SF Weekly Stage

All Dolled Up

Cid Pearlman and Nesting Dolls. Text by Michelle Murphy. Original music by Erling Wold, vocals by Laurie Amat, conducted by Deirdre McClure. At ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., June 10-13.

Dana Davis

Inward Focus: Nesting Dolls perform Close.

There was plenty to like about Cid Pearlman's farewell show at ODC, the climax of a yearlong collaboration with composer Erling Wold and poet Michelle Murphy, but there was something plainly lacking, too: verve. Despite Wold's fascinating compositions and Murphy's often engaging text, it was a sleepy, even sluggish program that fell short of its ambitious mark.

In trying to strike a balance between dance, music, and language, Pearlman picked her partners well -- she and Wold have eased themselves into a comfortable rapport over time, and though Murphy wrote her poetry independently of the dance, her tactile imagery dovetailed nicely with Pearlman's aesthetic. Conflicting visions of companionship and solitude, urban cacophony and a bucolic hush played out in the repertory work I Brought My Hips to the Table, and Yes, I Dyed All Your Shoes Black and the premiere 13 Versions of Surrender, which shared Murphy's poetic language and simple but effective set pieces.

In fact, Hips, which followed Murphy's live spoken-word prologue on the dreamlike shadows cast across a bedroom ceiling, was laden with sensory appeal. Blocks of text projected on hanging screens described the smell of wet fur, the crackle of electricity, and the taste and texture of sour grass sucked translucent between one's teeth, and the live chamber ensemble (conducted by the Club Foot Orchestra's Deirdre McClure) conjured up swirling storm clouds with quick puffs of breath into the woodwinds. Folding themselves around Wold's languorous, jazzy score, dancers Jennifer Kesler and David King embodied what Murphy called "the seasons a body undergoes," with a shifting, symbiotic partnership of resistance and surrender. Despite a fluidity in cartwheeling, over-the-shoulder lifts and Kesler's generous extensions, there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction to this pairing, which flared in a brief series of gestures and expressions delineating fury, shock, and recrimination.

A similar push-pull dynamic ran through Close, a 1997 quintet that floated above the roiling cello passages of Wold's mesmerizing score for strings, percussion, and vibes. Pearlman explored all the combinations you can make from five dancers (solos, trios, duos, and unisons) and produced a piece that is both "close" as in intimate and "close" as in closed off from its audience. Dressed in Hank Ford's flowery prints, the dancers turned their focus inward, on each other and themselves. With the exception of some truly inventive three-way lifts, Close was gentle, with much embracing and the cradling of heads in hands. It was too gentle, in fact: A stupefying sameness in mood and tempo could make a viewer think about joining the stacks of dancers lying face down on the floor.

And then there was 13 Versions of Surrender, the 30-minute chamber operetta capping Pearlman's two-year residency at ODC. Pearlman deserves credit for experimenting with brave new music (besides Wold, she's worked with Camper Van Beethoven alumni) and insisting on having it live when possible. That said, 13 Versions was both intriguing and problematic. Murphy's poetry reads well enough, but as a libretto, it often sounds silly, or worse. Singer Laurie Amat made a valiant attempt to transform the language into something more than musical spoken word, but it wasn't easy, given passages like "He stirs their coffee, watches the sugar dissolve." Amat served as narrator to the action, such as it was, and even became a part of it, banging on a drum listlessly as the dancers waltzed around the room. Life is something of a cabaret, or at least a depressing carnival, in Murphy's text, and Pearlman ran with the metaphor. The set (table and chairs and a windowpane upstage, champagne bottles three deep around a hatbox downstage) suggested equal parts joie de vivre and loneliness, but with the exception of a few crisp images, like a man stretching into remembered passion on a tabletop, Versions couldn't revive a timeworn idea.

- Heather Wisner

Send us your feedback.

Only in Stage

Or browse recent


This week in
News | Music | Film | Eat | Stage | Calendar | Web Extra
Classified | Romance | Naughty & Nice | Best of S.F. | Feedback | Archive | About

1999 New Times Inc. All rights reserved.