Dance: Absurdity Runs Through It

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Outside magazine, October 1996

Dance: Absurdity Runs Through It

Introducing River, a toe-shoe homage to Norman Maclean’s classic
By Paul Kvinta

“The women throw themselves against the men, like fish floundering on a riverbank,” says choreographer K. T. Nelson, revealing the pride she feels for her latest artistic vision. “The women clutch on to the men, and the men haul them around.”

Nelson is describing River, a modern-dance performance inspired by, yes, A River Runs Through It. Taking the Norman Maclean novella to new heights, the show probes male-female relationships through the tale of two “fish-women” who are captured by a couple of guys with fly rods. This month, after runs in New York and San Francisco, its nationally
touring troupe faces perhaps its toughest test, heading into the heart of fly-fishing territory with stops in the Wyoming towns of Pinedale and Casper.

The female performers, who wear translucent dresses that shimmer like rainbow trout, begin by rolling, doing handstands, and generally flopping about the floor. “We’re happy in our environment,” explains dancer Patricia Jiron, “but then something beckons. It’s a worm, and I want it, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. That’s where the struggle begins.” As the piece moves toward
its dramatic conclusion, the men alternately become more loving and more brutal with their catch. “We’re wrapped around the men, and we’re trying to break free,” says Jiron. “It’s a struggle that borders on the violent and the sexual. It’s very in your face.”

Enough to make you think old Norman is rolling, doing handstands, and generally flopping about in his grave? Well, you’re not alone. “The interpretation is very nineties,” says Jean Snyder, Maclean’s daughter, with remarkable diplomacy. “But I don’t think it’s what Dad had in mind.”

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