Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

(Going to) Alaska

February 21, 2008

from Alaska
Photo: Diana Szeinblum 2007

It’s been a big couple of weeks for dance events here in Southern California with appearances from Diana Vishneva in the OC and Nina Ananiashvili at UCLA. (For much more coverage of these events check out Art’s Place, an LA performance blog that does a much better job in the dance department than I.) Not to be lost in this shuffle, though, is a great new work that opened tonight at the REDCAT from choreographer and former Pina Bausch protégée, Diana Szeinblum. Entitled Alaska, the piece premiered in her own Argentina last year and is currently on a tour of the US. (There is a somewhat dopey clip of her speaking about the performance here.)

It’s a small and somewhat neurotic piece that purportedly deals with “inner space” or what I imagine used to be more fashionably referred to as the subconscious. The title comes from the idea of place everyone knows about but not many have actually been to. The four dancers – Lucas Condro, Noelia Leonzio, Alejandra Ferreyra Ortiz, and Pablo Lugones are joined with live musical accompaniment from composer Ulises Conti in the black box of the REDCAT. The center of the floor is brightly lit and covered with a white flooring where the performance takes place with minimal props, including only a few chairs, and at one unexpected moment a table that comes crashing from the rafters, splitting in two.

The piece begins with one of the male performers sitting alone in a chair with a sign declaring “Estoy Desesperado”. Soon this unspoken confession takes on the form of flesh as he is joined by the others in various solo performances marked by a set of idiosyncratic gestures repeated over and over. The performers rarely interact throughout the hour creating not so much a narrative, as a reflection of innermost fears and compulsions. These repeating sequences change somewhat over time, but the movement always seems involuntary and highly physical. The dancers’ bodies and limbs are more often positioned by external forces than by their own volition. At other times, the dancers seem to jerk in a repetitive and uncontrolled fashion as if in a seizure - or a least the kind of seizure one has in a conversion disorder.

While the overall effect is far from lyrical, it does have a beauty of its own and succeeds in creating a sense of an internal life that is both funny and at other times distressing. During a break three quarters into the evening, one of the male performers faces the audience from a chair front and center stage and invites the audience to ask him “personal questions.” No one responded to the ironic gesture however. There was no need in that Szeinblum and her troupe had already created a sense of exposure. There are two more performances of Alaska this weekend for those so inclined. These are very strong performances with much to recommend them.


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