After a lifetime of figure skating, the first thing Deneane Richberg thinks when she gets an idea is: How might it work with a blade strapped to it?
“Being on the ice is my first, intuitive point of physical expression,” says Richburg, 39, a Twin Cities choreographer. “I’ll be driving and hear a beautiful piece of music, so I’ll start to create choreography in my mind. Or I’ll be in a dance space or in the studio, thinking of choreography. But I’m also thinking about my edges (skating jumps are performed on either an outside or inside edge of the skate), or how maybe a spin would work in this place or maybe I need to be gathering speed with some crossovers into a big spiral.”
Expect all of those things to happen in the unusual “Quiet As It’s Kept,” which takes its title from writer Toni Morrison and which will be presented by performance troupe Brownbody at St. Paul Highland Ice Arena through Sunday. The idea of the piece — which combines figure skating, modern dance, theater and live music — is to explore how the era after the American Civil War continues to affect our daily lives.
The piece includes on-ice performances of elements of “Give Your Hands to Struggle” and “Walking with ‘Trane,” which were originated (off the ice) by groundbreaking dance company Urban Bush Women.
In part, Brownbody’s “Quiet as It’s Kept” represents a dream deferred for Richburg. Inspired by U.S. figure skating champions Debi Thomas and Michelle Kwan — and often training alongside Rohene Ward, who has become one of the most in-demand choreographer/coaches in skating — Richburg dreamed of being a top figure skater as a child growing up in Maplewood. A knee injury and a lack of self-confidence made that impossible but, indirectly, led to the founding of Brownbody, of which she’s artistic director.
“It was difficult for me to know I was a black girl in a predominantly white sport. I felt constantly judged for my blackness,” says…