At the start of Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman's "Scenario for a Limited Nuclear War," a young couple is dancing to swing music. They're wearing red bowling shirts and khaki pants, they've got rhythm and glowing complexions and they appear to be very much in love.
Then the neutron bomb intervenes. The stage goes dark, and a narrator tells us a great many facts about this weapon, most of them related in arch, theatrical terms. When we meet the young couple again, they are slow-dancing to the strains of "Blueberry Hill." Upon closer inspection, however, we realize they are merely clinging wearily to one another, each supporting his partner's lifeless limbs.
"If you read about composition, it says that the solo, trio and ensemble often have to do with universal issues, and the duet often has to do with relationships," says Bridgman, after he and Packer have stopped dancing and begun explaining their work.
"But in this piece," continues Packer, "the duet is not about a relationship between two people. The duet becomes a symbol of things breaking down."
Encountering this New York-based team is rather like being in the midst of a passionately verbal and physical ping-pong match. He's tall and lanky -- farm-boy material. She's thin and lovely, with very pink cheeks and wavy brown tresses. He speaks slowly, weighs his words, smiles big toothy smiles. She's quicker, more verbose, and elegantly efficient. In conversation they correct and embellish each other's remarks; when they move, it is as a single, silken, finely tuned unit.
They have been creating and performing pieces together for about eight years. Some of their works are lyrical, romantic, all about two bodies molding one to the other, intertwining and separating and folding back in again. Others, like "Scenario," use the duet as a metaphor for larger issues and ideas. What all of these dances share is an intensity and warmth that comes as much from the performers as from the material itself.
Packer began dancing at age 3 and continued on that path all the way through Bennington College. Bridgman started out as a jock, and was headed toward a career in law at Tufts University when he met up with a teacher named Griselda White.
"She took a bunch of guys who were all going to be lost in the '60s like everybody else, introduced us to movement therapy, ballet, modern and folk dance, and gave us a creative jolt that got us involved in the performing arts." This "bunch of guys" metamorphosed into, among others, contemporary choreographers Donald Byrd, Mitchell Rose, Harry Streep and Bridgman.
Packer met Bridgman after college, when both were performing with Streep's small ensemble. Their decision to collaborate came gradually, but after one uninterrupted month of creative brainstorming in a Massachusetts rehearsal space, they established themselves as a two-member collective.
"The duet form is one thing, and the collaborative process is another," muses Bridgman. "Collaboration is really wild."
"The great part about choreographing together is that it challenges us both to go beyond our original ideas, and to get out of our ruts," adds Packer. "The difficult part is when we have different ideas, or we don't understand each other, or one of us has just the seed of an idea but not enough to explain . . . We consult on everything. Our work is not only about the movement we come up with, or the concepts we explore, but also the way we are on stage -- our presence, how we relate to each other, how we communicate with the audience . . . "
It turns out, in fact, that the two are husband and wife. They don't wear rings, and don't mention their marital status in their publicity, because they don't want people to interpret everything they do on stage as personal history.
"Of course it comes into our collaborative process," says Packer, "because we live together, and we're talking about the work all the time, and sometimes things that go on between us come out in pieces and it's very . . . sick!" She looks over at Bridgman and explodes with laughter.
"It's not something I would have envisioned in my future: 'I'm going to marry a dancer-choreographer and we're going to collaborate and perform together.' That's crazy." Packer sighs wistfully. "It just sort of happened."
Packer and Bridgman will perform at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at Mount Vernon College's Hand Chapel. Call 269-1600 for information.