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Dance Review: Choreographer Melanie Miller is captivated by 'Sin'

Thursday, December 13, 2001

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance and Music Critic

Choreographer Melanie Miller is done with pride and lust. "Tonight is a good night for greed and envy," she says.


Where: Junction Dance Theatre at Kelly-Strayhorn Community Performing Arts Center in East Liberty.

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $10-12; 412-394-3353.


Miller is immersing herself in "Sin." But she is quick to note that "artists are beyond sin -- they don't make much money. So I'm not trying to be greedy -- I'm inspired by it."

Miller is not giving into preconceived notions about those Seven Deadly Sins -- Pride, Wrath, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Gluttony and Greed. "Everybody sins," she says. "Unless you're the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, we all fall prey to them on a daily basis. Give me my mother's cooking and I'll be a glutton."

But Miller has done more research beyond her epicurean fascination. "I usually begin with a concept," she explains. "Then I move on to research, picking people's brains or reading 27 nonfiction books on the topic. When I've thoroughly exhausted the subject matter, I go to the text or the music."

This project started with the title. But with her descent into "Sin," Miller discovered much more than she ever knew existed, such as that some cultures depict these offenses through animals. "Avarice rides a camel and hoards food in its hump and is tormented by gout." In Costa Rica, Sloth "hangs upside down in trees. It could be a two- or three-toed sloth and it is lazy and slow-moving."

Actually, Sloth will be recorded on film for "Sin." Miller headed into "the Frick Park basin where the dogs run" to make one of three films used in the project. Filmmakers Dennis Childers and Nick Fox-Gieg contributed to the work, along with original music by composers Timothy K. Adams Jr. of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Bill Brovold from the avante-garde band Larval.

But "Sin" isn't all there is to Miller's life these days. The program will also include "Revolving Door to Tomorrow," an experimental film collaboration with Childers that was created in front of Pittsburgh's Information and Technology Building for the International Sculpture Conference this summer. A "highly edited and highly layered" piece, it uses pedestrian movement to "contradict political hope for the future."

Another work, "Musical Chairs/Portable Love," will entertain with "tongue-in-cheek stories of middle school lust." A duet with Dance Alloy member Michael Walsh, the inspiration came from one of Miller's poems, "Fly Tape," about "codependency and young love gone mad," explains Miller.

But the theme of "Sin" also will be juxtaposed with "Of a Woman Who Hath Sinned in Pittsburgh," a "haunting, wolf-like solo."

Still Miller insists that if she learned anything from all of this, it's that "I'm not a sinner. Probably my next piece will be a happy one where everybody smiles and the sun shines, a sugar-plum type of piece."

Maybe for the same time next year.

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