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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Dance performance will highlight scenes from across Michigan


A performance described as "part travelogue, part multi-media dance spectacle" will be presented by the Peter Sparling Dance Company of Ann Arbor tomorrow night at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts in Monroe.

Titled "Peninsula," the show combines live performances with video shot throughout Michigan. As the dancers perform, their images will be projected on a screen behind them.

At some points, the video will offer only a background setting for the live action. Occasionally the dancers on stage will align with their videotaped selves, while at other times the real and video dancers will provide a subtle counterpoint to one another, Sparling says.

The combination offers a creative challenge for the audience, he admits.

"The video can provide an extraordinary amount of historical context and the dance brings that to life You're playing with people's ideas of what is real and what is virtual," he adds. Sparling compares it to layering two transparencies and viewing them as a whole.

Sparling teaches full time in the University of Michigan's Department of Dance, "but my true love is my dance company." Now in its 12th year, it's the only nonprofit professional dance company in Ann Arbor and one of only a handful in Michigan, he says.

He calls it his "research lab," with many of his projects taking an interdisciplinary approach, mixing contemporary dance with video, visual arts, poetry, and text.

The dance/video pairing in "Peninsula" celebrates his home state, from Detroit where he was born and grew up, to the Upper Peninsula, where the family vacationed. "I created a work in three parts that reflects my own background but also a larger historical sweep of the state going back to the formation of the copper lodes in the Upper Peninsula," Sparling says.

"Part I: From Rust and Ruin," includes video shot in the Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge complex and the streets of Detroit, along with archival factory footage. That "frenetic, charged" segment is followed by a more meditative "Part II: Crossing the 45th Parallel," which focuses on the natural beauty of sites including Hartwick Pines State Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes.

In "Part III: Sounding the Glacier," the video samples the Upper Peninsula's Quincy Mine Shaft in Hancock and the charcoal kiln at Fayette Historical Site. Opening with a drive over the Mackinaw Bridge, this portion includes narration, unlike the first two. "It's autobiographical, and I'm reflecting on time," Sparling says. "The tone is very haunting, primal, going back in time."

Taken as a whole, he continues, "we're saying that within one lifetime one can experience a geographical location such as the state of Michigan as an encounter with natural and cultural forces. What makes Michigan unique is that as a peninsula thrusting northward it creates a yearning to go north to the furthest reaches of that peninsula. You see significant changes and a history of human migrations that are embedded in places."

As part of the "Peninsula" tour, grant funds are being used to allow community dance companies to create their own video/dance presentations. In Monroe, the Repertory Performance Company of the River Raisin Centre for the Arts will perform a 10-minute show opener against video shot locally.

The Peter Sparling Dance Company will present "Peninsula" at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts, 114 South Monroe St., Monroe. Admission is $22 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $11 for students. Information: 734-242-7722 or www.riverraisincentre.org.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.

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