Trapeze choreography has long been a special effect in concert dance, from Mikhail Baryshnikov rocketing over the stage in Glen Tetley's "Rite of Spring" more than a quarter-century ago, through the aerial mysticism of ISO Dance Theatre and all those trapeze ballets in New Age circus performances.
At the Japan America Theatre on Saturday, Hae Kyung Lee's hourlong "Cross the Wounded Galaxies" added nothing to this subgenre other than a steady, slow-motion heartbeat that resolutely defied Euro-American norms regarding dramatic structure.
In a duet at the start of the piece and a trio at the end, Lee's local company explored the same rudimentary trapeze vocabulary seen this summer in a work she choreographed for the City of Los Angeles' COLA series.
Hanging near the floor from skeins of fabric, her dancers worked at matching one another's moves without violating the unvarying energy flow and funereal pace that Lee mandated.
Their job was difficult, and it showed, with the drone of Steve Moshier's endlessly recycled musical motifs helping reinforce the sense of hard labor.
By the standards of aerial choreography for a tango showcase at the Key Club last season or the trapeze interludes in the dance musical "Avalon" at the Doolittle Theatre in June, Lee looked like a beginner.
But the dancers' stamina proved exemplary in the trapeze workouts and extended gymnastic duets midway through the piece.
Here, again, Lee delivered tense, locked-down dancing with no evident beginning, end or development in the choreography but a focus on an eternal present. And very quickly, this viewer began to tune out -- or, rather, to imagine that the collection of lifts punctuating the duets were calligraphic codes.
Read this way, the contorted bodies seemed to spell out such words as "yap" and "hot," but the key image may have been their "Lee" formation: a monument to pathological manipulation in the name of movement design.
A short film by Rachel Raimist showed the dancers outdoors, but they remained a kind of trained herd -- as cornered and oppressed by Raimist's camera as they were by Lee's choreography.
Company members included Claudia Lopez, Miguel Olvera, Sacheen Nehring, Jose Reynoso, Kishisa Ross and Julio Moran.