They are, in a way, blueprints that move through time and space against a cavernous environment. Surrounding them are filmmaker Carl Wiedemann’s Omnimax-scale projections of decayed spaces, like collapsed abbeys and an abandoned train terminal. Their assembly-line arm and head movements transform them into beams, widgets and hinges. But at the same time, there’s a human vulnerability to the dancers’ desperate arabesques and lifts. Off to the side, they alternate stacking blocks to form miniature arches and cathedrals. They are both the builders and the building materials. They are also capable of destruction, an idea most prominent in a solo that has one dancer floating above the mayhem. She could be an angel figure on a pediment surveying the damage incurred by war, or the metaphoric will that spurs people to rebuild.

Michelle Kranicke, artistic director of Zephyr Dance, gets to the crux of our natural bond to food. In Chewing, her highly abstract work for five women, she delves into the rituals associated with food and breaks them down into ideas of labor, culture and sensuality. The dancers stand out in their colorful costumes fashioned out of feathers, tulle and ribbons…an eye-popping confection of bon bons or over-embellished prom dresses. Their first interaction is reminiscent of our unconscious physical behavior around the dinner table: chattering, passing dishes, refusing some with the firm raise of a hand, spearing the baked ham, and so on.

As the piece progresses, the dancers become hulking, squatting figures, as if they are engaged in backbreaking labor – like picking corn or peeling potatoes – or carrying their own personal rituals on their backs. And that’s where Kranicke’s premise most intrigues: society’s tug of war between so-called civilized behavior and its primal connection to the earth.

Both Breakbone Dance Company and Zephyr Dance engage in labor-intensive explorations of cities and food to unearth something innately satisfying and sublime.