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Watch an interview with Robert Davidson the choreographer.

Dancers fly through the air to laud mystic 

Friday, 3 October 1997 
By Gene Armstrong 

Now it becomes clear, this fascination with trapezes,  and with the work of Seattle choreographer, dancer and  aerialist Robert Davidson. Tucson's Orts Theatre of Dance has exhibited such a  fascination for the past three years, which may have  seemed puzzling, though certainly pleasant, for local  dance audiences. But with this weekend's presentations of the full-length  version of Davidson's ``Airborne: Meister Eckhart'' -  continuing Saturday and Sunday at the Pima Community  College Center for the Arts - the arcs and spins of his  fixed-point trapezes make elegant sense. 

The trapezes allow the choreographer and the other  dancers to simulate the illusion of becoming closer to  God. They are a metaphor for grace, which by the definition of  13th century Christian mystic Johannes Eckhart - the  subject of the piece - is the manifestation of God through  the good actions of mankind. And a more apt metaphor would be difficult to find. As  the shaved-headed and beatific Davidson portrays  Eckhart, he swoops across the stage, feet inches from the  floor, as an angel in a Renaissance painting. 

Indeed, the trapeze is a simple but stunning device,  allowing dancers to seem frozen and static in midair, yet  moving across a field. When five (or, in some instances, 10) dancers float  through the air, their trapezes varying slightly from  formation in natural variations, the effect is mesmerizing. O-T-O presented an excerpt from this work a year ago. 

At yesterday morning's preview performance,  ``Airborne: Meister Eckhart'' featured a passionate and  well-rehearsed cast of almost 40 people, including  members of the O-T-O troupe, the Desert Voices choir,  guest dancers and gentle-voice narrator Patrick S.  Cunningham. Choral music written by Davidson and based on  Eckhart's work make up the bulk of the music, although  Chuck Koesters and James Knapp contributed an  electronic score. Though deeply spiritual, Eckhart's ideas were in  opposition to the teachings of the medieval church,  earning him the label heretic. He espoused a Zen-like philosophy that found God in  everyday occurrences and opposed the popular  asceticism of the time. 

Fanaticism is represented by the ``Dance of the  Inclusae,'' a startling trio piece. These women locked  themselves in tiny chambers, torturing themselves closer  to divinity. Beth Baumann is magnetic as the Lost  Inclusae who seeks out Eckhart's teachings later in the  work. Clearly, Eckhart's message, as well as Davidson's,  emphasizes the spirituality inherent in all natural things  and in community, as is illustrated by the glowing group  dances of ``In Umbra Chant and Spiral'' and ``Dance of  the Faithful.'' 

Both spectacle and art, ``Airborne: Meister Eckhart'' is  the most absorbing work of modern dance seen in  Tucson in several years. 

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Watch an interview with Robert Davidson the choreographer.