Times Dance Writer

Immediately following the premiere of his "Cold Sweat" Friday in the Margo Albert Theater at the Plaza de la Raza, Rudy Perez spoke to the audience, explaining how his intention to choreograph a romantic work for his six-member company had been changed by ominous recent events.

"I watch the news," he said, "and what's happening in the world is kind of scary. . . ."

Thus a mood of jittery dread pervaded this powerful new creation--from Brian O'Keefe's tape collage, with its nightmarish transformation of ordinary sounds (typewriting that resembled gunshots, for instance), to the tense, dodgy group dancing itself.

In black street wear with patches of solid color at the shoulders, ankles and, sometimes, across the back, Perez's defiant and increasingly punchy personae circled one another warily, swatted the space in front of them as if beset by something in the air (Insects? A chemical threat? Radiation?), shoved chairs or one another out of the way and ran in urgent bursts, with sudden-death changes of direction, as if desperately seeking escape.

In different sections of the work, Jeff Grimaldo and Howard Sum Tom (each new to the company) lifted and cradled lifeless women; near the end, images of protective clinging and an almost dazed hyperactivity froze into an emblematic tableau: alienated, brutalized street life, circa 1986.

In his company's first local appearance since July, Perez demonstrated again his brilliant ability to abstract societal pressures and attitudes, then reshape them into compelling movement theater. As always, his expressive detachment and refusal to sentimentalize (no sensitive victims here ) established an almost archeological perspective, as if we were viewing fragments of the collapse of 20th-Century America, pieced together in some distant time and place.

This Perezian sense of distance also suffused his new "Celestial Ridge," in which Kelly Benningfield, Jill Jacobson-Bennett, Linda Hinojosa and Monique Herring kept glancing skyward during formal, moonstruck sequences set to the world-without-end shimmer of a taped score by Michael Bayer.

In their diaphanous white shifts (again fashioned by Susan Perry), these women could have been enacting an ancient night ritual or awaiting a star-borne cataclysm.

But whether they were looking for lunar omens, Halley's comet or the Chernobyl cloud, what counted most was movement design: the strong, flat, outward/upward focus of their dancing and the progressively rapid and complex reiterations of their stately limb extensions and sharply defined poses.

Like the structural rigor of the piece, its severe spatial containment eventually yielded to variation and development. However, through all its permutations, Perez sustained the impression of an eternal, cyclical process--a time-loop of gathering force and escalating intricacy that left its central enigma forever unexplained.

After eight years in Los Angeles, Perez continues to set a stratospheric standard of artistry. Surely someone of this stature, whose range extends from the immediacy of "Cold Sweat" to the timelessness of "Celestial Ridge," deserves enough support to be able to have his company perform here more often than once every 11 months.

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