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Getting a firm grasp of a Russian existentialist

Slovenian ensemble Betontanc showcases human foibles in `Wrestling Dostoevsky.'

October 27, 2006|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Slamming sex, bold backbends and casual cruelty are but some of the things on view in "Wrestling Dostoevsky," a thrill-a-minute dance theater piece performed by the Slovenian ensemble Betontanc. Founded in 1990 by director Matjaz Pograjc -- and translated into English as "Concrete Dance" -- the troupe tore up the stage at REDCAT on Wednesday with the first of five performances.

In its West Coast premiere, featuring six young dancers and a gripping score executed live by the electronic duo Silence, "Wrestling Dostoevsky" was presented in the round on an anti-IKEA set of four Oriental rugs and myriad floor lamps covered in clothing. Designed by Sandi Mikluz and Pograjc, this oddball salon atmosphere showcased a microscopic view of violence and human foibles inspired by Dostoevsky's existential masterpiece "Crime and Punishment."

Seething with sardonicism, sadism and occasional "Hullabaloo"-like shimmying, the hourlong opus often featured the sextet in flippant marching unison, heads cocked, arms in neo-cheerleader mode. Leading the pack as Wrestling Porfirij was the silken-voiced Branko Jordan. After initially passing out cookies, he proved able to do battle with any of the five, including Primoz Bezjak's ax-wielding character, Wrestling Raskolnikov. A frizz-headed wild man, Bezjak was madness personified, whether splayed on the carpet in epileptic ecstasy or jogging bug-eyed around the stage.

As Wrestling Sonja, Dasa Dobersek made the perfect prostitute, able to strut her luscious wares as well as spout snippets of text such as "Who am I, please?"

Not to be outdone, Irena Kovacevic and Branko Potocan (Wrestling Dunja and Svidrigajlov, respectively) thrashed about the floor in a hard-core pas de deux, accompanied by the words "testosterone" and "twilight zone" throbbing from the soundtrack, that was riveting.

Pograjc's raw imagery, whether infused with intimations of mortality (a large black cloth was manipulated to eerie effect) or desire, refracts dueling notions of reality. With the music careening from lyrical piano motifs and Arvo Part-like strings to a nihilistic, head-banging finale, everyone -- audience included -- wound up wrestling with big questions involving love, hate, demons, angels, downfall, redemption. But what Betontanc brilliantly asked, we who were primed willingly received.


`Wrestling Dostoevsky'

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

When: 8:30 tonight and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Price: $12 to $24

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or

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