Meg Wolfe Bangs Bodies Together in trembler.SHIFTER at REDCAT

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Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 12:04 PM

click to enlarge Darius Mannino and Gregory Barnett go head to head, with Meg Wolfe, Taisha Paggett, and Sarah Day in the background - STEVEN GUNTHER
  • Steven Gunther
  • Darius Mannino and Gregory Barnett go head to head, with Meg Wolfe, Taisha Paggett, and Sarah Day in the background

Everyone has a signature walk/skip/movement, and Los Angeles dancer-choreographer Meg Wolfe is remarkable for her vertical swimming motion. The woman does the Australian crawl through the air.

Her arms, tracing a delicate letter "C," whirl windmill-like, unfettered by the physical constraints of her shoulder sockets. Her arms pull along her flowing torso, then her feet skitter afterward to keep up.

This observation hit me during the premiere of Wolfe's trembler.SHIFTER Thursday night at REDCAT (the show, a co-commission with Fusebox Festival in Texas, runs through June 5). I mention it because Wolfe has created very choppy waters here, indeed, through which she and her four dancers must swim or sink. Wars, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, all those recent screaming-headline plagues -- not to mention the ever-present turmoil of intimate human interactions -- were the fodder for this endurance test of a dance.

Natural and man-made catastrophes are both horrifying and mesmerizing; we fear them and yet can't look away. Wolfe has captured that uncomfortable duality too.

Throughout the 45-minute piece, the performers orbited in their own personal kinetic universe, creating a cluttered and messy stage. This visual sensation was mirrored aurally in composer Aaron Drake's multi-layered, recorded score, which rang, roared and kaboomed. Inevitably, gravitational forces pulled the dancers together and these were often violent collisions.

The piece began with Gregory Barnett and Darius Mannino pushing against one another like bulls. They grabbed and carried one another, an intentional misstep sending them to the floor. Wolfe, Sarah Day and Taisha Paggett, meanwhile, began a slow-building waltz, swirling and circling until all five met center stage for the first body-banging session. When someone fell, they were quickly scooped up, not so much out of concern, but to keep the rumble alive.

It was not all rough and tumble. Midway, we were transported to an imaginary urban sidewalk, thanks to a simple walking exercise of forward and backward, each dancer along his or her own plane. One step up onto half-pointe, with their heels off the ground, created an engaging limping rhythm. But Wolfe concluded her piece with a pessimistic tableaux: Everyone separated, circling their heads, prisoners of an unseen force.

Among the five, Barnett truly embodied the fearlessness needed to carry off this apocalyptic vision. Wolfe and Day projected inwardly, while Paggett's traveling solo was a welcome diversion.

Lighting designer Christopher Kuhl subtly but expertly shifted the view and the story by changing brightness, adding an eerie red hue and painting diagonal white lines on the floor. Hanging overhead, Lorrie P. Snyder's black-and-white pictures reminded us of the destruction tornadoes leave behind.

Not that we needed reminding. Wolfe managed it by herself.

trembler.SHIFTER runs through June 5 at REDCAT, 631 West 2nd St., Downtown. (213) 237-2800, redcat.org

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