Dance is often ambitious in its use of the body, but what about its use of space?
“How can we transform a theater space into an alternate reality?” UM professor Nicole Bradley Browning wondered. “What would it look like to create a completely different environment?”
Her queries led to a seven-dance series titled “Quest,” which looks at the relationship between humans and nature through fire, water, soil and storms. The school of theater and dance will perform “Quest” with current students and alumni dancers starting April 25. The entire program was choreographed by Bradley Browning in conjunction with students, she said.
It all started with the more basic question — “Can we make it rain?”
Bradley Browning asked that question to adjunct professor Brian Gregoire four years ago, with a vision in her mind of a sheet of falling water on stage that dancers could perform in and around.
Gregoire, game to try, came up with a system that required students schlepping buckets of water up to the top of a rig outfitted with a holding trough and pipe with holes drilled to sprinkle the “rain."
The version for “Quest” features the same “beautifully cascading” water, but without the human labor, Bradley Browning said.
The rain idea led to its inverse: a performance around wildfires, easily inspired by the smoke that hangs over Missoula summers. That performance features the dancers in many modes, from representing the fire itself to animals running away from the flames.
The theater will fill with smoke and ash, Bradley Browning said, with burning cedar providing an authentic scent of fire.
“My hope is that it’s immersive,” she said, adding “there’s something kind of magical. … I don’t think people expect to come to the theater and hear water falling.”
It’s been nearly 30 years since the dance program put on a full-length evening production, Bradley Browning said. The last was an interpretation of the opera “Carmina Burana.”
The production allows for unique opportunities, that involve dozens of dancers from first-year students to alumni who are returning to work with Bradley Browning again.
Some of the pieces feature all female (or female-identifying) dancers, while one features all males, a first for Bradley Browning. Other dances have all 30 dancers on stage at once, although one piece is a solo and the series penultimate dance, “Two If By Sea,” is an intimate duet.
“Each piece is really different,” Bradley Browning said. “It’s been exhilarating.”
Each of the seven dances explores a duality and relationship between humans and nature. The opener “Sediment,” is about soil and bones, while the finale “And One Drop is Found” is themed on water and bodily fluids.
There’s the still-water meditation of “Reflect,” and the all-male intensity of “Current,” based around wind and breath.
“What’s in us is in nature, and what’s in nature is in us,” Bradley Browning said. “That interconnectivity.”