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New moves -- with no safety net

Choreographer Terry Beeman has made a big impression in just a few years. He views movement as wordless expression, i.e. acting.

January 21, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

WITH his shock of spiky dyed blond hair and intricately patterned tattoos that stretch across his body like a series of Italianate frescoes, Terry Beeman appears to have come a long way from Missouri. Indeed, the Iowa-born dancer-choreographer, who was raised in Kansas City, may have an innate Midwestern affability, but he's also got a hoofer's heart -- one pumping with the insatiable desire to move.

And at 40, Beeman still seems to have boundless energy. So too does his eponymous troupe, Terry Beeman Dance Company, an octet of in-your-face performers who will present his latest opus, "The Closing," next weekend at Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. The three-part, evening-length work will feature an array of the dance maker's signature moves: gravity-defying balancing poses and yoga-inspired contortions as well as a Beeman staple, high-risk aerial choreography.

In addition to making use of suspended fabrics and tissues, dancers in heavy athletic mode will maneuver on rings dangling 20 feet above the floor -- without a net.

"We were a little scared," says Beeman, "and for 40, it's kicking my ass. But I wanted a sideshow clown vibe going on, and this is definitely circus stuff."

As are the big red noses and white buffoon pants the dancers sport while manipulating rhythmic gymnastic rings in the show's third segment, dubbed "Pagliacci." Of course, Beeman, a veteran dancer of numerous music videos who has worked with, among others, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Prince, knows a thing or three about spectacle.

Moving to the rhythm

LEAVING the country's heartland for New York after high school in 1985, the gymnastically trained Beeman studied jazz dancing before moving to Los Angeles in 1989 to gyrate behind Paula Abdul. After performing for a year and a half on her world tour, Beeman returned to L.A., continuing in the commercial field, racking up credits that include Diet Coke, Miller Beer and Timex. He also performed on the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards telecasts and in the films "Eraser" and the classic clunker "Showgirls."

Hooking up with performer-producer Debbie Allen in 1994, when he nailed the Oscar audition, Beeman later began teaching at Debbie Allen Dance Academy, where his schedule grew to 14 classes a week. In 2002, hungry to create his own choreography, Beeman founded Terry Beeman Dance Works, which evolved into his current company. A year later, the troupe's first effort, "Atmosphere," received five Lester Horton award nominations, the local dance community's highest honor.

Of that work, Times dance critic Lewis Segal wrote, "the best sequences in this eight-part, 75-minute abstract dance drama established Beeman as an artist of the highest potential," adding, "he generated impressive heat and depth in a story about the search for fulfillment in the threatening contemporary world."

"Atmosphere" was followed by the critically lauded "Bound," and in 2004 Beeman created "Piccolo Concerto", a chamber-sized work addressing the theme of power. With "The Closing" -- so named because the artist is relocating to New York with plans of becoming bicoastal -- Beeman continues to fuse a broad range of dance techniques and vocabularies (jazz, contemporary and commercial) in his uniquely corporeal fashion, resulting in complex, meditative constructs that shed a spiritual light on today's troubled times.

Set to a pastiche of recorded music that includes Middle Eastern tunes, New Age blends and a smattering of original piano noodlings by composer Patric Tulley, the 80-minute opus also features a short text written and performed in voice-over by Beeman.

Much of "The Closing," he says, was inspired by having traveled to India last summer with Allen, who is also the ambassador of cultural affairs for the United States. There they watched and taught boatloads of dance.

Explains Beeman: "In India they dance about trees, flowers, the rain. It's about beauty and love, not about sex and anger, which is what hip-hop, krumping and a lot of commercial dance is about. I came back and wanted to dance more about the heart," he adds, "to soften the audience and make them forget everything so they could let their own hearts open."

Allen, who is also artist-in-residence at the Kennedy Center and whose dance academy has produced all of Beeman's concert shows, has watched him evolve.

"I love working with Terry. As a choreographer, everyone wants their dream dancer, because they define their work the way Gwen Verdon defined Fosse's work. Terry brings that with him," she says.

"As a choreographer, he has the ability, which a lot of people don't, to continue to expand his dance vocabulary and be a wide-angle lens through which he sees the world through dance."

Even when that means taking chances, with a high degree of trust also part of the equation. The new work opens with the dancers floating, cocoon-like, 15 feet above the stage in three hammocks, before they hang by their wrists and drop to the ground.

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