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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Choreography of Crisis Women, Machines and Utopia Lost BY ANN DALY MOST CHOREOGRAPHERS have to make a choice between form and content: Ultimately one pre cedes the other. Not so with Llory Wilson. She refuses to sacrifice either her love of motion or her need for meaning, and the resulting tensionbetween movement as physicality and movement as metaphoris one of the most exciting \(and at times madnewest work for her Tallulah Dance Company, the 70-minute lush mechanique, is as much a study in space and partnering as it is an anti-technology manifesto, and the way it teeters between these dueling loyalties isn’t about choreographic clumsiness, but about choreographic mastery. A richly textured dance whose message is woven deep within the high-density movement/ music/mise-enscene, lush mechanique does not yield its mysteries easily. It gets more interesting with each viewing. Wilson, who divides her time between Seattle and Austin \(where she is a faculty herself as the “movement orchestrator” of lush mechanique, performed on January 27 and 28 at the McCullough Theater on the UT campus. In doing so, she effectively underscores the genuinely collaborative nature of the production, whose costuming, score, lighting and set design are integral to its success. Shauna Frazier’ s retro bathingbeauty outfits and Rosie-the-Riveter work clothes suggest the historical context. Beliz Brother’s lighting and set design, consisting of six huge swinging mechanical poles, or “arms” define and redefine the space and mood of the environment. Jami Sieber’s expressive score layers the sounds of an amazingly versatile electric cello over a rhythmic bassoffering the nervous strains of a plucked string, melodies foreboding or plaintive or bittersweet, and the sounds of sirens and heartbeats. What the score provides for lush mechanique is dramaturgical scaffolding. That is not to say that there is any “story” Ann Daly is a professor of theater and dance at the University of Texas at Austin. to the dance. Wilson works in abstraction, and the most apparent narrative of lush mechanique is the confrontation between the nity of six women whose pale skin and dark lips and eyes suggest silent film heroines. At first they playfully cavort with each othermostly in pairsin Coney Island bloomers, but eventually their attitudes turn workmanlike when they don more practical shirts and slacks. It’s not long before the sirens wail and three of them are writhing and bellying across the floor, stalked by the searchlights that hang off the ends of the now-sweeping mechanical arms. Afterward, the women appropriate the function of searchlights themselves, as they wear lights strapped to their foreheads. Utopia has been terrorized and the women now dance in isolation, with a great thick effort, in the dark. Light-in-the-darkness continues as the expressive motif, as a series of three dancers \(the same three who were fleeing meanders through the space, whirling around her a beacon-like light at the end of a length of rope. This haunting image of yearning, of searching, of stubborn faith in the face of utter darkness, is one of the most poetically effective in the dance, and it provides the transformative moment that launches the women back into their bathing suits and group frolic. At dance’s end \(only chanical arms come to rest in a single line down the middle of the stage, and under them the women arrange the kitschy fake flowers they have been moving around the stage for the past few scenes. Here is the final alignment of the “lush” with the “mechanique,” as the women one by one Besides the flowers and mechanical arms, the thematic opposition is echoed in other formal oppositions: angles and curves, dark and light, warm and cool, air and floor, percussiveness and lyricism. Wilson has a prodigious talent for inventing movement vocabulary \(raw kineticism, time, it’s almost too much. lush mechanique is marked by changes in level, use of arms, intricate partnering, and turning \(the most amazing are the spiraling falls The dancers of Tallulah Dance Company are fearless, and beautiful: There’s petite Kate Basart; the waifish yet spunky Andrea Beckham; the sure and sturdy Theodora Fogarty; Natalie Agee, who is unselfconscious and somehow still mysterious; the wide-eyed Vanessa Schoeni and Wilson herself, who is sometimes strong, sometimes lyrical, but always intense. Most of the dancing is done in pairs, even during ensemble sections, and the community, in both its initial and reconstituted form, is represented by an extended duet. The third duet, near the end of the dance, is the most playful. It makes sense that two other dancers look on happily, lazing amidst the flowers. This community has suffered through its catastrophe successfully, and even thrived. Its members dance not just with each other, but now for each other as well. Wilson says that the piece had its beginning in her fears about the information superhighway. And there are references, some more oblique than others, to machines. In one case, a dancer, her body rigid and her outstretched arms and legs forming symmetrical diamonds, is passed down an ever-extending assembly line. In another, all the dancers lie in a line on the floor, rolling, turning, and twisting in sequence, each one an anonymous cog in a magnificent machine: a cooperative community, but one without individuality and without couples. And then, of course, there are the robot-like “arms” that dominate the entire stage. But the piece is more than just a nostalgic romp through a simpler, purer era of Mack Sennett bathing beauties \(an era that was lush mechanique is about crisis, as was Wilson’s last full-length piece, the 1991 This Cordate Carcass, and her 1993 TITANIC. Physical crisis, emotional crisis, world crisis. A crisis Wilson manages to see as somehow lyrical. A crisis that is devastating but nevertheless generative, and therefore bittersweet. 20 FEBRUARY 24, 1995