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Ririe-Woodbury's upcoming performance is titled "Cipher," a word that conjures up images of espionage and decoded messages. So when two of the collaborators, who also happen to be in a long-term relationship, revealed their friends teasingly nicknamed them "the monk and the assassin," that title made perfect sense.

Choreographer Charlotte Boye Christensen and architect Nathan Webster view the world in very different ways. Webster is a cup-half-full kind of guy whose profession demands that he be practical, reasonable and creative. Boye-Christensen's passions overflow into all surrounding space, knowing no bounds. "I'm the assassin in the analogy," explains Boye-Christensen, as if it were necessary.

Before they started working together, they agreed that the collaborative effort titled "Touching Fire" would take priority over the relationship during rehearsal hours. They agreed to explore the question of what happens when exceptional artists push past the brink of sanity to achieve greatness. Where they differ is that Boye-Christensen calls that brink "madness" and Webster defines it as "the point or the angle where it is freeing but not in a negative way."

Although the third collaborator, writer David Kranes, has yet to receive a moniker, his psychological narrative provides the soundscore for the piece. In richly cerebral tones, Kranes investigates the dual nature of human beings approaching the edge of sanity.

Boye-Christensen was amazed by Kranes' openness and generosity in offering his writing to the project. "He trusted me to use it however I wanted,"said Boye-Christensen, the dance company's artistic director. "I mean honestly, I would never do that!"

But it made her even more judicious when editing the narrative between musical entries, and Boye-Christensen said she has spent more care creating the soundscore than on much of the rest of the piece.

With his architectural background, Webster chose to construct panels out of the two-way reflective windows or mirrors often seen on the outside of tall urban buildings. The idea came to him when he was considering the theme of duality. "Mirrors beg the question — is it one person with two sides, or really two people? — especially when adding the complexity of a two-way mirror."

Webster constructed the panels to be wheeled around the stage, sometimes in a position where audience members can see themselves reflected, as they watch the performance.

"The wonder and the beauty of designing space is when something touches you, it makes you more aware of yourself and your relationship to the world around you," Webster said. "The mirrors do that not only for the dancers, but when the audience sees itself, they can engage in and become more aware of the experience."

Employing the mirrors, as well as requiring the dancers to audibly listen for cues in the text, enriched the dancers' experience and the collaborative process. "Each dancer has a solo because I want them to find a level of vulnerability," Boye-Christensen said. "I think all the current dancers have the necessary physical fearlessness, but I want them to find the more subtle ferocity within them. How nuanced can you be while expressing fearlessness?"

Kranes' text asks a similar question: "What do you do if you don't hold back?"

"This piece is really about the willingness to search and the consequences of that," Boye-Christensen said. "But ultimately it all has to make sense choreographically, referring back to the original intention and where it has taken me. The theatrical arc is from birth to death, so it logically starts with a solo and ends with a solo."

Maybe the assassin is more like the monk than she thinks. —

Ririe-Woodbury presents 'Cipher'

P The contemporary dance company presents its annual evening of choreography by artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen. "Touching Fire" will premiere; other works on the program are "Gravity," "FIGURA," "Turf, Bridge, and Key."

When • Dec. 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Leona Wagner Black Box Theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • Adults $30, students/seniors $15 at 801-355-ARTS. Visit for more information.