Paula Present, artistic director of Ptero Dance Theatre, has a social conscience that triggers her creative juices. Some of her dances are born from a compulsion to spotlight the world's wrongs, and to help right them.
In her latest full-evening piece, H2~Eau, which premiered Thursday (and goes through Sunday) at Club Fais Do-Do, Present's impetus is the lack of fresh water that causes disease and death for millions world-wide. Angelenos live in a desert, but most of the time, we never think about our own ability to get plentiful, potable water. That, too, is one of Present's points.
As my friend Valerie said, isn't it refreshing to find an artist with a positive political activism? Calling an artist a do-gooder can be akin to slander. It equates with naiveté. Tearing down, mocking, screaming, burning — all that is okay for serious art and artists. That does have its place. Present has a different style.
H2~Eau works on literal and abstract levels, but I liked it better when it was literal. Divided into nine sections, H2~Eau contrasts abundance with shortage, as when Eva Wieland sensuously bathes in several garbage cans (see below), while Sarandon Cassidy Vincent struggles to cross the floor with a bucketful of dirt tied to her waist. Vincent's solos of longing in a sand pile, in which she roiled dust clouds, were among the night's most poetic moments.
In another part, Kelly Gill and Briana Masson were jovial water ballerinas, flopping on the club's red tufted banquettes, then reaching for nearby water bottles. Composer Ariel Blumenthal provided two original compositions, including a multi-layered wine-glass concerto that made the ears tingle. Three films by Paul Linkogle were, also, part-advocacy, part visual-poetry, including slow-motion hair tossing and cascading droplets.
There was much miming of drinking, scooping water and so on. Present's sculptural dance shapes were sometimes, however, unfocused and random. I wanted more structural development in the choreography, and rhythmic rigor with the various recorded musical compositions she had selected.
On the other hand, the Club Fais Do-Do made a terrific, funky, in-the-round dance venue. Present made excellent use of the space, with the dancers in the middle, Blumenthal visible on an upstairs platform in the rear, and the films projected above the stage in the front. All performances include a presentation by Wells Bring Hope, a foundation, set up by former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, that drills wells in Niger, Africa.
Ptero Dance Theatre's H2~Eau is at Club Fais Do-Do, 5253, W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (800) 838-3006.
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