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Arts and Entertainment

Four Cheese Dance: Performance Review

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When I waited tables in New York City, we had a very popular item we sold called a quattroformaggio pizelle--a thin crusted pizza made from a flour tortilla with mozzarella, asiago, parmesan and fontina cheeses. It was light, it was tasty, but Barbara Walters once asked me if it was low fat and I could only smile and bring her a salad. That’s my history with the four cheese idea.

Last weekend (December 14-15, 2007), Stefan Fabry, Anne and Jeffrey Grimaldo’s Naked With Shoes and Sarah Swenson presented two evenings of intelligent dance at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica under the "Quattroformaggio" moniker. Each of these artists has a direct and ongoing relationship with local postmodern pioneers Rudy Perez and Simone Forti and their work had the thorough underpinnings that reflected their antecedents.

Ms. Swenson opened the program with "Civilization," a 2002 solo set to a 1980 recording of her grandfather discussing a (his?) perspective of the political and sociological nature of the world. As his prerecorded deep voice accompanied her, Ms. Swenson traveled from stop action poses to short phrases of full bodied shapes as she turned slowly around. There was a definite clarity in each choice and strength and power in each movement, but the dynamics and phrasing of both layers (movement and sound) soon became prosaic and, unfortunately, indistinctive.

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A little later, Swenson premiered another solo accompanied by three young male dancers (Danny Arreola, Ken Montalvo and Robert Valdovinos). "Pavane for an Iraqi Girl" was highlighted by this quasi-militaristic trio, whose first appearance lying prone on the floor in white T shirts and calf length white pants erupted into commanding unison standing poses and a clear link to their non-US histories. Program notes referred to the rape and murder of an Iraqi family by American soldiers in 2006 and, though there were no specific references to these incidents in the movement vocabulary, the hard edged Glenn Branca excerpt and the almost sweet Ryuichi Sakamoto traditional selection evoked a sense of the sorrow for this inhuman experience.

Mr. Fabry offered a new duet, "1% Rot" for himself and Yicun Sun. Set to music by Alva Noto, Sakamoto and Arbeit, the dance seemed steeped in German expressionism. Running slowly in circles on the stage, feet sliding along the floor, fists clenched and focuses fierce, Fabry and Sun soon dropped their jaws and opened their mouths a la Edvard Munch's Scream. The piece was full of intensity, deliberate execution and precision. Strong men (mostly) silently collecting the space around them.

The second half of the show belonged to Naked With Shoes, Anne and Jeff Grimaldo's "Common Side Effects." With unexpected accordion riffs written and performed by Mrs. Hobbs and Afro-Cuban drumming by Quentin Josephy, the dancer/choreographers upended most of the expectations of what could happen in the space. Each of the two performed a sometimes pedestrian solo that was rife with planning, consideration, and an understated theatricality. Moving in and around a long curved sofa, a shorter loveseat and a leather-like ottoman, each change of position called to mind a brief, yet formal processional (for the musicians as well as for the dancers). Changes of focus were presented as slow and serious changes of direction, donning sunglasses evolved into a ceremonial rite and walking around the room became a horizontal activity--the dancers took turns holding each other's torso as the other walked sideways on the furniture and walls of the theater. Though still rather quiet and semi-solemn, the absurdity of the events in this tenderly dysfunctional quartet allowed the audience to lighten up a bit after the first act and I left the theater feeling quite satisfied.