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DANCE REVIEW : Rudy Perez's Ode to a 'Dance-Crazy Kid'

September 22, 1992|DONNA PERLMUTTER

Much as its title suggests, Rudy Perez's "The Dance-Crazy Kid From New Jersey Meets Hofmannsthal" is not in the vein of a '50s screwball comedy--despite any stray association to, say, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

But, as titles go it is a catchy one and a sizable crowd showed up at the Pasadena Armory Arts Center for the premiere of what has heretofore been a work-in-progress.

The "Kid" is not even Perez himself, although perhaps an alter ego in the person of Ruth St. Denis--that mystical modern-dance pioneer who, with her silk scarves and ghostly voice, invoked a rapturous mystery the likes of which inspired Martha Graham.

The 1906 liaison between St. Denis and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Vienna's great poet and Richard Strauss' librettist, was real and took place when the dancer traveled to Europe. The two kindred spirits became enamored of each other.

What Perez and his collaborators--composer Michael Bayer, visual artist Steven DeGroodt, dramaturg Strawn Bovee--concocted is a symbolist ode to their union, one that filters ritual exoticism through a darkly stringent stasis remindful of the work of Robert Wilson.

Everything in the piece--text, movement, film projections, music--happens sporadically, so that a continuous impact is hard to come by.

Nevertheless, each element counts strongly. The well-spoken lines--particularly "I dreamed I was going up in an elevator that was going down"--convey a potent meaning in repetition.

Amid all the mystical references, there were enough suggestions of realism to qualify the piece as postmodern. A toy steamship, for instance, tugged across the stage by a string, keyed viewers to St. Denis' ocean voyage to Austria.

The score, which includes snatches of melodic minimalism, droning percussion and electronic gamelan, also denotes events, while the dance movement, performed here to superb effect by Jeffrey Grimaldo and Dura Snodgrass, guarantees the somber regimentation and dramatic presence one can expect from Perez.

In the end, however, one gets the feeling of multiple and separate contributions rather than the ongoing intensity of a single vision--Rudy Perez's trademark.

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