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Experimental, Improvised Dance Energizes in 'Swap/Meet' at Bootleg Theater

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Though Show Box LA has only recently become the proud recipient of a handful of financial awards from public and private sources, local audiences continue to reap the rewards of this forward thinking not-quite-an-institution. Founded by choreographer/dancer Meg Wolfe, this experimental dance and performance service unit has previously helped bring artists from elsewhere into our town (Miguel Gutierrez, Faye Driscoll, Karen Sherman), coordinated workshops for these and other visiting artists to help broaden the experience of local dance-friendly folk, overseen the now sleeping Dancebank and Anatomy Riot productions, convened community discussions (Wild Mind), continues to publish an ongoing envelope-pushing performance journal (itch) and catalyzed other events and activities in the region. This past weekend, the multi-faceted amoebic structure brought Abby Crain and Margit Galanter, two movement-based artists from San Francisco, into Southern California to make their Los Angeles debuts, sharing a program with Wolfe. They're the pilot production of "Swap/Meet," the new Show Box LA initiative that "connects dance communities through performances, workshops and exchanges," as stated in the evening's program at the Bootleg Theater.

Each of the out-of-towners presented a repertory work while Wolfe unveiled "calling it something else for now."

Crain's resume includes dancing for the aforementioned Gutierrez and his company of Powerful People. Here, she showed a 2011 trio, of which she describes as follows: "This is nothing new. These are some things we are chewing on, and this time you can watch." With part of the audience seated onstage, Ethan Cowan, Mara Poliak and the choreographer independently wove around the seated viewers, walking, leaping, swinging, resting on the floor and kneeling in front of a patron. Once grounded in this last position, the women moved their head/hair—in circles and up and down—locks flying this way and that and nose down. While the physical arrangement appeared suggestive, the performers seem to be working from a score only they knew about, and, as the titled cued us, we were there to watch.

Music by Haptic failed to unearth any deeper meaning, but we observed well, and both women and a man unfolded their similar blankets of minimally accented action. The leaps had bent legs, the tempo-varied walks included slight hip lifts and they each entered and exited the space quietly in their street wear and dark sneakers.

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Dressed in a yellow short sleeve top and short pink skirt, a broad shouldered, barefoot and muscular Margit Galanter was a soloist in "Relay: Living Things Shine On." Juxtaposing sometimes surprising quick spins with a series of more pedestrian-like turns (think, "I'll do this until I get dizzy!"), the artist breathed and spoke into a handheld microphone, raised her skirt, lowered her yellow drawers and rubbed her pubic hair with the mic, revealing, per program notes, "three different tones based on Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's Concordance." With this reviewer not being familiar with the Chinese-Dutch-American poet Berssenbrugge, Brenda Iljima writes that the collaboratively-created poem by this poet and visual artist Kiki Smith is "enigmatic and ethereal but also, connected to terrestrial happening." This, too, describes what Ms. Galanter presented to those of us in the theater, but perhaps not as poetically as on the page.

Ending the evening, Meg Wolfe addressed the audience behind a ball-like cloud of off-white stiff but rolling fabric (costume by Pat Payne). Walking toward and away from us before turning to face us and reveal her sculpted sequin-like covered purple-ish helmet (by SDS) and silvery leg-hugging pants and tunic, the artist patiently explored her surroundings. Then the lithe and sinuous woman thoughtfully raised her arms to the sky and gracefully waved them noiselessly above her, as if suspended in a gravity-lacking atmosphere. She stepped slowly this way and that, dropped to her knees and then drifted off the stage. Aaron Drake's accompanying electronic sound score enhanced the galactic environment and the ephemeral dance floated out of the room.

Promotional materials mention the investigative nature of the work on display and the strong part improvisation plays in these artists' oeuvres. The works shown are not crowd-pleasing ballets in any sense, but the opening up of the creative process can be illuminating and compelling to witness.

Three cheers for Show Box LA moving forward! Let's keep our eyes open for the next launch!