Rime With a Reason : Marriage of Poetry, Dance Defies Barriers

Times Staff Writer

Experimental dance is not the most popular of arts, and Eagle Rock is not Greenwich Village.

But that has not discouraged Anna Stump and Ippolita Rostagno, two 20-year-old Occidental College students with untraditional tastes and a small apartment on York Avenue. In 1984, inspired on a Venice beach, where they heard a tall, bespectacled Italian read unorthodox sonnets, they formed a theatrical dance troupe and called it Rime.

As they saw it, Rime would blend their classical ballet training with expressive, modern movements. Some dances would be humorous. Others would be emotionally charged. All would be choreographed to poetry or danced to a story. The Italian poet from Venice, Paul Vangelisti, was drafted as Rime's wordsmith and third member.

Since then, Rime has evolved with its founders, playing at universities, art institutes and performance spaces like the House in Santa Monica and the Women's Building in downtown Los Angeles. This week, newly graduated from Occidental and ready to flex their conceptual and kinetic muscles on a broader stage, they are leaving for Florence, Italy. There, they will work as artists-in-residence in an experimental theater run by Rostagno's father.

Breaking Down Barriers

In Europe, they will be among dozens of troupes who are breaking down the traditional barriers between theater and dance and infusing performances with strong, often violent emotion. Rime is often told it resembles Pina Bausch's Wuppertaler Tanz-theater, an avant-garde West German company known for its frenetic, theatrical style.

Although Rime has yet to be reviewed, audiences appear to come away moved by the techniques and chemistry that Stump and Rostagno bring to their performances.

"They're very impressive," says Cheri Gaulke, an artist in residence at the Women's Building. "People should know about them."

Stump and Rostagno say audiences either love their work or dislike it fiercely. That pleases them.

Take "Yes," for instance, a powerful duet in which Rostagno and Stump dance out a relationship while Vangelisti reads his poem of the same name.

The dance is at once violent and erotic. Clad in gray sweat pants and flesh-colored tops pulled tightly around their breasts and cut off at the midriff, they hurl each other to the ground. They kneel in supplication. Their limbs intertwine and mesh like two lovers.

'Some Find It Shocking'

"Some people find it shocking to see two women touching like that," Rostagno said. "But often we get the reaction, 'Wow, that was inspiring.' That's what we want. To move them in some way."

Since Occidental lacks a dance department, Stump, an art major, and Rostagno, who studied English, looked elsewhere for terpsichorean inspiration.

Delving into literature, Marxism and painting, the women spent hours on research to imbue their work with historical references. For "Marx's Daughters," a satirical dance about Victorian women, Stump and Rostagno designed authentic bustles and corsets. A performance recounting the history of dance from classical times to be-bop and modern was staged in a Greek-style amphitheater at the college. Unable to recruit strong male dancers, they learned to lift and throw each other.

"We're not radical feminists," Rostagno said. "We're strong women who believe in doing unconventional things."

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