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DANCE REVIEW

A Satire on a System That's All Wet

September 28, 1998|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

If you developed a cynical perspective on calamity that fused the devastating hurricanes coming from the Caribbean with the stock market crises caused by disintegrating world economies, you might end up with something like the premise of "Liquid Assets," the latest site-specific social satire by the locally based Collage Dance Theatre.

Performed on Friday in the pool and fountains of the Watercourt in California Plaza, Heidi Duckler's hourlong, dance-based disaster epic found resident Weather Forecaster Kerry McGrath warning of impending cataclysm while Prophet/Profit John Pleshette interpreted the signs as a fiscal Armageddon. "Sell everything and repent," he intoned with biblical fervor. "All will perish who have not divested."

Meanwhile, 10 dancers in underwear grew wet and cold trying to conduct business-as-usual in their watery office pool: a partially submerged work space in which Sufi Ertur swam to her desk for coffee in an opening solo that set the prevalent tone of radically distorted normalcy. Soon after, Eli Nelson practiced on-the-job sexual harassment with Karyn Klein and was suitably ridiculed by both the spurting fountains behind him and BJ Krivanek's word-projections ("Loins," "Hides," "Hog") on the steps in front of him.

Besides offering a sly running commentary, those projections helped unite the California Plaza performing environment with the downtown financial district that surrounds it, and thus gave Duckler's overall concept a physical reality. In the same way, Merridawn Duckler's witty text grounded some of her sister's most grotesque dance images: the sight of Mona Jean Cedar and Kathy McHugh, for example, wallowing in the shallows as monstrously overpadded embodiments of inflation. Funny, yes--but with a definite sting.

To accompany the Collage dancers, composer Carla Lucero gamely tried her hand at everything from piano-bar jazz to electronic sonar soundings. Then when the financial storms grew so overwhelming that the inundated workers took refuge in a desperate spirituality, it was time for the sweet-toned Wagner Ensemble to sing Jeannine Wagner's artful erosions of Gregorian chant.

Rife with deliberately phony religious images, this sequence began with executive Elizabeth Nairn carried by the ensemble and mummified in a roll of photocopy paper. Next came rites of baptism in which the group welcomed three newcomers into the corporate brotherhood--while projections of "Executive," "Director," "Backer" spelled out their roles. The piece ended with Pleshette's tribute to "the eternal flame of greed," the reassertion of something like the old corrupt status quo and the sight of Gerardo Romero stripping out of his suit and tie on the top wall and then jumping to his doom.

More conventionally choreographic than many of Duckler's previous projects, "Liquid Assets" sometimes focused on remote, empty spectacle: integrating the dancing and the computerized fountain effects some 120 feet away from the audience. But whenever she and her troop of technical wizards kept their eyes on the prize and their senses of humor at maximum sharpness, the result inventively reflected widespread end-of-century American skepticism: a sense of deep distrust of every system we're supposed to believe in. Even, perhaps, a submerged wish to see everything go down the drain.

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