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DANCE REVIEW

Versatile performers enliven themes of 'Hood, Veil, Shoes'

January 21, 2008|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

With new entertainment content suffering because of the writers strike, the dance world, happily, can claim an original voice in choreographer Cheng-Chieh Yu. A onetime performer with Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and a UCLA faculty member for the last seven years, Yu made "Hood, Veil, Shoes" last year for the Sun-Shier Dance Theatre of Taiwan, and the 75-minute intermissionless work received its U.S. premiere over the weekend at UCLA's Glorya Kaufman Hall.

Tackling a number of themes -- including gender politics, the Little Red Riding Hood story, runway modeling and that universal bugaboo, traffic -- Yu was aided by a battery of other artists: Du Wei and Carrie Ou contributed videos, Peter Melville fabricated masks, Huan-Fu Yu designed an eclectic musical collage, and Chiung-Tang Lin provided a tasty array of costumes.

Most of all, kudos goes to the seven marvelously pliant dancers, who showcased contemporary Western moves, Chinese martial arts and contact improvisation with aplomb. Ongoing video imagery, including deft footage of Taiwan's vehicular madness, served as an enticing backdrop, and English supertitles translated a voice-over account of the Red Riding Hood story.

The dancers, initially clad in office wear and schoolgirl uniforms, began by steadily parading across the stage. Numerous scenes then unfolded. Women wearing surgical masks and gloves clutched the air; others leaped. A swaying-hipped, deep knee-bending walking motif recurred in solos, duets and group unisons. Butoh elements crept in, and the Hood saga played out as dancers donned headpieces representing Granny, the protagonist and that wily wolf.

Violence also erupted with flopping bodies and couples thwacking one another about to an audio track reminiscent of percussive insect sounds. Head-to-head contact improv eventually yielded to an exquisite tableau of neck and shoulder stands, with the dancers sporting shiny red stilettos while executing wild, winsome leg formations. Amid nods to Chinese foot binding and the classic film "The Red Shoes" (and, perhaps, a grown-up Dorothy, finally home but still lost), Yu provided a tender moment when one dancer washed the bare torso of another.

The five women and two men conveyed little emotion. Instead, it was left to their bodies to express the human condition: fleeting joy, inordinate sadness, blatant anger, cocky desire. While Yu's piece could benefit from trimming, her universe is undeniably powerful.

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