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Antigravity founder flipping to perform on home turf

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At the Olympic Medals Plaza there will be one group performing nightly whose style can only be described with its name, Antigravity.

Antigravity is the brainchild of Utahn-turned-New Yorker Chris Harrison. Harrison founded the group 1990 and has taken his unique blend of gymnastics and dance from Broadway to corporate parties for Microsoft.

Although he is not allowed to talk about it, Harrison said he can say that the Medals Plaza performance will be acrobatic and aerial-based and indicative of the Winter Games.

"The Medals Plaza is something no one has done before, and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has been very innovative," Harrison said. "My company of champion athletes, many of whom were Olympic hopefuls, will be the gap between the time people win the medals and receive them and I can't think of a better place to be."

Harrison got his start as a tumbler, actor and dancer in Brigham City. As a tumbler, he took fourth place at the World Games. Harrison said that after seeing how good the guy who took first was, he decided fourth was good enough and turned his attention to other things.

The Box Elder High graduate went on to the University of Utah where he was a cheerleader and studied theater.

On the advice of Kevin Bacon, whom Harrison met while he was an extra in "Footloose," Harrison decided to go to New York to try to make it in entertainment. He went on to be in productions of "Cats," "A Chorus Line," "West Side Story" and "Meet Me in St. Louis."

To make his mark in New York, though, Harrison said he had to create his own brand of choreography. With his background in tumbling, dance and cheerleading, no choreographers knew how to use him to the full extent of his capabilities, so he started his own company because he knew he had more to offer.

"No one had ever taken gymnastics moves before and put them to counts and music to make it into choreography, and that's how I started," Harrison said. "I took all of the different movement vocabulary that I had that wasn't traditional dance movement and started putting it into counts. I knew I had to carve my own style or I would be just another rip off of some other company."

Harrison gathered friends with similar skills together and on their first try, were invited to become a part of an annual Radio City Music Hall event.

Antigravity has grown since then and now reaches into many aspects of performance offering different divisions for different kinds of shows, talent management, its own building to practice in and even rentals.

Apart from Antigravity's involvement in the Medals Plaza, the group also has an edgier show "An American Band" they are doing on weekends at the night club Harry O's in Park City. The show is a mixture of music, spectacle, drama and gymnastics all inspired by September's World Trade Center attacks.

"We had just been developing a show that was set to go on at the World Night Club in Times Square, and I decided that since Utah is my home turf, we were capable of doing so much more during the Olympics, so we brought the new show here for a while," Harrison said. "This show stemmed from the frustration that we had after Sept. 11 of not knowing what we could do to help."

The avant-garde show has already come under some fire. CNN, after hearing about the show, called Antigravity "opportunistic" for basing a night club show on the attacks. Harrison, though, makes no apologies and insists his heart is in the right place.

"Every great piece of art comes from something, when they have been touched by something," Harrison sad. "No artists have delved into this topic yet. We are in a unique position because what we do is non-verbal and what we do can take place in a night club atmosphere. Because we are a physical company and because it is our hometown, we have a way to talk about it that's not just additional media."

Still many wonder whether night clubs with all their revelry and irreverence are the best places to deal with such weighty issues. Harrison said he knows it's risky but wanted to take the healing to the people.

"The one place that has thrived in New York since Sept. 11 have been night clubs. It's where people go in order to release because we are dealing with so much on a daily basis," Harrison said.

"This is the best place to heal, in community places where people got together and were able to release. The show takes you from a night club environment and then in a moment it takes you to reality and then the story brings you through a series of encounters all of which have a lesson underneath them."

Harrison says he's thrilled to get the chance to share his troupe and shows with his friends and family here in the state he says he has always called home.

"To be able to come home and not only be able to help choreograph the Olympics but to also bring a new production is humbling. The surprising thing is that when they (SLOC) approached me to do this, they didn't know I was from Utah.

"Suddenly in New York, Salt Lake is cool, and I tell people what I'm doing and they're impressed. What the Olympics have done is make me be able to say where I'm from with a new sense of pride, and now instead of snickering, people say what a cool place to be from."

E-MAIL: pthunell@desnews.com