on the Edge
Ross - staff writer
A look of surprise creeps onto the faces of several dancers as they enter the ballroom in the Northampton Center for the Arts. There, inside the large, spacious room, stands metal scaffolding, 20-feet-high and nearly touching the ceiling.
The dancers stare at the tower of criss-crossing metal poles and wooden walkways. But like children on a play- ground, they cannot keep away from this gigantic jungle gym. They are drawn to it.
This is the beginning of the one hour-long piece created by Wire Monkey, a newly formed dance company which will perform this weekend for the first time ever.
Wire Monkey's creator, Saliq Francis Savage, also had the same, wide eyed reaction one year ago when he first laid eyes on the metal scaffolding at a yard sale, according to dance company's co director, Jennifer Pollins.
"We were at a yard sale and we saw all this scaffolding for sale and he had this vision," she said last week after a rehearsal. Saliq confirmed Pollins' version of that fateful day. When he saw the scaffolding for the first time, he said, "I saw a three-dimensional dance space."
Saliq's vision has become a reality. Like other ground-breaking choreographers such as Trisha Brown, who turned modern dance on its side in the 1970s when she created works for dancers dangling from rooftops and performing on the sides of buildings, Saliq's experiment has produced a thrilling work of art which breaks down the conventional boundaries of modern dance.
Dancers cling to the poles like infants. Others swing and climb like monkeys, making the metal parts creak and bend. And depending on the movements of the dancers, who also stalk each other, pair off or crawl from one level to the next, the scaffolding appears to be a prison or a maze or a playground.
Learning how to move around on the scaffolding came naturally to Saliq. "I've always loved to climb," he said.
"He's a freak of nature," Pollins added.
But not everyone in the seven-member dance company felt as comfortable on the scaffolding right away.
"I was terrified," dancer Catherine Musinsky said. "I kept begging to get nets."
"You really have to be strong and learn to absorb the shock in your body," dancer Mark Zemelman said.
The four women and two other men in Wire Monkey also were not prepared to experience Saliq's preoccupations, which he said were yeaming, longing, aggression and "finding safety in a place that's unsafe."
"It's been a real exploration," dancer Laurie McLeod said.