Skura Has A `Nose' For Northwest Culture

------------ DANCE REVIEW ------------

"Nose to the Ground," Stephanie Skura/Cranky Destroyers and guest artists, last week at Freehold Theater Lab.

When award-winning New York choreographer Stephanie Skura moved her improvisation-based modern dance company to Seattle in 1992, she renamed her troupe Cranky Destroyers - a promisingly intense and energetic moniker.

Yet the group's first significant Seattle showing, 1994's "Into the North Canoe," turned out to be a soft, unsuccessful ode to Northwest Native American culture, sans a shred of healthy dissent.

Last weekend, Skura's fierce intellect and rhythmic intuition emerged fully restored, if not expanded. In the black box loft space of the Freehold Theater Lab Studio, Skura unveiled a second program inspired by Northwest culture: a concert of punchy solos created for (and in collaboration with) resident Seattle choreographers Robert Davidson, Wade Madsen, Michele Miller and Mary Sheldon Scott.

"Nose to the Ground" is surely the sleeper dance program to emerge this year.

The most delicate, complicated works on the program were the two pieces Skura made for Cranky Destroyers. "Delicacy," a tender duet for John Dixon and Lionel Popkin covered in body paint, and "Tiny and Overexposed," a wild three-part ensemble work in which the dancers were covered head-to-toe in fishnet, like human polliwogs.

Yet for Seattleites, the charm of the program was the suite of solos that stripped, prodded and celebrated some of our foremost local artists. In "Solo for Bob," Skura anchors Davidson, Seattle's aerialist guru, inside an ingenious free-standing tent, surrounded by NASA space recordings of Earth sounds and flattened by gravity. Yet his floor poses and soft mutters make him seem to be floating free from normal human time.

For Madsen, whose relentless performing career has something of "The Red Shoes" about it, Skura turns down the music to a whisper and requires that Madsen step quietly from one radiant neo-classical pose to another. At piece's end, when he's dancing full-tilt in darkness, he's the old Wade again.

The solos for Miller and Scott were like happy hiccups: gleeful, one-note eruptions.

The concert was beautifully tailored to the Freehold loft space, but next time Skura deserves a generous proscenium stage and the secure backing of a local presenter. After all, she's here.