nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
January 13, 2006
As an adult, it’s a delight to see the all-female acrobatic dance troupe LAVA perform their latest work (w)Hole:The (whole) History Of Life On Earth. Their work is dynamic and sensual, but also absolutely appropriate for all ages. If you can, bring a young person along. It will be like "Take Your Daughters to Art" day.
Conceived and directed by LAVA founder Sarah East Johnson, the show includes performers Natalie Agee, Molly Chanoff, Eugenia Chiappe, Diana Y Greiner, and Rebecca Stronger. Each woman is an incredible athlete who displays a great physical strength and endurance that challenge gender stereotypes of feminine movement and beauty. They are seemingly fearless as they soar and tumble over each other and through the air. In addition to that energy and showmanship are a wonderful rapport and interconnectedness between them, the work and the audience.
(w)Hole is inspired by the ever-shifting phenomena of geologic change. Volcano formation, magnetic polarity reversal, and tectonic plate movements are all explored through movement and shifts of balance. This includes getting the audience to move as well. At one point, people are asked to stand up if they have started something new in the past six months. They then join people who have stood up because they have ended something in the same amount of time, and together they are asked to walk into the playing space and move in two circles going in opposite directions. I can't say it was the most amazing event of the evening in terms of death-defying tricks, but I think that was the point; that what Johnson is trying to do is make her experiments connecting movement and the effects of environmental and personal change accessible and relevant to all.
This inclusiveness starts from the very beginning. There is no opening music or announcement as in a traditional circus show. The audience sits in the round and the performers enter the space, defined by a tape drawing on the floor of a large spiral, one at a time and at their own pace. They greet people they know in the audience, stretch, put out mats and place their equipment and props to the side. None of this seems faux-casual. It just is a great starting place that helps us in the audience to be not only spectators, but part of the event. The only aspect of this that goes a bit too far for me personally is the unexpected "bathroom video diaries" directed by Sini Anderson and Bob Alotta. In the ladies' room, (I don't know about the men's) there is a TV over the stalls that plays a video of individual performers discussing their feelings about their preparation and work.
In accordance with the theme of change, each show will use a different combination of theatrical elements that are picked by chance throughout the run. When you enter the lobby, there is a poster on an easel that shows differently colored dots under the categories of music, lights, video, and choreography. The colors of the dots represent texture, seasons, geologic movement, and rock formations. So, on a given night, the music may be "white" for "hard," the light may be "green" representing "Spring," the video in "red" for "flow," and the choreography "blue" for "metamorphic." On the night I attended, the music by Steve Hamilton and video by Heather Delaney seemed black/soft and gray/explosion, respectively. The light was "winter" white and, if I had to guess, I would pick "blue/metamorphic" for the choreography. There is also a log where you can see the combinations that made up previous shows. Once you get the hang of it, its fun to consider all the possibilities. As soon as the show ended, a young girl next to me said to her mom, "So, we're coming back tomorrow?" The work is that smart, interesting, and joyful to watch. I definitely agree with her about wanting to see it more than once.