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Dancing on the edge 

Expect the unexpected when Runyon and Smith perform at the beam

Pyrotechnics are not Louise Runyon's style. "I'm not looking for flashy technical movement," the dancer/choreographer says. "I work with gestures."

And, apparently, puppets.

The central piece in her February concert with Wayne M. Smith and Moving in the Spirit Performance Company, is the trilogy "Come & Be/Skin Shed," which utilizes life-sized doll puppets suspended from the ceiling and ultimately draped on the floor. Beginning as a pas de trois, the piece, originally produced at the Center for Puppetry Arts Xperimental Puppetry Theatre, evolves into a pas de deux, then finally a pas seul.

"The puppets help to express the ability to process life situations and explore possibilities, eventually leaving behind the unserving part of one's life," explains Runyon. "The piece represents exploring what you want and what you leave behind in the process. It becomes a distillation."

Now 50, Runyon has been performing in Atlanta for 20 years. For the past four years she has trained as a practitioner of Feldenkrais, a performance method exploring the quality of touch and movement. She admits that this study has curtailed her performance schedule but maintains that it has enhanced her artistry. There have been other major influences on her work as well, including performing with Joseph Chaikin's Open Theatre in New York.

"Doing this experimental, movement-based theater introduced me to using the body as an instrument," says Runyon. "It inspired me to incorporate sound and voice into my work."

Runyon describes her style as essentially modern and improvisational, and she includes some unexpected forms in her pieces, such as trapeze and circus elements -- a carry-over from the time her son studied to be a circus art performer. She believes in using whatever will best communicate her meaning.

"I look at dance as being a sacred act," she says. "It connects the deepest part of myself to the deepest part of other people."

The program will include another piece choreographed by Runyon, titled "Finding Grace, Part II: Softening," a duet that explores the impact of two people upon each other. Her partner in the piece is Wayne M. Smith, a dancer/choreographer who came to Atlanta three years ago to teach in the dance program at Emory University. Smith will perform two of his own works in the program and has choreographed a third for the community dance group Moving in the Spirit.

Smith describes his style as mostly modern, with strong jazz influences and says his performances always offer an added element of surprise.

"I use improvisation a lot in my work, even when it's fully choreographed," he says. "The movements are choreographed, the text is set, but I always leave room to improvise so that I never perform the same way twice."

Smith admits that this type of dancing on the edge can be stressful. "But it's a healthy kind of stress," he says. "It's rather like walking a tightrope between a dance performance and a magic act. But how else can a performer be more truly in the moment?"

Two of Smith's solo works will be included on the program. The first, "The Timed Piece," is set to a timer and will include narration by Smith as he dances. He describes the second work, "Move to ... ," as an interactive piece that promises to push the envelope of artistic control, while including audience interaction and improvisation.

"I select audience members who give me movement ideas," he explains. "Then I include my own elements. But in this performance, I'll be taking it a step further. The audience will also have a chance to determine what the music will be. I thought it would be a good way to push myself, allowing outward sources to give me information."

This method of on-the-spot choreographic creation is one more way that Smith lives up to his performance credo of remaining in the moment, every moment onstage.

"When you're not in the moment," he says, "dance isn't alive."

The Louise Runyon Barth Dance Company presents "Louise Runyon & Wayne M. Smith with Moving in the Spirit Performance Company" in performance Feb. 16-18 at 8 p.m. at The Beam, 750 Glenwood Ave. $12 for general public; $10 for artists, seniors and students. Seating is limited and reservations are advised. 404-728-8991.

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