Follow the Bouncing Ball

Artistic collaborators can walk a tricky tightrope. There's a whole gamut of personality quirks, ego bruises, ability gaps and creative differences to balance in the process, and for many, it doesn't always work out. But against all odds, choreographers Chris Harris and R. Bryan Meeks seem to have been born for it.

Young, enthusiastic and unspoiled by the curdled disagreements that seem to sour many an artistic union, the two are leading their fledgling dance troupe through something completely different--a blend of dance, song, storytelling and comedy called Fun D'Mental Dances--this week at the Acoma Center. They hope it's just the beginning of an enduring partnership, and they say their performance, a combination of new material and older pieces that worked well in the past, is that rare thing: a true collaboration.

"So much of what we do seems to come out of one brain," says Harris, a crisp, fit pixie of a dancer. "It's born out of something I can't explain. Our personalities were really matched from the very start. I'm cerebral, Bryan's more earthy--but where we find that middle ground is a slight mystery to us."

They're not complaining. And they're pleased with the results. "For me, it's the richness that we make together," Meeks says. "We make stuff happen that I know I couldn't come up with by myself. And because of that, it becomes more colorful and real in some way." When working alone, he adds, the temptation to become too earnest in execution is always a danger. "But it's humbling to work with someone else."

One of the hardest battles a new dance company faces is finding a direction to take, but these recent University of Colorado graduates seem to have forged their path of individuality as effortlessly as they move. Meeks says humor and wordplay are the major elements setting their program apart from the dozens of other local dance productions coming down the pike. "The whole show is more theatrical than most modern dance programs," Harris says, and she's right: Interspersed between choreographed interludes, there are unexpected stories and songs, one-liners and moments of stunning athleticism, all held together by a theme of bouncing balls (which bounce through the scenery frequently during the show). "It's a circular evening," Meeks says. "A kind of simple metaphor."

The real give-and-take of collaboration becomes evident during "Not Seldom Sometimes Often Me," a Harris work that seems to substitute shadowplay for wordplay to make a statement about working together while being apart. Performed on two sides of a sheer, backlit curtain, "Not Seldom" features Harris dancing alone in front while Meek's shadow, an amorphous form, approximates, apes and thumbs its nose at her movements from the other side. Sometimes their shapes move in eerie unison; at other times they face off. Either way, the audience can sense their analogous nature. It's an encouraging reminder that two heads can actually be better than one.


Fun D'Mental Dances, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, September 17-19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, September 20, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, $9, 303-623-0524.


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