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Elizabeth Streb/Ringside.

Context, some would argue, is everything. When Elizabeth Streb's Ringside performed its latest site-specific pieces at the cavernous Temporary Contemporary, a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the tone was distinctly fun and games. A barker's voice directed the chichi art crowd to each installation, and novel feats of derring-do--one after another--became the order of the day. "Step right up," Streb seemed to say. "We're here to entertain and amaze you."

Streb has put aside her penchant for hitting the ceiling and splattering the walls. These days, she dotes on air. In both Rise and Up, works she developed during a monthlong residency, a certain exhilaration came from acts defying gravity. Up, a trampoline orgy with performers stationed high on scaffolds, boasts a complex, even contrapuntal design that emphasizes risk. You can spell the word with a capital R because a series of steep backward bounces up to a standing position on the scaffold keeps the performers blindsided. The prospect of one slight miscalculation makes you shudder here, unlike in the earlier, inchoate Bounce (1994). Still, there is much lyric swan-diving to admire, with everyone exhibiting textbook form and no body-battering to be found.

Similarly, Rise suspends its two protagonists in harnesses as they twist around a sort of maypole--upside down the whole time and manipulated by a crew at the pulleys. But none of it is more than passingly clever. More of the same occurs, to greater interest, in Lookup! (1993), with rigged acro-dancers walking a high wall.

The opening numbers in an evening Streb called "pop action" had a kind of theatricality grafted onto them via amplified sound effects. Every time a body collides with a surface there's a complementary thud, loud enough to sound fake and therefore not worrisome. Streb's sensibility is so benign that even her Little Ease (1985) solo, done within the confines of a rectangular box, does not convey despair, only a physical conundrum--and thus an emotional disconnection.

Back to context; it is everything when you consider Mehmet Sander. Why? Because the young Turk, who hails from Istanbul and once studied with Streb, uses essentially the same motifs and vocabulary. But in Single Space, a work where his stocky, muscular body also inhabits a rectangular box, we see the box as a coffin, one he tests with an experimental ferocity, as though conquering a foe: AIDS. "See me survive this age of plague and catastrophe," his pieces seem to shout. "I'm indestructible."

Here, the brutal body-bashing--against walls and floors at full force--produces a naturalistic, therefore deadly, thwack. The only other sound is that of the dancers' breath being knocked from their lungs. The aura is one of exalted punishment.

Yet the odd components of Sander's work--part circus, part gymnastics, part performance art, part killing field--give it an across-the-board appeal. And there's no denying the sheer inventiveness; he devises torso fulcrums that draw upon principles of physics and architecture. They look like purely sleek exemplars of objects in reaction to one another except that the objects are flesh and bone and thus damageable.

Inner Space (1992), however, says more. Sander, Lucianne Aquino, and Alan Panovich immure themselves in a Plexiglas cylinder, the sound of their hot, bare feet suctioning against the plastic walls as strained, backbent bodies inch up on all fours and finally vault over. They suggest a harrowing escape, not unlike that in the film Woman in the Dunes.

Defiantly gay and HIV-positive, Sander has found the perfect metaphor for his brand of agitprop. From his severe buzz cut to the military-style maneuvers (complete with number calls and shouted signals) he recalls a tough U.S. Marine. In Militia (1995), performed by a less-than-adequate quartet of newcomers, he even narrates a strangely tortured manifesto.

To see performances by Streb and Sander within a short period of time is to recognize that, for all the sameness of their syllables, one of them might as well be speaking Chinese and the other answering in Swahili. Rashomon lives.
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Title Annotation:Temporary Contemporary, Los Angeles, California
Author:Perlmutter, Donna
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Previous Article:Ruslan and Lyudmila.
Next Article:Mehmet Sander Dance Company.

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