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Flash Review 1, 10-9: This is a Test of the Audience Response System
Lara and Nelson Try the Risk Reflex

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

The first ten minutes of Luis Lara's "Pain-stake," seen Saturday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, were a test. The manner in which each viewer processed the three naked dancers dictated how the rest of the program was received. In so doing, Lara (and to an extent, Jeremy Nelson, whose piece followed the intermission) took the first and biggest of many ensuing risks throughout the evening, some of which paid off.

In that first scene, in low lighting, two men lay on benches with their shins to the audience; a woman was folded up on the floor. The men flopped their legs open, feeling the bench with their feet; the three lay on their benches with their heads on the floor, checking us out. Their shapes dissolved into abstractions, but we were sent continual and overt reminders of their identities by their blatant physical confrontation. They donned costumes for the remainder of the piece: aprons, or patent leather contraptions, and shorts, the men's with sheer rear panels. But by then, they'd made themselves completely vulnerable to us physically. It was our choice to be fascinated or repulsed.

Lara's language includes a certain cause-and-reaction element, where the impetus for a movement is often the direct result of another dancer's action. In other sections, the dancers don't dance as much as shuffle about, or move their benches and strike poses supported by, or supporting, them. And yet other sections had the dancers moving through Lara's more lyrical vocabulary: jutting arms; in a parallel fourth position; bent at the waist; upper body torquing about this base, and as a pendulum, using its momentum to bring the whole body swiftly into releve.

The sound -- industrial noise, grinding, all of it anti-music, by Douglas Henderson -- prevented the development of any pre-conceived context on which to build a reading of the dance. Lara seized upon this to basically construct his own airtight world into which we were thrust. Add the sets by Lara -- cardboard flats painted with glyphs -- which did not send a legible message, but I suppose further refined the artist's personal statement. Trust is clearly important to Lara. At moments, some of his dancer/bench constructs would have collapsed to the earth without it. And he respected the audience enough to trust us to experience his inventive language.

For "Flats," Nelson's piece, the set elements were flipped around to reveal geometric shapes. Danced by a trio, Nelson's aggressive style had softened edges, but was extremely physical. The dancers lunged deeply; twisted; speared their legs; dropped to the floor through fourth position grands plies; performed tours in fourth plie; anything but walked plainly. Movement for Nelson is frequently initiated by a circling of the pelvis or head, and embellished with a flung limb.

The soundtrack of bagpipe music and noise, by David Watson, set forth a clear rhythm occasionally, but Nelson's choreography had its own internal logic that provided the dancers with a palpable pulse. The tone of "Flats" was faintly militaristic, heightened by the patent leather survival vests, and the raking lighting. It was appropriate to Nelson's potent, mesmerizing, explosive style.

"Pain-stake" was danced by Levi Gonzalez, (Luis Lara) Malvacias, Melanie Maar, Jeremy Nelson, Judith Sanchez Ruiz, and Josh Zimmermann. "Flats" by Luciana Achugar, Jeremy Nelson, and Levi Gonzalez. Lighting was by Kathy Kaufmann; set/installation/costume design by (Luis Lara) Malvacias, constructed by Hector Rodriguez.

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