Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Crime, with or without Punishment

November 01, 2006

From Wrestling Dostoyevsky Photo: Betontanc 2006
With everything else going on this week, I’ve barely had time to post but I must mention one event before too much time slips away. Last Friday I got to catch a great dance performance by a company called Betontanc at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (wisely abbreviated REDCAT) downtown in the basement of Disney Hall. REDCAT and its very versatile and modern performance and gallery space is rapidly becoming one of the best spots for new performance, music, and art in LA and the hits just keep on comin’.

Betontanc is a Slovenian dance troupe currently touring a production called “Wrestling Dostoyevsky” in the US that, following well-reviewed shows in New York, arrived in LA last weekend. Though I am not usually a big consumer of dance or dance-related performances, I was especially taken by this witty, disarming, evocative, and kinetic evening. The performance attempts a non-linear and idiosyncratic retelling of Crime and Punishment using poetic dialogue and a grab-bag of dance styles including everything from Broadway-style chorus routines to slam-dance and “street fighting” maneuvers that deliver a real physical sense of foreboding and menace where it is called for in this rather somber material. This all takes place in a modified living room setting on four area rugs that late in the piece become a cover for Raskolnikov’s heinous crime with only the ax periodically rising out from under the disguised fray. The audience is seated in the round amidst floor lamps covered in articles of clothing. The performance was heavy on audience participation and when we weren’t turning the lights on or off, we were being panhandled or offered cookies.

From Wrestling Dostoyevsky Photo: Betontanc 2006
The most admirable thing about this great troop of 6 men and women were not just how well their choreography captured the content of the novel, but how it reiterated the feeling and atmosphere of the novel simply through movement independently of the narrative elements. There were many stirring images throughout that appeared to take advantage of the space’s own unique set-up including an instance where most of the back wall of the theater slid back to reveal the large contrastingly brightly lit loading dock behind. For a moment the entire cast approaches the huge gang-way as if to escape both the audience and the internal hell created in Raskolnikov’s mind, but of course they can’t-and in the end what a great thing for us.

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