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The birth of astonishment

Childbirth and motherhood are symbolized in Laura Gorenstein Miller's 'The Quickening.'

August 04, 2003|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Breathtakingly fluid, gorgeously danced and sexy as hell, Laura Gorenstein Miller's "The Quickening," an ode to childbirth and its aftereffects, is a pure, body-driven work -- choreography of a high order. The 60-minute, intermissionless premiere performed by Helios Dance Theater on Friday night at the Ford Amphitheatre (an earlier incarnation was made on the Milwaukee Ballet Company last year) had the audience swooning.

"The Quickening" refers to the stage of pregnancy when the fetus can be felt moving. For Miller, who gave birth to a son in 2001, quickening is also a metaphor for the charged emotions a woman feels trying to juggle career, family and everything in between. The suite of nine dances -- set to Rob Cairns' lush original music, Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" and a dash of Caetano Veloso -- struck a perfect balance: Between the past (pointe work/pre- and post-motherhood), the present (limber Cirque du Soleil torsos/career) and the future (a virtuosic combination of these elements), life, basically unknowable, is ever rich.

Framed by the Ford's foliage and two red paintings by Lucas Reiner, the piece was bookended by the seven-member company in ensemble numbers ("Previous Drive" and "Finale"), with Diana Mehoudar collaborating with Miller on choreography for these pieces only.

Characterized by crisp leaps, unison crouching and aggressive arm gestures, the opening dance flowed into the beginning of "The Quickening," a yoga-inspired solo performed by Jamie Elmer. Alternately pushing life out and lovingly cradling it, Elmer's astonishing backbends were awe-inducing.

But the evening's star was an incandescent Maria Gillespie, who in her solo, the homonymic "Tear, Part 1," mesmerized in toe shoes, bare legs and red maillot. (Salvatore Salamon's skin-baring costumes were scrumptious.) Hummingbird-like, Gillespie flitted about; sliding and gliding, she adopted knock-kneed stances, then popped back up, spinning, flashing sly looks. A ballerina on benzedrine; new motherhood.

In "Blossoms and Blood," Gillespie and Lillian Bitkoff, both barefoot, partnered each other, occasionally breast to breast. Gillespie brought down the house with "Flicker and Shift," a duet with Stephane Nicoli set to Veloso's vocals. The love-me-leave-me aspect showcased Gillespie's strength as she effortlessly twirled him around her.

"Tear, Part 2" -- a trio for Bitkoff (on pointe), Nicoli and, upping the testosterone quotient, Kelly Knox -- featured quivering hips doubling composer Cairns' lusty arpeggiations. "Flock" was female statuary come to life -- four graces (including Paula Present) with floating arms.

On a stage bathed by Kim Palma's alluring lighting, Miller gave birth yet again Friday night -- to a dance classic.

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