Prometheus Dance

June 26, 2007

Prometheus Dance

Boston Conservatory Theatre, Boston

May 25–27

Reviewed by Karen Campbell

From spousal abuse to the iniquities of growing old, Prometheus Dance doesn’t shy away from provocative issues. Under the joint direction of Diane Arvanites-Noya and Tommy Neblett, the acclaimed New England modern dance troupe is best known for work that infuses a robust, muscular physicality into challenging and vividly theatrical contexts.

    The company’s latest work portrays the harrowing existence and often suffocating isolation of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. Inspired by Azar Nafisi’s bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran, the powerfully imagistic and dark Devil’s Wedding is set in a male-centric world where daily life is charged with the continual conflict between ancient religion strictures and modern culture.

    The tone is set from the moment the lights go down, when shots ring out in the darkness, and the disconcerting sound of mortar fire and engine rumble rock the theater. In the dim, dungeon-like light, seven women clothed in black burqas gather in constantly shifting clusters. Faces are shielded by large black scarves, the veils representing sublimation, subjugation. Yet resistance lurks underneath, breaking out in legs that kick, arms that thrust, and in lunges deep into the floor. As the veils are lifted from each woman’s head, vigorous dances of unabashed fury are unleashed, energy released with the abandon of a child in full revolt.

    Unfurled, the scarves are swirled with the bravado of a toreador’s cape. But in the work’s most chilling moments, they are pulled tight around the head, becoming first the hood of the condemned, then the executioner’s noose.

    Periodically the women come together in slow formation, walking with a deliberate, deadened pace. Repeatedly they clasp their hands together as if bound or throw them across their eyes, as if they cannot bear to look. Occasionally, a woman’s arms reach upward, as if seeking salvation, liberation. But just as quickly, they are fettered by the group, pulled back into the safety of acquiescence.

     The most visceral moments are vigorous group dances fueled by the wailing vocals and propulsive rhythms of the music by Serart.  Weighted skipping steps hug the ground, leading the dancers into lines and circles that suggest the strength of community. However, it is a community whose spirit constantly yearns to break free.

    In breathtaking contrast, last year’s lovely Dievas Mannu/Full Moon offers a different glimpse of community, evoking the stark white landscape of the Arctic Circle. Part tribal ritual, part herding behavior, it is a intriguing combination of the tame and the feral, inspired by the hauntingly exotic vocals and electronics of Finnish composer Wimme Saari.

    Less successful was the company premiere of Knowing We Can Never Know, originally choreographed for the Boston Conservatory Dance Theatre. Set to Shostakovich’s mercurial String Quartet #8, the work has been restaged for the company’s eight women, who give a committed, expertly danced performance. But while it is visually striking, it is also rather rambling and diffuse, interspersing solemn passes down corridors of light with frantic runs and enough head flinging to make a viewer’s own neck ache in sympathy.