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RPAC turns child's play into choreography in "Jungles."

It's a "Jungle" Out There

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Two years ago, the Richmond Performing Arts Collective presented "Personal Jungles," a 20-minute gymnastic work set on an imposing 10-foot-high metal jungle gym. It was choreographed and performed by Ruth Naomi Feinblum, and she, along with two others, climbed, balanced and swung on a hexagon of bars for the entire performance. Sometimes merely perched on a high rail, dancers also spanned the structure swiftly and slowly, a play with gravity, soft flesh against unforgiving metal, soft flesh above an equally merciless ground.

The collective has revived this risky and engaging work, now called "Jungles," and doubled its length. It will be presented for two weekends, June 8-10 and 15-17 at Library Park, the newly refurbished patch of green behind the Richmond Public Library on Main Street.

Feinblum revived this challenging work because she didn't believe it was finished. "I danced in it and couldn't see all the movements," she says. "A video camera only catches so much." She eventually found places that were "textureless, gross motor movements that went on and on and on. ... What it needed were quieter and smaller moments, pauses like in a symphony that highlight the more active movements."

She's enlisted three dancers to replace the previous cast, Betzi Hekman, Kerri Anne Helsley, and Kathleen Legault. Dancers must not only be strong and precise, they must be comfortable with heights, a trait not easily found in those used to having their feet on the ground. Instead of an occasional lift by a partner, "Jungles" requires dancers remain suspended the entire time.

Height issues aside, Feinblum sees the structure as a cage, "built by bitter years of life's difficult choices." Initially, dancers struggle in the maze themselves, but eventually they forge relationships to help them maneuver inflexible obstacles.

This production of "Jungles" launches the Richmond Public Library's performing arts series for the summer months. Friends of the Library, the Downtown Neighborhood Association and local businesses are interested in establishing downtown as a vital arts and entertainment center. To further support this aim, the Collective is offering (by invitation only) a free showing to children in after-school programs. "Kids will love the gymnastic element of the work," Feinblum explains. It's also an opportunity for them "to learn about art in the most exciting and effective way possible."

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