A performance and new venue strive for flight.

"I didn't think that you needed wires to do it if you really believe it can happen," Petres says.

At a recent rehearsal at the formerly vacant Bainbridge Gymnasium, at the corner of Bainbridge and 15th streets just across the Lee Bridge, it wasn't mind over matter, but aerobic exhaustion and traffic jams that seemed to be giving the cast a run for its money. The piece begins with all nine dancers clustered in a sort of dangling "bug nest" in one corner of the three-sided set, the walls of which are sturdily built at a slight angle — just enough to make them scalable when approached with enough velocity and courage.

From the nest, the dancers tumble softly one by one into a crouching formation center stage. Eventually, when their snowballing momentum can no longer be contained, they break out into a full-scale run, their sneaker-feet squeaking as they circle and crisscross the stage like super-heated molecules in a petri dish. When terra firma proves too limited a platform for their kinetics, at last they take to the walls, defying gravity with lyrical moments of suspended animation.

One of the cast members, the impossibly tall and athletic Paul Darnell, came to the project by way of his involvement with a French-originated sport/discipline called Parkour, perhaps most effectively described as street skateboarding without a skateboard. Darnell corners the upper edge of the set with the entire length of his body at a near-horizontal angle seemingly with as much ease as he might step off a curb.

Overall, though, this cast is composed primarily of trained dancers, unlike the original one that was used for the work's world premiere last spring at the Live Arts Theater in Charlottesville, when Petres opted more toward athletes with natural movement ability.

The change, he says, was not necessarily a conscious one, but more based on the availability and talents of the four men and five women he chose for the job. Nonetheless, the new lineup will likely add a layer of subtlety and grace to a work already bursting with raw energy and power.

As their rehearsal comes to a close, the afternoon light that's been flooding in around the plastic that hangs in the high arched windows of the second-floor gymnasium begins to fade. The dilapidated but character-rich building — located a block away from the recently transformed Bainbridge Art Center and constructed in 1939 as part of a school (shop and home-ec classrooms were located on the first floor) — is still without power or running water. It was recently purchased by Petres' father, and Petres and Ground Zero Executive Director Lea Marshall hope to transform it into a permanent performance space for their company and others of similar size and persuasion from around the region. The success of their revitalization venture would mean another step toward the reinvention of the Old Manchester neighborhood as an artsy destination.

For now, though, the dancers bundle up against the January air and head over to Petres' house on Grace Street for costume fittings and homemade barbecue sandwiches. Good thing — they'll need the protein and carb fix to fuel the 30-minute aerobic workout they'll take on at each of the four showings at the Grace Street Theater.

"Moment of Flight," which also features an original score by cellist Chris Lancaster, will compose the first half of the program. Petres' crowd-pleasing and equally prop-friendly trio, "Rope," will close the evening. S

Ground Zero Dance Company performs at the Grace Street Theater Feb. 10-11 and 17-18. All shows at 8 p.m. Tickets $15 general admission and $10 for students. For more information, call 353-9774 or visit www.groundzerodance.org.


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