The good, the bad and the ugly were all on view Thursday when REDCAT's annual New Original Works Festival began the second week of its three-week, three-program series. Unfortunately, the bad and the ugly were all too prominent with Poor Dog Group's slapdash theater piece, "Hey. Hey, man. Hey."
Happily, Holly Johnston's "Politics of Intimacy" proved better than good. A fascinating look at relationships, the 15-minute work was powerfully performed by members of Johnston's Ledges and Bones Dance Project. Making use of four chairs, Nguyen Nguyen, Kindra Windish, Nick Heitzeberg and Stephanie Jamieson switched partners as fluidly as they switched seats.
Whether slouching to the sedate sounds of Joseph Harvey, Julie Pusch and Peter Volk's score (on tape) or amping up the physicality by hurtling their bodies to the floor, these dancers filled each moment with grit and gusto. Donning helmets, the men head-butted while the ladies looked on, awaiting their turns in John A. Garofalo's stark spotlight.
This continuously churning, push-pull display of duets, unison moves and magnificent lifts unspooled as a tapestry of trust and anti-trust: There was tenderness in a caressed head, violence in rejection, rebellion in a skewed arabesque. Johnston continues to evolve, her work emblematic of today's societal ambiguities, when it seems all we really want and/or need is a little affection.
Affection was on quirky display in Lionel Popkin's aptly titled "Your Hand/My Mouth." Or was it? This duet, in which one dancer had the other's finger permanently in his/her mouth, was alternately weird and sensual. Adroitly performed by the choreographer and Noellie Bordelet, the pas de digit was accompanied live by cellist Robert Een, who also vocalized as if on helium.
The limits to which the dancers went while attached in this manner provided sight-gag material not unlike that of the Three Stooges; the couple's one-legged plies and contorted lifts also inspired a fair amount of awe. But the concept wore thin, prompting at least one viewer to reach for both hand sanitizer and breath mints.
As for Poor Dog Group, there was little that was dreamlike and even less to laugh at in its excruciating half-hour opus, billed as "a surrealist comedy that explores modern labor." Five apron-clad guys gabbing under banners such as "The Dog Monologue" and "The Philly Cheese" do not a theater piece make. The sound of a gong ended most bits. But where, oh where, was the hook?
New Original Works Festival 2008
Where: REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.
When: 8:30 tonight
Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org