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NOW Festival puts women stage center

Triple bill offers a satiric history of war, a taut meditation on survival and an evocation of Amelia Earhart's flight.

July 29, 2006|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Political vaudeville, abstract choreography, dance theater: REDCAT's New Original Works (NOW) Festival had it all Thursday when three women with backgrounds in dance introduced pieces giving women distinctly different archetypal roles.

Women as wayward goddesses dominated "Magic War," Marisa Carnesky's clever but very unfinished look at the way people are manipulated into dubious attitudes toward war, torture and other current preoccupations of the body politic. Looking like an aging showgirl in her silver spangles, Carnesky played Athena, divine wisdom incarnate, offering a satiric history of war and literally singing its praises in a radically rewritten version of the vintage Rodgers and Hart ballad "Isn't It Romantic?"

Using audience participation strategies along with the technical arsenal of stage magicians, Carnesky and her collaborators -- most notably writer Robert Greene and director Helen Eastman -- showed how a leader's sleight of hand can neutralize any moral imperatives, leading a nation into dangerous delusions. Mark Webber arranged the work's sound and image effects.

Women as victims -- and survivors -- took the romance out of war in Victoria Marks' taut modern dance quartet "After Valor," to music by Hunter Ochs. Here, against unnaturally prolonged chords sampled from Beethoven's Third Symphony, the act of reaching upward became a statement of hope no matter how many times the dancers fell to the floor as if struck or hurled there by bombs.

Each woman was carefully differentiated: Noellie Bordelet's clenched fist contrasting with the more passive stance of Maria Gillespie, for example. But they all proved alike in their ability to support one another through Marks' abstraction of a living nightmare. Holly Johnston and Stephanie Nugent completed the cast. Carol McDowell designed the lighting.

Essentially a full-evening work crammed onto this split bill, Mira Kingsley's resourceful dance drama "Circle Course" focused on the last flight of 1930s aviator Amelia Earhart, a proto-feminist hero depicted here as obsessed with her media image and sense of destiny.

Co-directed by Chi-wang Yang, the piece cast Darius Mannino as Earhart's navigator but transcended literal biography through choreography that used gymnastic lifts to turn the performers into the aircraft itself, soaring across a skyscape evoked through video images projected onto parachute fabric.

Toward the end, floor lamps made some five dozen glasses of water on the stage look like distant points of light far below Kingsley, who circled endlessly as Earhart, lost and doomed. Although too much of the text by Kingsley, Mannino and Alana Macias got lost under engine noise, the sound design by Colbert S. Davis IV provided the sense of reality that launched the performers' flights of fancy.

Pablo N. Molina designed the lighting, and Frederique de Montblanc contributed the video segments.


NOW (New Original Works Festival)

Where: REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A.

When: 8:30 tonight

Price: $10 (CalArts students, faculty and staff) to $18

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or

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