On the Luckman Theatre stage at Cal State L.A., Postmodern pioneer Rudy Perez is performing one of his many, many pieces that use wooden poles to define, divide and extend choreographic space.
All the works on this two-hour Sunday program will incorporate poles in some way--but this one is drastically different. Now 71, Perez has become visually impaired and in a duet titled "Feeling for Open Spaces, None for Crowded Areas," he wears dark glasses and feels his way across the stage using a thick red cane.
Projections evoking a cityscape, a sound score punctuated by traffic signals and movement developed from the uses of the cane that Perez learned recently create a deeply personal action painting of his current reality: the master of spatial design cruelly isolated by an increasingly limited field of vision.
Adding a layer of visual commentary and compassionate interaction, Mona Jean Cedar spoke in sign language--another way of moving conditioned by disability.
If Perez conveys a sense of despair through such actions as suddenly bending backward, his free hand pulsing over his head like a beating heart, the way that Cedar cradles him and leads him forward expresses a more hopeful view.
Even without the obvious autobiographical implications of "Feeling for Open Spaces," Perez's choreography distills emotion powerfully.
In his "Day Journey," for instance, he responds to Martha Graham's 1947 dance drama "Night Journey" with a trio in which the pole-wielding Jeffrey Grimaldo keeps interrupting the embrace-laden duets for Tamsin Carlson and Stefan Fabry.
More than a tribute to Graham (with whom Perez studied at the start of his career), the piece reflects through shifting patterns of closeness and estrangement the way the prophet Tiresias divides and destroys Oedipus and Jocasta in "Night Journey."
It's Graham's vision filtered through a Postmodern sensibility--but commanding on its own through the weight of the movement and the growing importance of the pole as a link between the three dancers.
Serving as the emcee for the event, Perez reacts to a mistake in "Day Journey" by telling the audience afterward, "I like the moment when the pole was dropped," and then calls to the dancers in the wings, "Let's keep that in."
Other pieces feature Anne Grimaldo and three students from the L.A. County High School for the Arts, with Perez describing the works' concepts and cryptic titles and also offering glimpses of discarded sections or outtakes.
For this installment in the Luckman's "Intimate Encounters" series, his audience is seated on the stage itself and a projection screen fills the proscenium opening, hiding the auditorium.
Perez makes the most of this unusual performing environment by inviting his current students and former company members to describe their experiences working with him.
But, unfortunately, his genius for paring everything down to essential statements exists only in his choreography. Indeed, something like the opposite occurs when he begins to talk.
Even an earthquake Sunday couldn't stop his rambling self-indulgence, though it did make a slide projection reading "The Art of Rudy Perez" dangerously shaky. Ultimately his commentary didn't outweigh his choreography on Sunday. But as Martha Graham once said, movement never lies.