September 9, 2010




The Hollywood Bowl •
Hollywood, CA

September 9, 2010

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf


Terpsichore herself may have held her breath during much of the world premiere of Fearful Symmetries. Choreographed by Diavolo’s artistic director Jacques Heim, the opus, set to the relentless throbbings of John Adams’ 28-minute minimalist score and the second in a planned trilogy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, leaves absolutely no room for error.


Amid shifting tableaux that variously resemble urban apartment dwellings, Stonehenge, and a zany factory (think Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times), 10 dancers perform heart-stopping feats of derring-do. They accomplish these while manipulating a pair of 150-pound U-shaped arches and a 360-pound cube that breaks apart into more configurations than Mr. Rubik’s. Upping the danger ante is a trifurcated 5,000-pound motorized “field” that rises 17 degrees.


With Bramwell Tovey conducting an onstage 84-piece L.A. Philharmonic, the dancers scored Olympian gold as they back-flipped off of the cube’s 6′ 3 ” columns, hopscotched atop the monoliths, and executed serious swan dives into the welcoming arms of able partners.


An E-ticket ride on steroids, the company kept frenetic pace with Adams’ music, which balletgoers might have recognized from Peter Martins’ 1990 work of the same name. Opening in silence, Symmetries featured the performers, clad in Laura Brody’s workman-like garb, peering through quasi-telescopes before the densely layered sounds began their constant churnings. Within moments, dancers were slithering around and through the cube, breaking it apart much the way a master chef would separate an egg, if it were, well, a dinosaur’s.


Alternately mystical and concrete, the cube is a metaphorical building block: Made of aluminum and wood, it is DNA writ large as it spawns creation; it also presents near-crushing obstacles. At one point, two dancers are squeezed between a pair of pillars before disappearing from view, only to pop up elsewhere in yet another geometric configuration.


At the core of Symmetries, though, is real humanity. Couples come together, with episodic smooching against a backdrop of shifting scenery in one section, a joyous bout of neo–Lindy Hopping in another. As the rhythms of Adams’ work—one the composer calls a big “boogie-woogie”—surged and receded (mostly the former, with tympanic climaxes and bleating horns echoing throughout the Cahuenga Pass), the divine dancers of Diavolo became a single beating heart, a solitary pulse, with the unabashed ability to awe.


Such is the power of the human body; such is the power of dance.



Liz Lerman Dance Exchange •
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland
• College Park, MD
• September 10 and 12, 2010

Reviewed by Kate Mattingly


“What you see here. What you do here… Let it stay here.”


These words, projected during The Matter of Origins, come from Los Alamos, New Mexico, where physicists worked in secret to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s.


They are also the antithesis of Liz Lerman’s intentions: Her newest creation opens dialogue on multiple levels.


Inspired, in part, by her discovery of Edith Warner’s role as a tea-house proprietor who hosted the Los Alamos physicists, Lerman wanted to bring an audience together to eat, talk, question, and wonder.


Act One, performed by the 11 members of Lerman’s intergenerational company, unfolds onstage, while Act Two takes the audience to dance studios for a tea party. At each table of 8 to 10 people, a provocateur (there are 50 total) encourages discussion on subjects explored during the performance, while local dancers serve tea and chocolate cake (one of Warner’s recipes).


An ambitious collaboration, Origins took almost three years to develop, as Lerman traveled to laboratories and spoke with physicists around the world. The first part weaves scientific findings and formulas through the dancers’ partnering, lifts, and leaps. A semi-circle of screens provides an entry point for the performers, as well as a surface for projections (designed by Logan Kibens), which include images from New Mexico, then from Switzerland’s European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), then from the Hubble Space Telescope.


Lerman’s performers are stunning, particularly Ted Johnson in an exquisitely pure solo. Benjamin Wegman, Sarah Levitt, and Ami Dowden-Fant explode in athletic jumps. Keith Thompson appears alone in front of pictures from the Hubble. The juxtaposition of these breathtaking sights and his decidedly human, vulnerable actions is poignant.


Naoko Nagata’s gorgeous grey costumes include pants and shirts of different cuts for the men and dresses of various styles for the women. Darron L. West’s score almost overpowers parts of the performance: while other elements acclimate to the multidisciplinary setting, his soundscape is the least integrated part.


Tea-time offered varying experiences: Conversations ranged from theological questions about origins to the latest scientific research on the Big Bang, according to friends at other tables. (My table was disappointing: The provocateur introduced himself as a “colleague of Liz’s” and then told us how he taught choreography to students at the University of Maryland.)


Lerman’s approach, like lab work, embraces investigation, observation, analysis, and meaningful impact. Even during the performance, research had a constant presence. We were handed surveys when we walked into the theater and completed a second survey between Acts One and Two. A third survey awaited us underneath our placemats at the end of tea and cake. I am curious to learn how the collaborators will use these findings.


In conjunction with Lerman’s project, UMD astronomy professors gave an introduction to scientific origin-of-the-universe theories, two days before the premiere of Origins. Visitors could glimpse Jupiter through their telescopes. It was a fantastic and enriching event.


Universities are terrific places for such projects: they bring together inquisitive minds, different disciplines, and a desire to explore.



Photo of Diavolo in Jacques Heim’s
Fearful Symmetries by Rose Eichenbaum