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Dance Review

Cheerleaders and Butoh Dance Create an Offbeat 'Pupplica'


It's not often one encounters a trio of balladeering cheerleaders, the severity of butoh dancing and guitar licks worthy of Jerry Garcia in one performance.

Indeed, it would be rarer still for such a bizarre blend to work.

Unfortunately, "Pupplica," a 70-minute opus presented by the performance-art collective known as Isle of Pines and accompanied by the musical group BartMule, although tinged with occasional elements of beauty and depth, crumpled under a meandering veil of artifice at Highways Performance Space on Saturday.

The series of disconnected monologues ostensibly dealt with what the program notes called the "ruins of excess, family narratives and archetypes of consumption." The text was written by Isle of Pines member Arnie Saiki and narrated by BartMule guitarist Daniel Bess.

Ably danced by Sherwood Chen, Boaz Barkan and Robert Scott (the other Isle of Piners), the plethora of crouching would have done director Ang Lee proud.

When not in the throes of butoh--silent screams, backbends and gnarled finger gestures--the dancers made use of Saiki-created puppets as they shared the journey of Straw Hat Man, a character embodying the spirit of labor, while responding to subjects that veered wildly from teacup reflections and malls to--gulp--revolution.

Yes, between the rah-rahs and cartwheels of a cheerleading squad--Kelly LaPlante, Diana Larios and Carlos Mora--there may have been some meaning to "Pupplica's" manifesto; instead, one felt like a voyeur at a sock hop in an insane asylum.

BartMule, composed of Bess (who also played guitar), Kirstin Ashe on vocals and marimba, Peter Nelson on drums, Roger Park on bass, and Saiki on guitar and vocals, offered a bevy of well played but benign tunes about best friends, parents and ennui, the accent, alas, on the llast.

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