Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Hand Job

December 19, 2008

 
Andrew Dawson and Sven Till
Photo: Lawrence K Ho/LAT 2008

The UCLA International Theater Festival wraps up this weekend with a return performance from director, choreographer, and hand model Andrew Dawson. Last seen here in 2006 in his solo work Absence and Presence, he returns with two short works even more stripped down in their presentation - Space Panorama and Quatre Mains. The first, created in the late 80s, was an experiment to develop a “theater piece” using only a table, a piece of black cloth, and Dawson’s own photogenic hands. The work recreates the Apollo 11 moon mission of 1969 through mime accompanied by a prerecorded soundtrack with music, voices, and other noise. It’s clever and very watchable running about 20 minutes. Like most mime, it’s cleverness resides mostly in its ability to evoke sets of other images, in this case mostly ones from TV and film, that the audience has been exposed to over and over. The hands become stand-ins for symbols we are very familiar with and this juxtaposition in the context of a narrative can be both humorous and enchanting.

Spurred on by the success of the first piece, Dawson embarked on the second Quatre Mains to expand and explore ideas laid out in the first. This far less successful and much more tedious work is a grab bag of largely unrelated scenarios, some narrative, others not. Dawson has a collaborator at this point in Sven Till who participates in the geometric gyrations and patterns these four hands go through over the next hour. As simple as the set up is, no topic is too grand as the pantomime wanders through subjects like evolution, film noir, and nuclear war. Sound like a bit much? Ah, there’s the rub. As inspired as some of this is, it seems to wander aimlessly through a series of “gee whiz see what I can do” moments involving a little creative lighting. Where it's all going and what it's building to never really materializes. The very engaged audience in the first half of the show, sat largely silent in the second, wishfully clapping for an ending at a break point in the vignettes twenty minutes before the arrival of the real McCoy.

It’s a soft landing for this year’s installment of the Theater Festival, but not an uninspired choice. As much as fans of classical music or poetry might malign the vanishing cultural clout of their cherished art form in today’s modern media world, fans of mime probably have a lot more to complain about. Dawson is certainly very talented and the amount of imagination and inventiveness is remarkable. If only it amounted to a little more on this particular evening. But, hey, if this is your kind of thing, the show runs through Sunday at UCLA and is relatively inexpensive.

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Calendar

1/18/13
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1/19/13
Reneé Fleming and Susan Graham
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