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Maria Gillespie: a fearless investigator

March 27, 2004|Sara Wolf | Special to The Times

Two-time Lester Horton Award winner Maria Gillespie is a performer of endless surprise. Vaulting and careening across a stage one moment, hovering precariously on tiptoe the next, she abandons herself to gravity and impulse with an infectious delight.

In recent years, Gillespie has been translating this delight, and the physical volatility from which it arises, into a range of dances seen around town as part of various shared programs.

Corralled together at Highways Performance Space on Thursday in the young choreographer's first show of her own work, "On the Way to Melting," Gillespie's growing repertory demonstrates a capacious gift for idiosyncratic movement invention that showcases unpredictability (both emotional and physical) as it trades on the dramatic implications of kinetic extremes.

Gillespie's investigation of the expressive potential of pure movement is at heart resolutely modern, as is evident in "Chronic/vs. II." Formerly a trio but expanded (to its benefit) to a quartet, the dance traces the emotional contours of melancholy as Lillian Bitkoff, Ragen Carlile, Monica Gillette and Alesia Young alternately offer support or flail in isolated squares of light.

Whatever statement the piece attempts to make about women's community, these dancers are no less strong standing alone. Indeed, as much as standouts Bitkoff and Young fumble to articulate what they're feeling, we can't help but trust that they'll prevail, given the forceful gestural vocabulary they perform with such alacrity.

As in the evening's two duets, the women of "Chronic" ricochet between vulnerability and strength with razor-sharp shifts in intensity and intent.

Gillespie's dances share unexpected twists and turns: Limbs extend into space only to snap and recoil, a poised suspension suddenly deflates, an expansive circular sweep of the leg resolves with a quick kick that sends a dancer sprawling on the floor.

Gillespie's solo "Peak," one of two premieres on the program, courts such daring and awkwardness. The piece is an odd amalgam of humor and pathos, set to a teenage Wayne Newton warbling "Danke Schoen" and to a piece of delicate instrumentation by Arvo Part, but what it lacks in cohesion is made up for by Gillespie's willingness to alternate lush moves with inelegant poses.

In "Prologue of an Altered Day," the other premiere, Gillespie and Gillette attract and repel each other in a series of partnering gambits that often wind the women into Gordian knots. Cantilevered weight-sharing signals emotional capitulation as well, as the pair face off in a roundelay of moves that signal hesitancy as much as need.

Patrick Damon Rago and the long, lithe Chris Stanley up the ante of deliciously risky partnering in the previously reviewed "Sync Through, Revel Two," a classic duet exploring "masculine" and "feminine" movement that has fast become an audience favorite.

The challenge now facing Gillespie is to build a troupe as fearless as she is. With Bitkoff, Young, Rago and Stanley, she's off to a good start.

Additionally, Carlos Rodriquez adds much to the previously reviewed "The Shape of Interruption," a humorous quartet of misguided passions set to a medley of tango music.


Maria Gillespie

Where: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica

When: Today, 8:30 p.m.

Price: $16

Contact: (310) 315-1459

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