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A Step Beyond Dance : * Art: Sharon Wyrrick’s choreography is more than movement. It is an intriguing blend of commentary, music and symbols.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sharon Wyrrick is not a filmmaker, but, by her own admission, she could be heading in that direction. She is a choreographer, but one whose creative background includes visual art. She layers movement, text, music and visuals, much like a filmmaker combines media.

Wyrrick will perform “Storyboard for an Anxious Journey,” a three-part solo that is both dance and performance art, at Sushi Performance and Visual Art tonight through Saturday. Her performance continues Sushi’s Danse Fraiche series, presenting contemporary choreography through February.

“Each section works around a visual,” Wyrrick said, describing “Storyboard” in a recent telephone interview. “The visual, in a way, becomes the overriding metaphor for that section. I think for an audience, the visual is very helpful. It acts as a kind of ‘through-line.’

“Once that’s set up, it carries through as a kind of connector. I think it allows an audience to assemble the diverse things I talk about. Without it, they’d be working very hard, too hard intellectually. The visual ‘through-line’ helps people grab on and relax.”

“Storybook’s” three main visuals include 50 bowling pins in “Tsunami” (tidal wave), plants being severely pruned in “On the Cutting Room Floor” and milk and juice cartons on a checkerboard ramp in “Where’s the Milk?”

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That Wyrrick’s audiences need these visual elements to grab onto, metaphorically speaking, has to do with the “dizzying spiraling effect,” as one writer put it, of her verbal layering of stories, news items, historical and scientific information, and anecdotes. She talks, while incorporating movement, about bovine growth hormones, celluloid, artificial hearts, frozen embryos, plastic wrap, patented pigs, a lost South American friend, Third World farmers, ivory trading, bombs and more.

She “uncannily” manages to fuse these issues, using humor, ritual, and “lethally perceptive” social commentary, according to some critics who have viewed the work at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival or New York’s Dance Theater Workshop, for example.

Wyrrick--born and educated in Oklahoma and a longtime resident of the Washington, D.C. area--agrees that it is sometimes hard to explain, even for herself, how the juxtapositions work in “Storyboard,” or to explain the mystery of their connections because the material is not necessarily concrete or logically sequenced, she said.

“I think what happened, for whatever reason, is that up to a point I was able and willing to trust something more intuitive rather than rational. Before, there was always a sense of logic and figuring things out in advance in my work.

“Instead of going into (the studio) to rehearse and saying ‘this piece is about . . . ,’ this time I was going into the studio and saying ‘I’m going to work on this piece to find out what it is about.”’

Wyrrick, whose performance at Sushi marks her first West Coast appearance, is a solo performer only part of the year, touring mostly on the East Coast. She also devotes a portion of every year working with her company of 5 dancers, Full Circle.

“I look for dance-trained artists inclined to work in an interdisciplinary fashion,” she said. “People ask me why I couldn’t use actors, but a sense of physical persona is very rare in the theater- or acting-trained person. I’m attracted to that sense of physicality--although that term might be misleading because I don’t necessarily mean large, aggressive, charged movement.”

Explaining how movement, theater, and visual art can merge into a means of “dance” expression is relatively new to dance discussions and presents some problems of definition or of choosing the correct descriptive words. Wyrrick is careful in her attempt to describe her work, but she seems to find humor in the effort as well.

“Someone said, ‘Well, couldn’t you talk less?’ ” She laughed at this, which she said usually comes from her friends, who love her dancing.

“I use a lot of text in ‘Storyboard,’ but someone who is strictly actor-trained would have difficulty doing what I’m doing. People have asked me, ‘Aren’t you just a performance artist?’ I don’t think that’s a completely invalid term to refer to me, although I say, if you want to make a connection to my dance background, think about the way I present my work. Would actors do the piece that way? No. Would a visual artist? No.

“Some of the pieces I do, there’s no other way,” she concluded. The idea, the message of the text is of primary importance in “Storyboard,” and pure dance can’t fully express it. "(Pure dance) doesn’t quite give out what I want it too or as strongly, which probably has something to do with my exploring other areas.

“If dancers come (to my performances) looking for technical prowess or innovative movement, they’ll be disappointed, in (Storyboard) anyway, especially if that’s where they are engaged and involved.”

Instead, Wyrrick suggests that they “look at just the expressiveness of the physical persona and let go of the technical end of things . . . to look at the human element-- that I think can be present even in pure dance and movement work, though it is very difficult to get to.”

Wyrrick said she came to dance quite late, in her early 20s, after getting started in visual art. She got hooked on dance and found herself spending more time in the dance studio than the art studio. Because she started late, she did “double time,” she said, to catch up, and immersed herself in dance study.

“Maybe I am through with that particular exploration--movement--and some of the other things that were put on hold are starting to filter back in,” she said, referring to storytelling, visual art, social and political issues and cinematic techniques.

“We’re living in a very interesting time. The issue is not the purity of movement anymore, but cultural and social issues. If you are a dance artist and you choose to try to speak about contemporary issues, it’s fairly easy.”

* Sharon Wyrrick performs “Storyboard for an Anxious Journey” at 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday at Sushi, 852 Eighth Ave., downtown. Tickets $11 general; $8 Sushi members. For information, reservations and prices, call 235-8466. Single ticket sales also at TIMES ARTS TIX at Horton Plaza.


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