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DANCE REVIEW : Cerritos 'Velveteen Rabbit' Finds Its Limits

April 12, 1993|IRENE OPPENHEIM

Equipped with bunny suits and schmaltz, the modern dance company ODC/San Francisco thumped around the stage of the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday evening in a rendition of "The Velveteen Rabbit" that ended with the floppy-eared titular performer (Julie Lowe) receiving a bouquet of carrots.

Choreographed in 1990 by K. T. Nelson, "The Velveteen Rabbit" is based on the nursery tale by Margery Williams. The problems that can burden such page-to-stage adaptations were illustrated by "The Velveteen Rabbit's" elaborate taped narration, which was either simplistically mimicked or mystifyingly ignored by the 11 dancers, supplemented by a corps of nine children.

Costumed variously in pajamas, or as toys, rabbits or flappers, the performers moved to a pastiche of classical music and mundane original songs (both also taped) offering up Nelson's limited vocabulary of balletic spins, under-arm lifts and grand jetes with ingratiating if bumptious technique.

Nelson herself appeared as the stern and towering Nana. Armed with a single, cheeks-sucked-in expression, she was held aloft by another dancer hidden--Pilobolus-style--under her skirts.

The children ran on and off stage, sometimes manipulating metallic ribbons, sometimes twirling umbrellas, sometimes doing cartwheels or abbreviated dance routines. There was always something happening, something to watch. Yet Nelson was never able to transform the core of the story--which has less to do with rabbits than aging and loss--into palpable dance terms.

At times, words and movement did amplify each other--when, for instance, the boy (the agile though hardly boy-like Robert Moses) is wrestling with his pillow caught between sleep and wakefulness.

The performing children (ranging in age from 7 to 12) were more decorative than integral. Kudos, however, to the three young cartwheeling gymnasts: Ashley Chin, Eric Stretch and Haley Winter.

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