Drivers should watch the road when the aha! dancers perform "Automobiles."

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Drivers should watch the road when the aha! dancers perform "Automobiles."

A recent on-site rehearsal for aha! dance theatre's performance of "Automobiles" forced dancers to deal with an unexpected environmental factor: rain. Fortunately, improvisation leaves room for the unexpected.

That's been the norm for aha! since 1993, when seven dancers got together on weekends to exchange ideas. Eventually they developed enough skill to stage performances.

In the "Planes" segment of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, dancers performed at Kansas City International Airport. Artistic director Michelle Brown found Terminal B, where 300 people passed through the gate across from them, to be an ideal location. Although a few uptight travelers stopped to yell things like "this is a public place!" or to mimic dancers' movements, Brown views those reactions as an integral part of any form of public art. The "Trains" segment never happened because plans with Union Station, the intended venue, fell through.

For "Automobiles," dancers will pile into a van, stopping to dance at Lee's Summit Christian Church, under Highway 35 downtown and at Town Center Plaza on 119th Street. The downtown location is especially interesting because the sounds of cars overhead and sirens from a nearby fire station add environmental "music" that dancers must work with. Additionally, the ground is mostly dirt, which makes dancers' movements drastically different from what audiences see when they attend theater performances.

"Part of our mission statement is getting dance out into the community, catching people in their everyday lives," Brown says. "There are no rules, there may not be a story, and people don't always know how to just accept their perceptions and the emotions stirred up by something."

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