Scaffold provides platform for dance

Staff writer
Published 10/24/2002


Event: Wire Monkey Dance
When: Tomorrow-Saturday and Nov. 1-2, 8 p.m.; Nov. 3, 6p.m.
Where: Northampton Center for the Arts
Cost: $10, $15
For more info: Call (800) 224-6432

Since 2000, Wire Monkey Dance has been carving its own niche in the dance world. Dancers perform on scaffolding, swinging, leaping and flying through a multilevel structure.

Under the direction of South Hadley residents Jennifer Polins and Saliq Francis Savage, this weekend the company is scheduled to make its second appearance at the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts with a new piece that they choreographed.

The multimedia piece "Short Circuits" consists of dance on scaffolding with original music and video. A men's trio, "X-Bar," explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a women's trio, "Bending Steel," looks at beauty and feminine power, according to Polins.

The company is based on Cabot Street in Holyoke in refurbished space they call Tree Studios. They are scheduled to perform at Northampton Center for the Arts for two weekends beginning tomorrow.

Wire Monkey was born when Polins and Savage saw some steel scaffolding at a yard sale. Savage, who always liked climbing trees, purchased the scaffolding and set it up in his garden, inviting guests to use it as a makeshift jungle gym. That gave him the idea for using scaffolding as a setting for dance.

Both Savage and Polins have backgrounds in various forms of movement. Savage is a registered movement therapist who also performs and choreographs improvisational and set dance work. Polins, a Pilates instructor who teaches movement at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School, has performed with groups such as the Joffrey and Milwaukee ballets.

They are joined by performers ranging from a 19-year-old break dancer to seasoned artists.

"The scaffolding, to us, represents civilization and the building of technology," Polins said. "Then it's a question of what, exactly, are we building. What is this whole culture based on, how are we affecting the earth, and how does our connection to the earth and the animal that we are get expressed in this culture that's building higher."

She said the scaffolding creates an environment in which they move with their arms as much as their legs. "It's a primate way of moving. It becomes a forest habitat we can move in, a jungle gym," she said.

She said that for the women's trio, they will drape the structure with a light fabric. "It softens this hard, male look," she said. "We're playing with the idea of a power struggle and the struggle to find our power within this structure."

Savage, meanwhile, said that the men's trio is his way of exploring the suicide bombings in the Middle East. Video images establish the setting, with different sections of the scaffolding standing in for apartments where men from different backgrounds live.

"They go to the subway or the bus, they go to work, they go home and sleep," Savage said. They also convey their dreams.

"When they go to work, they have to work together. They have to deal with one another," he said.

Some members of the audience will sit on parts of the scaffolding, making them a part of the experience, he said.

According to Polins, the dancers feel a sense of freedom moving through this space, yet it also acts as a kind of cage or prison.

"It's that juxtaposition between the freedom and the prison that we've been playing with," she said.