Maybe there's a clue to be found in Mary Jane Eisenberg's hair.
It's long now. But when her group Shale was busy exploring what the choreographer/dancer called "hyper-realism," she kept it a half-inch short, a sort of preppy punk style that went along with her wild and wacky adventures in post-modern dance.
In her latest incarnation, however, Eisenberg sports a different personal look, and she's exhorting her smaller, partially reconstituted company to take up the cause of formalism that marked an era past. That Shale-watchers had to be surprised by what they saw Monday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center is almost an understatement.
Although the program was a mix of old and new works ranging from 1981 to the present, all four entries were characterized by hyper-sobriety and her most recent works placed an emphasis on dance, dance, dance--the pre-postmodern kind that does not easily yield anything compelling.
Gone are most traces of Eisenberg as popular artist, one whose madcap stylings and inspired portraits took her to the living center of Archie Bunker types and would-be yuppies and even Hell's Angels hung up on their mommies.
Gone are the demure dolls turned to street molls, brandishing little red plastic water guns. Gone are the comic heroes, composites of Valentino and Dracula. Gone are the Mata-Hari spoofs, cleverly served with film collages.
Maybe Rapunzel should not have let down her hair.
But since art, or the pursuit of it, is process, a little patience might be in order. For the time being, Eisenberg views her universe with Earnestness. So she opts for a pristine chignon in "Ritual," a group piece that begins with the quartet of women miming a mundane activity (candle-making?); it gradually develops into dance with gesture but the wick doesn't ignite.
"Imprisoned," in this context, merely looks like overdone agitprop, its women inmates conveying unintended caricature in their stock rebellion against authority. Here Eisenberg lets her hair hang loose, swinging it with appropriate defiance.
But in "For Mark Stevens," a series of simulated stills separated by fadeouts, she portrays a dissolute mother whose sophisticated veneer features an upsweep, a black dress and patent pumps. This, too, offers little besides a cliche on the seduction of a son (Frank Joseph Adams) who, in this case, is seen in the melodramatic throes of despair. Kai Ganado's unstressed reading of Dennis Cooper's flat text didn't enhance the meager visual element.
Finally, Eisenberg resorts to a schoolgirl coif for "Passage Rights," a tights-and-tunics ensemble piece. Set to a jazzy, art-rock score by Bruce Fowler, it focuses on an outdated, college-dance-department variety of whirling and flailing that screams "Here's my anguished soul."
Short hair, anyone?