The floor is the star of the hourlong dance drama "Ravish" at the New LATC through Sunday. Sometimes it's outlined in intense golden light, but it's just as likely to turn into a giant dining room table or sketch-pad or bed, thanks to Barnaby Levy's video projections. At one point, it even becomes a phantom ballroom with ghostly dancers whirling across it.
But in the most innovative effects, interactive technology from Flavia Sparacino's Sensing Places LLC makes the floor into a moving grid or web reflecting every step by the five dancers in the locally based company Rosanna Gamson/World Wide.
And there's more: As Carin Noland begins to dance early in the piece, single letters appear under her feet, spelling "Burnt" over and over. The letters, words and full texts also periodically appear on the back wall, often as mere flashes, punctuating the choreography, bombarding the audience.
The dancers don't stand a chance against the onslaught, though they performed heroically at the work's premiere Thursday. The novel visual spectacle is too commanding and Gamson's choreography too un-relievedly flung out and unmodulated.
Performed in an intense flail-and-sprawl modern dance style, "Ravish" is especially unconvincing as a collective biography of the Bronte family, doomed literary lions of the 19th century in England. In Gamson's action plan, there's no room for the life of the mind, so what we read from or about the Brontes on the wall or floor never conceptually connects with the dancing we see, and it's impossible to believe that these hyperactive, volatile people might have written those words, any words.
Although Gamson does construct group passages that convincingly unite everyone as a family, the characterizations remain rudimentary, and only when the Brontes begin to die off, one by one in furious solos followed by slow walks into the Great Beyond, does the narrative assume a coherent shape.
Russian choreographer Boris Eifman ran into similar problems recently with his ballet "The Seagull," emphasizing over-the-top physicality to the point of narrative confusion. But he was portraying mediocre artists and Gamson is depicting great ones -- so implausibly, as it turns out, that "Ravish" is best viewed as an abstraction or company showpiece.
As such it never bores -- not with the cast's skill and commitment. The sweetly lyrical Marissa Labog is perhaps the company's most astute dancing actor and Michael Gomez its greatest asset when space-devouring virtuosity is needed. Watch them shine in solo after solo.
Other expressive colors enrich the work through a sunny portrayal by Noland, a withdrawn one by Lilia Lopez and a manic depressive one by Sarah Goodrich. Gamson may never reveal which of these Bronte women supposedly wrote "Jane Eyre" and which "Wuthering Heights," but no matter. As dancers, they're all faultless and often surprisingly versatile, as when they suddenly turn up in toe shoes, executing bourrees in a circle while whirling chiffon capes.
Don't ask what it means. It's picturesque and distinctive while it lasts, and that's the most you should expect from "Ravish."
Rob Bailis created the collage of sounds and varied musical excerpts (all uncredited) accompanying the piece. Ted Mather designed the equally changeable lighting effects, Lopez the once elegant but mostly torn and shabby costumes the Brontes wear in decline. This is one event where choreography takes a back seat to nearly every other component of dance theater, so the excellence of Gamson's collaborators accounts for most of the excitement in Theater 3.
Where: Theater 3, the New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., downtown L.A.
When: 8 p.m. today, 3 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (323) 461-3673 or www.thenewlatc.com