[ dance/theater ]
At an afternoon rehearsal of Miro Dance Theatre's Spooky Action, four bodies fall into a line formation, then readily disperse. Soon they all join up, hands touching with arms outstretched, creating a pinwheel effect that rapidly unravels. More breakups and brief encounters ensue, generating a scenario of escalating tension and instability.
The segment is interesting to watch simply for the cascade of patterns that develop and dissolve, but this being a Miro production, there's much more to it.
The company, co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of choreographer Amanda Miller — who's veered far from her roots as a member of Pennsylvania Ballet — and videographer Tobin Rothlein, takes an experimental approach to dance theater. The couple founded Miro in 2004, following a stint with the collaborative dance project Phrenic New Ballet, to focus solely on exploring topics of mutual interest. Miro — a Miller/Rothlein hybrid — is a meeting of their creative personalities. "We're both Pisces," says Miller. "So we're always struggling with both sides of the story."
For Spooky Action, the sides of the story are definitely deep. The title is derived from a comment made by Albert Einstein in response to observing quantum entanglement, a curious and not entirely understood physical property whereby two subatomic particles consistently react in opposite ways — if one particle spins clockwise, the other spins counterclockwise — no matter how far apart they may separate. That is, the particles are forever related to each other. Einstein deemed the phenomenon "spooky action at a distance."
Miller and Rothlein learned a lot about quantum entanglement while touring Chicago's Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory, where they conducted research for their 2007 Live Arts effort, Principles of Uncertainty. Fifty drummers and 25 dancers moved in concentric circles, starting off slow and building to a furious pace as a means of simulating a particle accelerator, which scientists are using to help determine the origins of the universe. "[It was] a very literal re-creation of a machine that crushes atoms into a bazillion pieces," says Rothlein.
But inspiration from the lab didn't stop there. Miller wanted to make a more abstract piece about "physics in terms of movement — spin, energy, momentum and direction." Meanwhile, Rothlein was thinking about human relationships. "I'm wanting to make a story about couples breaking up and staying together and meeting other people," he says.
The result is Spooky Action, a love story based — loosely — on principles of quantum physics. "It's a big step forward for Miro in terms of the scale of the work," says Miller.
And while all Miro projects have included video elements, these are amped up, thanks to a machine called the Hippotizer, a staple of arena rock concerts. Rothlein is having a blast with the video-effects gizmo, which he says "is hard to explain without sounding like a technogeek, but it allows us to integrate the way we use video with the dance much more tightly. ... It makes things more fluid."
The use of the Hippotizer and other effects in Spooky Action build on visual concepts presented in another Miro masterpiece, Pitch Black, a commentary on the cacophony of urban life, where a soundtrack by live saxophone quartet plus boom box plays while dancers cannily interact with panels that variously serve as paintings, walls, scrims and video screens. The work, which debuted in 2007, represented a leap in Miro's ongoing preoccupation with venturing between real and imagined states of being — dual worlds, much like the dichotomous nature of Spooky Action.
The company is on a continual quest to expand its artistic toolbox. "We're exploring the theater side more and more," Rothlein says. "And that's not meaning we use less dance, but we'll use any theater convention, any performing-arts convention that we feel will help tell the story, whether it's spoken word, text, dialogue, having sections that are more like physical theater. ... I feel every show goes more in that direction."
Spooky Action | Sat., May 9, 8 p.m., and Sun., May 10, 3 p.m., $25, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., 215-893-1999, mirodancetheatre.org.