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Arts and Entertainment

Performance Review: Godot Dances!!

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Oni Dance in wasteland ( arrival


Oni Dance in wasteland ( arrival
Maria Gillespie brought Oni Dance, her company of strong, charismatic and engaging dancers, to a rarely used performance space in Santa Monica last weekend. Premiering wasteland ( arrival, she presented the evening length work in the round in the hundred year old home of the Santa Monica Bay Women's Club. Built early in the twentieth century and right off the 3rd Street Promenade, the room already had its own been-around-the-block character: a high ceiling, balcony and hardwood floor. And on this floor, the choreographer layered the performing space with what looked like black soot or thick dust. Adding to the atmosphere, a warning on the entrance door announced that the room is filled with “haze,” perhaps a film created by burning an unscented oil whose smoke made everything look less than clear, with a hint of post-apocalyptic uncertainty.

The two men and women who filled this void (Eva Aymami, Yiwen Chen, Nguyen Nguyen and Kevin Williamson) blew in carrying suitcases and looking around as if lost, a bit angry and ready to fight with whomever made contact with them. Their baggage was tossed from one dancer to another, dropped loudly on the floor or opened to welcome a performer throwing her/his head into it. Said to have been inspired by Samuel Beckett's classic, Waiting for Godot, the hour long piece stayed true to this source in its appearance of going nowhere existentialism.

Most, if not all of the contact between the dancers was harsh and combative. Heads lowered and then punched into someone else's belly. People pushed each other around, dropped to the floor and slid on the dark surface. As individuals turned, their circular motion echoed in the movable flooring, leaving a shape etched on the ground that seemed to remain in motion even when the dancer was still. The occasional and surprising sound of a squeezed plastic duck quacking added levity to this absurdist kingdom.

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Ambient music wafted in from time to time to add to this unsettling environment (by Ginormous, Deru, Lusine, Tim Hecker, Arvo Part, Plastikman) and the dancers told brief enigmatic, yet everyday stories (text and dramaturgy by Susan Josephs). These declarations were like non sequiturs that were thrown here and there, sometimes casually spoken to the audience and sometimes shouted as if at the moon or into the air above us in the theater. The four residents of this strange scene traded partners in highly physical entanglements, though they never seemed more or less content or upset with one or another. The rest (and most) of the time, they kept their distance, looking isolated, alone and perplexed, if not mad.

Occasionally, they danced in unison.

During these times, Gillespie created some very interesting shapes reminiscent of gargoyles and monsters, with the dancers evenly placed along the four sides of the space. The music got a little more rhythmic and deep and the movers' uniformity made the action all the more powerful. But, whether it meant anything particular at these moments, I don't know. Though individually unidentifiable in this abstract interpretation, Pozzo, Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon seemed aptly adrift in this desert wilderness.

Gillespie continues to stake out a place for her unique voice in concert dance. This and her 2007 The Splendor of Gretel both approach dark and unknown territories while remaining connected to a deeply physical base.

I didn't quite understand the dancers eyeing each other in this new work and I didn't know why people were so antagonistic toward one another. The history of their relationships was never explained. But we grew to accept this as the way it is in this strange world.

photo by Scott Grolan, courtesy of the company