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Dance Review

An unlikely hero: `Beowulf on Ice'

Collage Dance Theatre offers a martial arts, hip-hop, skating rink version of the ancient English epic.

March 05, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

In its restless forays into site-specific social satire, Heidi Duckler's Collage Dance Theatre has tried its hand at performance art, opera, movement theater, guided tours of architectural curiosities and even some quasi-nostalgic pop dancing. But Friday, this adventuresome local ensemble attempted a double whammy: a one-act ice show that turned out to be a martial arts epic -- with an 8th century Anglo-Saxon classic as its source.

Staged on the rink at Valley Ice Skating ("Iceland") in Van Nuys, "Beowulf on Ice" began with an elegant skating adagio by James Moffatt but mostly featured skate-less Collage dancers running, rolling and sliding on the ice or manipulating hand-held portable supports resembling the walkers that normally help fledgling skaters keep their balance.

With the audience either standing on plastic mats at the edge of the ice or viewing the performance behind glass inside a gallery on three sides of the rink (rather as if looking into an aquarium), the colorful, protective costumes by Ryan Heffington could be seen at close range.

The nasty if diminutive Grendel (Lillian Barbieto) initially emerged atop a big blue Zamboni (the four-wheel vehicle ordinarily used to clean and level the ice), but she quickly descended from it to menace and mangle birdlike creatures played by Marissa LaBog, Carlos Rodriguez and Lavinia Findikoglu.

Enter Beowulf (Kujo), a superhero in green and gold given to handstands on the ice, along with a number of gymnastic feats involving a folding metal chair. As in the original poem, his battle with Grendel finished with his literally disarming the monster -- and then being crowned king.

All this skillful, entertaining action was reportedly intended to end up as a film segment in a full-evening Duckler project, "My Beowulf," scheduled for 2008 -- a project funded as a hip-hop creation. However, the rhythmic synthesizer score by Amy Knoles sounded so remote and muffled Friday that it might well have come from ancient Heorut, definitely not a hip-hop culture.

The amplified harp accompaniment played on the ice by Jane Grothe offered greater immediacy but no greater clue as to the final musical style in the minds of Knoles, Duckler or her longtime collaborator, poet Merridawn Duckler.

Moreover, no previous Collage production remained quite so veiled as to its theme or perspective. A program note linked Grendel's evil deeds to the evidence of our continuing vulnerability to forces of nature. But you couldn't see any of that on the ice. So if Collage's downsized, raggedy monster is really going to symbolize the power of Katrina, the Big One and every other disaster that leaves mankind humbled, Duckler has her work cut out for her.

lewis.segal@latimes.com

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