Alchemedians cleverly blend comic genius, mime, juggling, oh, and yes, a kazoo

January 16, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

Together, they form a complete circle of play and thought: Bob Berky, the inspired clown who endows volunteer audience members with moments of comic genius. And virtuoso juggler Michael Moschen, who tends a gravity field where animated crystal balls ripple along his arms and shining hoops appear to levitate almost beyond reach.

Tonight, Mr. Berky and Mr. Moschen team up as the Alchemedians for an evening of high-end vaudeville at Towson State University. Their performance is a joint presentation of the Dance on the Edge Series, the Mid-Atlantic Movement Theatre Festival and the TSU dance department.

Mr. Berky -- who communicates on stage with a kazoo -- talks about the Alchemedians' complementary partnership by phone, from his home in upstate New York.

"My job is to blur the definition of the clown and the audience," he says. "By doing that, the question is asked, 'What is funny?' and 'Who is funny?' The answer is we're all funny. Concomitantly, we all can play, because playing is important."

Where his mime work is "convex and moves out to the audience, Michael's is concave," Mr. Berky says. "The audience is drawn into the extreme contemplative quality of the work."

Mr. Moschen, often called a dancer-physicist, explores simple props for their illusionary and kinetic possibilities.

A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, he appeared in 1991 on PBS' "Great Performances" series. During the program, Mr. Moschen manipulated hoops, fire and crystal balls within a large, open triangular frame with breathtaking beauty.

Together, Mr. Berky says, their work "creates a circle, a membrane that goes in both directions, like lungs."

The two performers met at a festival in 1979. "We were both rather taken with the work of the other individual," Mr. Berky says.

They were encouraged to collaborate by David White, director of the Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. Although both men have continued to work on individual projects -- Mr. Berky's play, "Cooking the World," received a Kennedy Center new playwrights award in 1991 -- they come together periodically as the Alchemedians.

Tonight, the two artists will perform solo pieces and merge for duets, including their renowned ode to the common mixing bowl. In this segment, drawn from a longer piece, Mr. Berky and Mr. Moschen toss and spin and wear stainless steel kitchen bowls while dancing to Gene Krupa's possessed drum solo in Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing."

The dance grew out of long hours spent exploring the potential of bowls of all sizes. "We bought a lot of kitchen bowls, sat in the studio and went crazy," Mr. Berky says. "We spent hours and hours and hours doing all the things you can do [with bowls] and throwing out nine-tenths of it."

The two will continue to come together, bringing new visions and experiences to their collaboration.

"We're not sure where all of this goes," Mr. Berky says. "We're very close, in a good sense. We've always offered each other the freedom to do what we had to do. . . . We have fun."

DANCE ON EDGE

Who: The Alchemedians.

Where: Stephens Hall at Towson State University.

When: 8 tonight.

Admission: $15; $13 for TSU faculty, staff and alumni; $11 for students and senior citizens; $5 for TSU students.

Call: 830-3369

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