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      the beginning: Leslie Hubilla, foreground, and Moo Kim in Sidra Bell
      Photo by Quinn Batson
      the beginning: Leslie Hubilla, foreground, and Moo Kim
    Less Can Be More

    Sidra Bell Faces the Duo Theater


    As I enter the Duo Theater for Sidra Bell's Beautiful Beast, the other faces, a single dancer, a nymph-like character, sits at the front of the stage. Her eyes are obscured by absurdly long, droopy eyelashes which extend all the way to her chin. I feel sympathy for this character: beautiful, young, vulnerable and blind. Once the "blindfold" is removed and the show begins, we enter a self-conscious world where vulnerability is left behind.

    The fashion is a fabulous concoction of faux-hawks, sculpted tubing, corsets, wigs, false eyelashes, and high collars (all co-styled by Bradley Scott of Avant Magazine). Futuristic and sexy, the costumes correspond perfectly to the piece's recurring themes of narcissism, desire for approval, and preoccupation with beauty and image — themes universally accessible to a contemporary, theater-going audience.

    Choreography by: Sidra Bell.
    Dancers: Jenelle Figgins, Samantha Figgins, Leslie Hubilla, Alexandra Johnson, Moo Kim, Caroline Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Margolick, Anila Mazhari, Amber Morgan, Troy Ogilvie, Amber Lee Parker, Maud de la Purification, Gilbert Small.
    Music by: AIR, Alva Noto, Belong, Eluvium, Fennesz, Fever Ray, Shi-Tennoji Chanting Group, Funkstrorung, Kraftwerk, The Knife, Lustmord, Marsen Jules, Signal.
    Set design by: Michelangelo Alasa' and Luke Valerio.
    Costumes by: Sidra Bell and Bradley Scott.
    Lighting design by: Burke Wilmore.
    Duo Multicultural Arts Center
    May 13-15, 2010

    The piece's strength lies in the powerful, charismatic performance of the dancers, in their Ailey-esque physicality and precision. But their overtly presentational performance often undermines their ability to make a genuine connection with the audience, or with each other. The evening moves from one presentational, physically demanding piece to the next, becoming, after a while, a monotone of high physicality, offering little dynamic range or space for vulnerability.

    Standard dance vocabulary is juxtaposed with distorted facial expressions. This is visually interesting, though there isn't any emotional basis for an exaggerated frown which happens on the 5, 6 of an 8-count. It seems that the only purpose for the "ugly" faces is to infuse strangeness into the choreography. The movement overall is so rigidly choreographed to the driving beat of the music that it doesn't allow for any organic development of emotion.

    the end: Troy Ogilvie in Sidra Bell
    Photo by Quinn Batson
    the end: Troy Ogilvie

    The most interesting movement involves contorted articulations of the body reminiscent of Naharin or Forsythe. This movement is best embodied by dancer Troy Ogilvie, who plays a sort of sinister ringleader. She shifts brilliantly between subtleties and exaggerations in her impeccable and generous performance. When she struggles against her demise and collapses to the floor in the final scene, I feel something for her because of the relationship she has allowed me to develop with her character.

    Sidra Bell is good at making dances which dance. I feel the kinetically powerful movement in my body even as I sit still. But although I'm physically engaged, I remain emotionally disengaged for much of the piece. This is a situation where perhaps a little less dancing would go a long way.

    MAY 23, 2010

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  • Beautiful Beast Performance   from CW, May 29, 2010

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