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Flash Review 1, 12-16: Weighing the 'Divine'
Rosa Mei Dances Dante

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Rosa Mei aimed high with "Divine Comedy," an evening-length work given its world premiere at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church Thursday. And while the company achieved many noteworthy things, the overreaching theme and a general paucity of humor ultimately weighed down the piece. We were instructed to don blindfolds at the top of the show; after so doing, the dancers ran around with abandon, shrieking and having a merry time. While we saw nothing clearly we sensed things roughly, paralleling the course of the evening.

Still, there were many highlights. The movement is quite unique; Mei proves her range as a choreographer by the ever-shifting vocabulary. Her influences include Chinese martial arts, in which she has won awards; she has specialized in "praying mantis kung fu, spear, broadsword and drunken straightsword." Indeed, the focus and precision of martial arts is soundly in evidence. The dancers assume positions that seem coiled, in anticipation --and realization -- of exploding or spearing through space. There is also a deep sense of serenity and concentration in slow passages, as if the performers were feeling their way along a safety line in deep waters.

The dancers are tremendously gifted and individualistic in their interpretations of Mei's choreography. I relished the precision of Izumi Fujii: her limbs speared the air, where she could freeze mid-jump. She balanced the physicality with the cerebral quality of Mei's dance -- incisive, measured, and yet volatile. And I relished the rich dancing of Galois Cohen, who was assured in each move, and whose arms spoke eloquently in mirrored crookedness. The other excellent dancers were Anne-Marie Brule, Esteban Cardenas, and Saeko Miyake.

Reiko Kawashima designed the striking costumes, using a variety of fabrics including semi-transparent ones that were pleated, ruched semi-transparent and sprung with the dancers' moves. The music, by Jacob Robinette and Rick Ochoa, was in itself a performance work. A truckload of "instruments" included drums, sax, a mixing board, and a selection of glass vessels (the musician chased one of the dancers literally, and with the haunting sound made by running his damp finger around the edge of a fish bowl). The effects produced ranged from lilting melodies to spooky sounds. The lighting and atmospheric elements (varying amounts of fog) helped Mei to utilize every corner of the church, and were designed by Severn Clay.

The show's emcee was convincingly played by David Dixon, on stilts for most of the performance. Dixon cajoled the audience, coaxing one woman onstage to trade pulling her hair with a punch in the stomach. He recited brief sections from Dante's epic, loosely setting the stage for the long passages of dance and, supposedly, enactment, which followed. I was not able to codify the differing types of movement according to the story, as I trust it was designed. Nevertheless, the distinctive, well-performed choreography and the use of the whole space -- the audience sat on two opposing sides of the stage -- was rewarding to witness despite the ponderous premise.

"Divine Comedy" is performed again tonight and Sunday. For more information, please visit the Rosa Mei web site.

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