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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Dance Review

Osseus Duo Gives Shape to Extreme Message

April 30, 2001|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Arriving at Side Street Live in downtown L.A. on Friday, ticket-holders for a performance by Osseus Labyrint were issued white Polyolefin lab suits ("for your protection") and asked to sign a release disclaiming ownership of any DNA material they might leave behind.

Inside the auditorium, audience members were sprayed with disinfectant, scrutinized under high-intensity flashlights and subjected to increasingly incomprehensible scientific lectures about the cloning, owning and studying of mutants--specifically specimens No. 87357XL and 87357M lying naked and hairless on the floor.

Better known to local dance audiences as Hannah Sim and Mark Steger, these specimens ended up in body bags, but not before demonstrating the contorted body sculpture and spectacular endurance that have made their 12-year partnership in Osseus Labyrint an example of contemporary dance at its most hauntingly extreme.

Stretching and warping the human anatomy until it seems something alien, they explore a creative realm with strong links to Japanese butoh, but with an edge of grotesque virtuosity all their own. In one sequence Friday, they crossed their legs at the calves, tucked their feet up into their thighs, and in this bizarre X-legged stance propelled themselves across the stage on their knees and fingertips.

The mock-scientific context of their eight-part "Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses" program, however, changed them from shape-shifting virtuosos into trapped, passive victims: sympathetic figures strapped into aerial harnesses, forced into painful and humiliating activities and reminding their white-clad, disinfected audience of how helpless and dehumanized we all feel in a doctor's office or dentist's chair.

The deliberately grating sound score engineered by Daniel Day and Ann Perich helped sustain a menacing mood, and the video projections credited to Elizabeth Tobias and Esther Mera added images of overt violence. Among the lecturers, Meiling Cheng ever-so-stylishly mixed academic jargon and corporate greed.

Other major participants in the large company included John O'Brien and Marianne Magnet.

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