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DANCE REVIEW : The Power of 'Gravity'

September 06, 1993|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE WRITER

Although dance at the 1993 Los Angeles Festival is demeaned by smorgasbord programming formats, artist-curator Mehmet Sander managed to unify his assigned sampler-evening through the sheer intensity of his choices.

Despite the high heat and problematic sight lines in the smaller Vision Complex Theatre on Friday, Sander's four-part "Gravity in Transition" provided an exciting showcase for performers of vision and commitment. Sander's own "Obtuse Space" (previously reviewed in these pages) began the event with a formal group statement about defying gravity--and inevitably coming to terms with it.

A sense of dislocation obsessed each of the three soloists who followed. Expressing the white panic of mid-recession, post-riot L.A., both Nan Friedman's "Shift" and Jeff McMahon's "City of God" yearned for the security of the mundane--and also proved alike in reinforcing spoken texts through dance and gesture.

Directed by Laura Henry, "Shift" gloried in Friedman's ability to switch from small, specific movement-images to expansive, stylized dance motion without losing the personal tone defined in the text. Grounded in prosaic reality (problems with controlling a shopping cart, fantasies of winning the lottery), the piece culminated in an engulfing, poetic dance.

So did "City of God." And McMahon remains a magnificent mover--deeply eloquent, deceptively effortless. But this work-in-progress (co-created with director Steven Kent) took far longer getting to that final dance and grew physically shapeless and textually repetitive in its last third.

Moreover, the compulsively literary cleverness of that text often clashed with the primal terrors (fear of aging, for instance) being explored.

Ultimately, we believed or trusted McMahon only when he danced--and he didn't dance nearly enough. At one point, he complained about "carrying my history like a big stone I want to just drop." It's his library card, however, that should be discarded first.

Excerpts from performance artist Elia Arce's "I Have So Many Stitches That Sometimes I Dream That I'm Sick" completed the program. Reclining naked in a water-filled bathtub, she started with dreamy reminiscences of an evening on Rosarito Beach. However, all the intimate water-imagery soon evolved into a violent re-enactment of birth-trauma, brilliantly physicalized under red spotlights.

Later, out of the tub, Arce spoke about coffee and domestic labor with the same low-key openings and the same inexorable builds to awesome pitches of raw emotion.

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