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Flash Review 2, 3-19: Overwhelmed to Tears
Lava's Grrl Power a Rave

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

Following up all-girl company Lava's power production of "Timberline," Friday at P.S. 122, with the all-male madness of the Japanese troupe Condors, Saturday at the Japan Society, gives me a moment's pause on the reasoning behind gender-exclusive performance groups. I could probably point out several dance groups consisting of only women who don't necessarily market themselves that way. So when Sarah East Johnson's newest production's press release leads with "All-Girl Lava..." I think there's a specific point being made. Lava and Condors are prime examples for my base theory that a gender-exclusive company addresses, in its explicit challenge of them, traditional gender roles. Both offer us an alternative vision of what men and women are, and are capable of. And, while I'm thrilled to see men reconstructing themselves, I must admit that the hype around certain all-male dance events was almost enough to keep me from witnessing the special mania of Condors. The flip-side is that my reaction against such hype is to eagerly seek out work like Lava's. And I wasn't disappointed.

I can find metaphors for young women in just about every moment of "Timberline." The joy of Johnson's work is that she shows you by literal example how women can use strength, humor, grace, determination and, most importantly, cooperation to get to the top. For Johnson that top could be literally on top of the Sierras, thus the title which refers to the altitude at which few trees can grow; or it could refer to her own artistic pinnacle as the winner of both Obie and Bessie awards. But her point is never a berating diatribe. When she and Natalie Agee perform an astounding duet of strength and balance, I am witness to so many moments of sincere effort and trust that I find myself overwhelmed to tears. I've seen many of these 'trick's performed by groups like Cirque du Soleil but to watch two women make their way through these seemingly impossible configurations with obvious effort, and true rawness, is an act of feminism in it's deepest sense, revealing enormous personal, and physical, strength and flexibility.

That things don't always go so perfectly is also part of Lava's appeal. If the always charming Tanya Gagne, of "Foxhole" fame, has a moment's trouble staying on the tightrope line or Adrienne Truscott or Diana Greiner topple a hoop they are diving through, it only serves to make them more real. In doing so, they are not so far removed from any other woman or young girl, such as the young Sgroi twins who join them on stage, willing to take a few falls and continue on. My only complaint is that the final "you go girl" dance was too short. I want to see these well-equipped bodies in this manner more often, bringing their fantastic circus training and athleticism further into the realm of 'modern dance.' But I can hardly call that a complaint. That I want to see more of them is really a compliment. In the meantime, I'll entertain dreams of running away and joining the Lava. "Timberline" runs for one more weekend, this Wednesday through Sunday, with show-times at 8:30 p.m. and an additional show Saturday at 4 p.m.

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