The luck of the thaw

By By Cressa Perloff

By Cressa Perloff

Hearing a story about a falling rock landing lightly next to a climber is enough to rack anyone’s nerves.

That’s what makes SBDance’s performance this weekend, “This Mortal Coil,” so compelling. Not only does it tell the story, but it artistically manifests the choices of fate and the reactions of the climber.

Al Burgess has been climbing mountains for more than 40 years, or, “my whole life, really,” he said. A native of Yorkshire, in Northern England, Burgess has never been involved in the performing arts before. He met Stephen Brown, the director of SBDance, in a yoga class in Salt Lake City, where Burgess has lived for 16 years.

“‘This Mortal Coil’ completely tells his life episodes, but we embellish those stories with dance and theater and images,” Brown said.

“(It is) not talking about summits particularly,” Burgess said. “It is more of the internalized, emotional goings on–how you take risks and you survive them, and you really don’t know why. I mean, sometimes you think you do, but you don’t,” he said.

With the help of Winnie Wood, founder of Dance Theatre Coalition, Stephen Brown gathered local dancers and actors to create this evening-length performance. The only text in the show besides Burgess’ stories is from a number of Shakespeare’s death scenes, traditionally articulated.

The Shakespearian scenes, however, are molded to Burgess’s scenes. For example, in one section Burgess concludes, “Then suddenly she jumped into my arms: a goddess in black tights.” Next, an actor recites Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy while a dancer is regally placed on a heavy, large metal construction of a jack, which is then lifted in the air by male performers.

With such eclectic performers and collaborators, “Everyone fine-tunes everything,” said Stefanie Slade, lighting designer and graduate from the U Modern Dance Department.

“Stephen has a real skill for choosing strong flavors–subject matter, performers, props, concepts–and? blending them miraculously into an amazing piece,” said production and concept-design artist Mattson McFarland. The performance showcases “the reality of death and the reality of life,” he said.

“This Mortal Coil” will be performed today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Blackbox Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 355-ARTS.