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Flash Review 3, 10-13: Personal Style
Li Chiao-Ping Shows Distinct Style at Danspace Project

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng

In a program entitled "(lost) residues," the Wisconsin-based Li Chiao-Ping Dance presented a concert of five pieces last night at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. An evening consisting of three solos, a trio, and a group piece (all choreographed by Li Chiao-Ping), the concert is most memorably held together by the thread of Li's personal and distinguishable movement style coupled with the work of her long-time collaborator, video and visual designer Doug Rosenberg.

The 1996 solo "Fin de Siecle" opened the evening. Performed by Walter Dundervill, costumed in helmet and knee pads in red, black, and a bold white stripe across the chest (by Li Chiao-Ping, based on Elizabeth Prince's design), the repetitive movement motifs and music (by David Byrne) encompassing sounds of clock-like rhythm evoked more of the Industrial Revolution and less of the decadence of the turn-of-the-last-century. In this way, the commentary seemed to be on the state of mind of the time, the latter part of the solo bringing about movements that hinted at folk dance-like patterns and their possible connection to physical labor. In this section the video (by Li Chiao-Ping and Douglas Rosenberg) projected in the back was that of a floating city manned by the slave-ship type of labor of men shoveling fuel into boilers.

"Satori" (1999), a women's trio, seemed a much more meditative journey. As in meditation, the dancers (Lori Dillon, Susan Haskell, and Yun-Chen Liu) were introspective, performing solos filled with the stirring of hands and the testing of balance in various poses of both repose and studied stances. In one section the three women dance together, in a ceremony focused on moving close to the surface of the floor. This piece was mainly quiet and spoke of exploration; this feeling was enhanced by the projection of what looked to be two planets or moons on the back wall. Matthew Antaky's lighting cast a pale, white glow over the action, making it appear as if the dancers were in an inter-planetary world with a view of both the solar and lunar.

The pace once again quickened with "Mandala," danced to percussion music from China by the very nimble Dundervill (this solo will be performed by Lori Dillon at the Friday and Saturday performances). The movement motifs are once again suitably repetitive; the arms wind about, accelerating with the building of the percussion, and a swan-like dive rocks over and over. The hands inscribe the space, point to the head and heart, as if building a mandala, physically drawing up a prayer.

The premiere on the program was "Grafting," a solo for Li. The performance space was transformed into a lab-like atmosphere with a white screen in the back and the remaining three sides of the square formed by fluorescent tube lights laid on the floor (once again, the visual design was by Rosenberg). Li, stark-looking in the midst of this visually restricted space, swung her arms and stepped as if going somewhere and then suddenly became caught in positions of precariousness, perching for a few moments on the knuckles of her toes, screaming in silence. The music was by Stephen Vitiello.

The evening culminated with an excerpt from the large group piece "Venous Flow: States of Grace," spawned by an automobile accident which Li suffered, leaving her foot and ankle injured. The piece opens with various medical warnings ("may cause drowsiness; for external use only; read directions first") projected on to Li's bare back which the other dancers begin to recite. The projections upstage are x-rays of the leg, pelvic girdle, and then the body in movement as the piece progresses. We hear the words of accident victims who tell us their memories and/or dreams of the experience of an accident. The dancers begin far upstage and move closer and closer in a series of lines that disperse and then re-gather. The movements are often coolly formal, almost balletic in the arm gestures and carefully pointed feet. Other moments -- carefully articulated heel-walks, the torso bent over almost as if in inspection -- recall the careful movements of physical recuperation as well as the fragility of the body as it struggles to walk, move, and regain mobility from awkward positions.

Towards the end of the excerpt, the dancers move a pile of leaves downstage, the sounds of the leaves leading them into a brief moment of frolicking through the leaves as if on a sunny autumn day. But again they return to some kind of task, they form lines, disperse, and spend time alone and in pairs, supporting each other. As they finally reach the downstage line the dancers lie down and, as they did at the beginning of the piece, recite the medical warnings we first saw on Li's back. These warnings bring us back to the fragility of physical self, and the dancers are left in the fading light, in pairs, spinning in slow, careful circles, looking for those "lost residues" which may be re-gathered to reconstitute. This piece was performed with focus and smooth physicality by Lori Dillon, Andrea Harris, Susan Haskell, Tania Isaac, Li Chiao-Ping, Yun-Chen Liu, and LiYana Silver. Music was by Vincenzo Bellini, Shoukichi Kina, and Stephen Vitiello, visual design by Douglas Rosenberg, and, in addition to choreography, the text and costumes are also by Li Chiao-Ping.

Li Chiao-Ping Dance runs through Sunday, with performances at 8:30 p.m. For more information, please visit the Danspace Project web page.

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