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A year of hard work has led the Performing Dance Company, based at the University of Utah, to the brink of a big adventure. Soon after completing their May concerts, the 18 modern dancers will embark on a three-week Australian tour (see related article), with performance stops in Darwin, Cairns and Adelaide.

Utahns may see the gala tour program in the Marriott Center for Dance on Fridays and Saturdays, May 5-6 and 12-13, with a fund-raiser performance on May 11, all at 7:30 p.m.Two world and three Utah premieres make up a diverse evening of dance, with works by New York-based Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer; dancer and actor Rob Scog-gins; Lynne Wimmer, former Repertory Dance Theatre member now on faculty at the University of South Florida; PDC's artistic director, Ford Evans; and U. of U. assistant professor Abby Fiat.

"Dogmas" by Bridgman and Packer creates an imaginary society where doctrine has been imposed to assert power. The New York-based duo spent early April in Utah, teaching modern dance students (whom they declared "incredible to work with") and setting their piece.

Since 1978, the two have been choreographing, performing and teaching in New York and throughout the United States, in Europe, Japan and China. Their 50 or so choreographies, of which 25-30 are on themselves, include six National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among many other prestigious sponsorships. A recent tour took them to Guangzhou (Canton), China, to work with China's only contemporary dance company.

They subscribe to the tenets of the Bartenieff and Alexander techniques, which have in common the use of imagery to release excess energy and direct it efficiently. "When you feel in connection with your body parts, you can do much more," said Bridgman.

Each time they do "Dogmas" it comes out somewhat differently, because they give the dancers a chance to make the movement. "The concept remains the same, there are similarities, but we like to use the strength of each dancer. Then we reform and mold it," said Packer.

"We emphasize non-traditional partnering, and the movement style is daring, rough and tumble. The dancers learn techniques in class, then take them to the limit - flying through the air, tumbling, strong as well as lyrical. People are becoming interested in the release technique, exemplified by Tricia Brown; we take a nontraditional approach to warm-ups, emphasize letting go, finding a decentralized way of moving."

"Set to the golden resonance of valveless French hunting horns, `Dogmas' takes place in an imaginary society, without geographic or historic moorings. The theme is, what happens when leadership asserts power for the sake of power and becomes abusive; what might happen to people in this kind of society," said Bridgman. "But when we deal with a heavy issue, we like to bring in humor."

"The dancers also use words, and create a theatrical presence on stage," said Packer. "It's not an easy piece, but if they dance it with release, not tightening their muscles, it's not risky. They must be resilient like beach crafts, that flow with the wind and waves; then they can achieve the more difficult technical movements."

For their many residencies in colleges, the couple travels about six months of the year. They usually perform where they are in residence, but couldn't work it out here.

They find that the arts are suffering, being scapegoated amid the cutting of funds and the political climate, said Bridgman. "As we talk to sponsors, we hear a lot about budget cuts. It's a major problem, sponsors are hiring less and booking mainstream, so they will be sure to clear a profit. But in spite of that, everywhere dancers continue to work, to explore new ideas. We survive because we are a duo and it's easy to travel, we don't carry along a company."

Images from nature and the human need to find identity through community and the joy of work inspired "A Sense of Place," a world premiere by Evans, featuring 15 performers, with costumes by Marina Harris and music by Meredith Monk.

"We come from the Earth, and it affirms us in our work, play, relationships," said Evans. "I thought of it as having to do with my ancestors - the work they did, the relationship with nature and the earth, that comes through me in some way. Our stage manager watched a run-through and she said, `It's like we pour arms out of the earth' - a beautiful image of what we try to do.

"Hopefully, technology is not removing us too far from this community of people, having an experience together. I think of Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, who invested dance with the human spirit. As individuals we stand alone, but we have the community around us."

Fiat's world premiere, "Inclinations," is inspired by several large sculptures by Auguste Rodin, that either lean off-center or incline toward each other. Music is drawn from contemporary string quartets by Gary Chang and Kevin Volans.

Wimmer's Utah premiere, "The bodies of women, as painted by men, as choreographed by a woman," portrays paintings of reclining women by Manet, Giorgone and Titian. Music is 18th century Italian love songs, sung by mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. And in its Utah premiere "In My Life," a male-female duet by Rob Scoggins, pays playful tribute to romance, dreams, disappointments and other quirky things.

Tickets are $7, $4 for students, senior citizens and U. of U. faculty and staff, save for the May 11 fund-raiser, for which $15 will be charged. That evening's entertainment will include three dances from the May repertory, performances by local musical groups, and a post-concert reception. Free parking is available in lots adjacent to MCD.