“We made the dancers carry around heavy objects for an hour and a half,” Zephyr artistic director Michelle Kranicke told me, describing the preparation for Broken Time, the new 40-minute piece she’s created with associate director Emily Stein. She says the four dancers grew frustrated and then sad–one said she was furious at the two choreographers for making them do this, and even angrier when she realized her anger was their point. Why? They wanted the performers to understand the mind-set of war widows, women left with the emotional and physical work of reconstruction. Inspired by a meeting in May 2000 with Barbara Sonneborn–who made the documentary film Regret to Inform, about the widows of American and Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam war–Kranicke and Stein set out to make an abstract piece on the way women rebuild their lives after war devastates them. Crucial to Broken Time are a number of props: a bundle of roofing material, large Plexiglas containers (designed by David Sundry) filled with such materials as dirt or broken glass, a long length of flowing red fabric that drops slowly to the floor (lit by Richard Norwood to have an underwater look, recalling a dream Sonneborn described to her husband in one of a series of letters she wrote to him after he died). The opening image reveals the piece’s central polarity: one dancer sits perfectly still with her head in her hands while the other crouches under a huge bundle, slowly lifting and repositioning it. In the numb state that follows war, it seems, survivors can only sit stunned or move mechanically. With music by Arvo P9rt, Richard Starkey, Glenn Branca, and Chicago composers Mark Marzocco and Michael Kranicke, the piece builds in anxiety as the numbness wears off and feeling returns. Also on the program is Kranicke’s Frozen Straight On, exploring blindness. Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts, 1001 W. Roosevelt, 312-902-1500 or 312-738-5999. Opens Thursday, June 6, 8 PM. Through June 8: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $16 in advance, $18 at the door.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Erika Dufour.