As audio of Buzz Aldrin narrating the first moonwalk plays over the PA, dancer Rylee Moore re-enacts the weightless movements of Neil Armstrong.
The petite dancer strides forward, one step at a time, moving in extended loops around the open space in a large darkened performance area in the basement of the PAR/TV Center at the University of Montana.
With each step, she places her feet in the hands of one of a phalanx of dancers. As Moore moves ahead, the dancers rotate from the back to the front to keep her suspended in air.
"It looks kind of easy now, but it took a long time," said Joy French.
The choreographer and founder of Bare Bait Dance Company wanted to simulate near-zero gravity for her show, "All About Moon," and this particular part had many incarnations before it took this final form.
Moore needed to be up in the air, floating and seemingly free and scanning her environment, even though her weight is constantly shifting into the hands of her fellow dancers.
Keeping Moore "consistently off the ground for about six minutes is quite challenging," French said.
"All About Moon," an hourlong piece, will close out the fifth season for French's contemporary modern dance company. It's the sixth evening-length piece she's choreographed, counting one she did for her MFA in Colorado before moving to Missoula.
In multiple sections, the piece explores humans' relationship with the moon: the romantic and mythic ideas we project onto it, through to the moonwalk and then back to Earth for more personal ideas.
The show begins with what French has nicknamed the "nonfiction section," in which humans finally reached the moon. It depicts the exploration of space and the moon landing, including the patriotic fervor that accompanied the space race.
During one section, French portrays an astronaut's wife. As the other dancers enact their mission, French, in a dress and sometimes seated in a lawn chair, takes a solo that illustrates the loneliness and frustration of being the one left behind. It was inspired by a quote from Barbara Cernan, whose husband, Gene, led the Apollo 17 mission: "If you think going to the moon is hard, try staying at home."
In a nod to some Americans' disbelief in the moon landing, they allude to aliens as a transition into the "myths section," which French said depicts "cultural narratives we create" about the moon, like Hecate the moon goddess.
One section extensively quotes movies: "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," "Joe vs. the Volcano," "Peter Man," "Apollo 13" and "It's a Wonderful Life." Dancer Jessica Shontz, for instance, takes a solo that illustrates the famous "moonbeams" dialogue from the latter movie. And, yes, there will be some Michael Jackson-style moonwalking.
The penultimate portion touches on women's connections to the moon using a mix of dialogue appropriated from YouTube, and a final one with audio of children talking about the moon, with whimsical ideas like climbing a ladder up to the orbiting body.
Company members Shontz, Lee McAfee Rizzo, Laurel Sears and Hanna Minsky are accompanied by French on a few cameos, plus two apprentice dancers: Moore, the aforementioned astronaut, and Maeve Fahey.
French said she prefers engaging with narratives and ideas instead of focusing solely on movement when she's choreographing evening-length pieces. Her previous works have touched on turn-of-the-century prison newspapers, women's role in society in the 1950s and '60s, and more.
"I'm much more intrigued with creative potential. How can I be in dialogue with this thing outside my own body?" she said.