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DANCE REVIEWS : O Vertigo Danse in Debt to Europe for 'Chambre'

November 07, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL and * O Vertigo Danse performs "La Chambre Blanche" Friday at 8 p.m. at California Center for the Arts, 120 W. Grand Ave., Escondido. (619) 738-4100. Tickets: $10-$25. and

In a one-act ritual of victimization, a Montreal-based ensemble named O Vertigo Danse forged a link between North American and European modernism that proved both instructive and frustrating Friday at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood.

Danced inside an empty tiled room with high windows and skylight, Ginette Laurin's "La Chambre Blanche" invoked without ever really exploring ideas about confinement, social-versus-personal expression and gender issues.

However, an invigorating dose of New World physicality helped redeem (in part) the piece's heavy debt to the most grandiose trends in Neo-Expressionist European dance-theater.

With a single door leading to a shower, Stephane Roy's setting suggested an antique gymnasium inside a chateau, but Laurin insisted on creating some sort of self-service asylum, with 10 inmates--dressed in either their underwear or chic black party clothes--alternately bedeviling and consoling one another.

Periodically, her dancers would look (or stretch) longingly toward the light or run around and up the walls like caged animals, but most of "La Chambre Blanche" consisted of showpiece dancing: intricate gymnastic duets, propulsive group playoffs contrasting male and female energy--plus demonstrations of stylistic versatility. (The six O Vertigo women, for instance, were obliged during the evening to dance barefoot, in heels and in pointe slippers.)

A mournful score by Michel Drapeau invited you to consider the deepest implications of the action, but the deliberately splintered continuity of the work discouraged interpretation. Indeed, "La Chambre Blanche" appeared so arbitrary in its development and dramatic frissons, there was no reason why it couldn't have lasted seven hours or seven minutes instead of 75.

Los Angeles' own Diavolo Dance Theater offers a far more purposeful and persuasive investigation of similar themes in Jacques Heim's forceful "Tete au Carre." But what O Vertigo has that Diavolo hasn't is 10 spectacular soloists.

With every member of the Canadian company revealing technique and intensity to burn on Friday, "La Chambre Blanche" became an unwieldy but ultimately compelling divertissement. Laurin may lack the structural savvy and sense of breathtaking velocity honed by her compatriot and rival, Edouard Lock of La La La Human Steps. However, her genuine talent for adagio expression--and the ravishing softness of her style in such passages--repaid the closest attention.

It's no small achievement to make beautiful movement and to inspire fine dancers to the highest standards of performance. Why compromise that accomplishment with pretensions borrowed from abroad? Like many French-Canadians, Laurin belongs to two cultures, two worlds--but only one of them really nurtured her abilities on Friday.

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