Chris Burnside's "Travelogue" crosses both physical and psychological landscapes. 

A Journey of Words

Chris Burnside: "Travelogue"
VCU's Grace Street Theatre
8 p.m.
June 18
828-2020 Two years ago, dancer/choreographer Chris Burnside traveled across the country with his partner, Karl. Renting a Hyundai with only 70 miles on it, they added 10,000 miles during the seven-week trip before returning to Richmond. Their adventure, with endless hours spent sitting behind the wheel while the landscape blurred past, is the topic of Burnside's latest monologue, "Travelogue." He will perform this new work-in-progress at Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theater on Friday, June 18. Using a singular prop, a wooden bench, Burnside heads from one side of the stage to the other, paralleling his westward journey. Throughout the cross-country trek, as he reconnects with old friends, including retired choreographer Bella Lewitsky, and visits Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore, Burnside reveals both neurotic behavior as well as concern for the earth and long-time friends. With lightheartedness, Burnside refers to his hypochondria, fearing he may be suffering early signs of Alzheimer's; as a test, he makes a point of remembering the dinners of his 49-day trip. Fear arises again during a whitewater rafting trip, not because of the turbulent water that could easily toss the craft and its occupants overboard, but because the fellow rafters, rednecks, may not take kindly to his gay partnership. Through a variety of scenes, Burnside punctuates his narration with gestures. Only once do the words drop away altogether, a reaction to coming upon hundreds of dead birds along a West Coast beach. The sight so horrifies him that he is silenced. An extended movement phrase replaces the words. Although there are more riches to unearth in the details of this simply told monologue, its strength is in Burnside's levity. Without belittling himself, he readily laughs at himself and his fears, while honoring the important people of his life. Burnside says he decided to translate his travel experience and resulting insights into a monologue instead of a dance piece because, "There are different things to say and different ways of saying them. ... This sort of exploded out." Years ago, a meeting with monologist Spalding Gray affirmed Burnside's desire to express himself in story, a tendency he's had since youth when he told stories while sitting around the dinner table with family as a way of "easing the tension." It wasn't until Burnside was in his 30s that he says he "became what I was denied" and was able to express himself creatively. "Travelogue" is both a record of traveling miles and of crossing psychological


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