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June 16, 1999
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Alone together
Nesting Dolls offers 13 Versions of Surrender and more.

By Rita Felciano

WHAT the Bay Area might miss most now that Cid Pearlman is moving to southern California is not the scope of her choreography -- quirky and amiable as it is -- but the care and thought with which she puts her pieces together. Pearlman's shaping intelligence is always present, whether she's working in a postpunk fashion (as in The Adventures of BeBe Underground and her homage to Dorothy Parker, Shiny Gun) or in a more restrained manner, as evidenced this past weekend at ODC Theater, where her company, Nesting Dolls, has been in residence since 1997.

Pearlman's gymnastic belly-dance vignette Hast du Feuer? (Gotta Light?) was the closest she came to camp in an otherwise serious program. Dressed in a small top and candy-colored flounces, she delightedly shimmied and flipped to Erling Wold's music, commissioned by Nesting Dolls and performed by a group of excellent musicians, including vocalist Laurie Amat.

In her ensemble work, Pearlman uses small movement units, which aren't developed so much as shifted into fresh spatial and musical contexts. She loves unisons and is not afraid of simple gestures -- one arm rising like a stalk emerging from the earth, two bodies leaning as if blown by a gust of wind. The resulting choreography is straightforward and matter-of-fact. There are no specific narratives except eternal ones: people moving together, splitting off, and reconfiguring their fleeting relationships. Pearlman's work is marked by a placid fluidity and textural transparency, which placed her in particularly good stead in the evening's premiere, 13 Versions of Surrender.

Wold had set his cantata for three instruments and soprano to prose poetry by Michelle Murphy. Pearlman's challenge was to fit choreography into a self-contained piece, increasing its resonance without interfering with its structural integrity. She chose to work with utmost simplicity, often using text fragments as the kernel from which to build her supporting movements. A man remembers his beloved's "simple gestures he can't nail down" by wiping a table with one hand and his head with the other. Four dancers skip around the singer (Amat) when she reaches the line "the circus has come to town again." Bent-over figures introduce a feisty "grandmother painting her red lips." These literal touch points are handled delicately.

I brought my hips to the table and yes, I dyed all your shoes black (1998) is another collaboration between Murphy (whose poem predates the work), Wold, and Pearlman. The text of the poem was projected onto screens alongside the stage. The result was frustrating -- you can listen to music while reading, but you cannot simultaneously follow lengthy textual passages and watch dance. Why couldn't Murphy have read her luscious poetry aloud? She did so to introduce the evening. Voiced, her words would have rooted Pearlman's physical images -- the pastoral and the upside-down phrases, the leaps on the chest and the drops from the sky, the silent screams and the lonely turns.

Nesting Dolls' performance also included the previously seen Close, in which Pearlman plays with asymmetries and constantly shifting relationships. This time, some of its dissolving sculptural moments looked like Francis Bacon without the angst.


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