Dancing Downtown

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Dancing Downtown

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Breakdancing, Indian percussion music, homages to Robert Rauschenberg and a Dolly Parton ditty: Welcome to the eclectic world of JOJI-INC's ERASE-E(X).

JOJI-INC is a company started in 1998 as a collaboration between The Wooster Group (the New York avant-garde theater group) and Italian Dance Artist Johanne Saunier. ERASE-E(X), which played at REDCAT last month, is its most recent creation.

The hour-long dance/theater piece consisted of three segments credited to Belgian choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Isabella Soupart, as well as The Wooster Group itself.

Each segment aimed to erase the form and/or content of an existing piece of choreography--an act inspired by Rauschenberg's 1953 painting Erased De Kooning Drawing.

The notion of &quoterasing;" in an already ephemeral art such as dance or theater is an interesting, but somewhat questionable ambition. Indeed, besides one move where the soloist dragged her hand against the dance floor in a nails-against-the chalkboard gesture (accompanied by a loud electric screech) the idea of &quoterasing;" was not literally addressed by the choreography, nor was it evoked through the overall structure of the work.

Still, this piece--which premiered at France's Avignon Festival earlier this year--was a fine display of the raw, earthy grace of Ms. Saunier. Saunier is a fine modern dancer, but this work also allowed her to display her talents as an actress and physical comedienne. In Part I, as words and music from Godard's Contempt play in the background, Saunier was able to parody the posture of Brigitte Bardot in that film's famous nude scenes; and indeed throughout, the performer was able to elicit laugher and drama using a wide variety of movements and sheer charisma.

Sheer charisma also describes another dance diva: the Russian ballerina, Diana Vishneva. Vishneva appeared earlier this month in the ballet Sleeping Beauty. This was Vishneva's second time performing in LA in the past two years, and once again it was a triumph. Vishneva is one of those performers who simply commands your attention when she's on stage, which combined with the grace of her movement and the expressiveness of her face, makes seeing her perform such a life enhancing event. The ballerina will return with the Kirov to Orange County next fall, and seeing her cannot be recommended highly enough.

Those needing an immediate dance-theater fix are in luck this weekend, as the local company Collage Dance Theatre completes its run of a work entitled The Entire World is a Narrow Bridge. As always, CDT's newest creation is a site specific piece, which this time takes place a cavernous venue called Casa Del Mexicano--an old synagogue in Boyle Heights that's been converted into a community center.

The hour-long work is directed by Heidi Duckler and using dance, dialogue and stagecraft she tells the story of this unique venue--and in doing so, creates a larger, abstract portrait of Los Angeles and its cultural faultlines. This is shown in the first scene as a woman tries to light Shabbat candles and is assisted by a welder from the barrio who uses his blowtorch to provide the spark.

Striking images such as these illuminate Duckler's creation which incorporates Mariachis, Hassidic traditions, Flamenco dancing, and yes: masked, Mexican wrestling.

Whereas JOJI-INC used choreography in an attempt to erase what has come before, the Kirov Ballet and Collage Dance Theatre use movement, sets, and lighting to recreate the past. Sleeping Beauty is a parable of Russia's great cultural heritage that went into hibernation during Soviet times and The Entire World is a Narrow Bridge conjures the ghosts of one Los Angeles neighborhood and tries to un-erase a history that's been overlooked.

Collage Dance Theatre's The Entire World is a Narrow Bridge continues through Sunday evening at Casa Del Mexicano in Boyle Heights.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.