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Modern dance troupe explores desire with fancy flight

by Amy Kingsley

Karola Lüttringhaus steps onto a small wooden bench and sets her hands six inches above her head, about shoulder-width apart.

“What we have here is a machine,” she says. “Well, it’s a sweet potato actually.”

She has blocked off a section of air, a big chunk of nothing that by Thursday, will be that sweet potato/machine thingy. Which, by the way, will be swinging from a macramé hammock.

There is more: a carrot lab, doll-mold planters and a twisted marionette. A decorating scheme that will recast the corner theater in vivid orange. Silent films playing in the background.

If it all sounds rather fanciful on paper… well, it’s more so in person.

The theater in which Lüttringhaus’ dance company, Alban Elved, will perform this piece is completely empty, black, silent and a touch chilly. Lüttringhaus picks a pair of dainty work gloves up off the stage. From the looks of it, they haven’t been getting much use recently.

Lüttringhaus is undaunted by the work ahead of her.

“That’s okay,” she says, “I like doing it.”

She’s referring to the nonstop painting and set construction that will – national holiday be damned – end only on opening night.

Then it will be the dancers’ turn to transform this small, neat theater at Salem College. They will present two pieces choreographed by Lüttringhaus, both presented under the title, “Desire: A Collage of Strange Encounters and Scary Moments.”

The first half of the show concerns conflicts between two employees in a carrot lab.

“This one is very narrative I think,” Lüttringhaus says. “It’s done in the style of a silent movie.”

Behind the dancers, a silent movie will fill in some gaps in the story. Oh, and when she says narrative, Lüttringhaus does not mean to imply the storyline is as straightforward as, say, The Nutcracker.

“It’s more like a dream that I’ve had,” she says. “And my dreams are pretty bizarre.”

As for the second piece, she promises it will be much slower than the first.

“The second part will be very different from the first,” she says. “It is much more like a surreal painting.”

She warns that the second piece contains moments of partial nudity. Nothing that the native of Berlin thinks is inappropriate for children, but something she feels inclined to warn parents about.

The animating question behind the second act of “Desire” is this: What causes people to create and discover? The main character is an inventor – in the scientific sense – loosely modeled on Lüttringhaus herself.

“The whole idea behind this is to look at the philosophy behind experimentation,” she says. “The piece very much reflects the creative process.”

The dancers perform in duets, mostly occupying the skirt of the stage, the audience and the altitude directly above it. Lüttringhaus promises plenty of aerial action and viewers can expect athletic, even acrobatic moves from her corps of professional dancers.

Although she wants them to expect entertainment, Lüttringhaus does not want her audience to arrive with any other preconceptions about the show.

“I think the program is interesting and very creative,” she says, “and I hope people with come with curiosity instead of preconceptions.”

It may be one of the final performances that curious audiences will be able to take in of Alban Elved in Winston-Salem. The company, which splits its time between Winston-Salem, New York City and Berlin, is considering relocating most of its operations to the Big Apple after failing to obtain major grants in the Camel City.

“This is just another step in our development,” she says. “We definitely don’t want to break up with Winston-Salem. But staying here is going to take individuals saying they really want us back.”

This week, show Alban Elved you still care by attending a gala for their 10-year anniversary, one of the three performances of “Desire,” or, if you really love them, both.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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