Dance and Music Reviews : Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble at Campus Theatre


In his 10 years as a torchbearer for Los Angeles dance, Rudy Perez has created gestural monodrama, minimalist movement ritual and art pieces subordinating dancing to graphics or sculpture. Introduced at the Campus Theatre of El Camino College on Friday, Perez’s two newest works seem more conventionally dancy than much of this output--yet they prove highly unconventional in their use of energy.

Compared to the unrelenting, neo-Fascist drive of his powerful, futuristic “Red Ice” (1982) on the same program, the force of both “Celestial Acrobats” and the briefer “Toss-Up” waxes and wanes unpredictably--often strangely but deliberately thinning out during jumps and lifts, as if Perez wanted to drain athleticism of its kinetic juice and give us dancing at once expansive and low-key.

Indeed, “Celestial Acrobats” investigates the popular idea of dancers-as-athletes, with Perez incorporating basketball paraphernalia in the choreography in much the same way that designer Nixson Borah overlays images of the dancers on sports figures in the five life-size, cutout action paintings that begin to descend onto the stage midway through the piece.


Although paired off in moody duets, Linda Hinojosa, Jeffrey Grimaldo, Anet Margot Ris and Robert Keane all spend less time looking at their partners than gazing straight front, at eye level--as if checking themselves out in a mirror.

Each dancer also has a solo with a basketball (black-and-white, like Borah’s scenic units), but these passages don’t function as showpieces so much as opportunities for self-appraisal. In a slow somersault, a long balance, a series of ankle rotations, they are testing the equipment, not performing, and much of the choreography explores this link between the dance studio and the gymnasium.

The finish line and the roar of the crowd are utterly beside the point here: Perez is examining essences and he pulls us into his vision.

Like the choreography, Scott Hiltzik’s score has an undercurrent of almost mechanical propulsion but remains essentially contemplative. For “Toss-Up,” however, he has contributed a bright complement to what seems one of Perez’s mordant commentaries on pop culture.

This time, jazz dance is the source idiom (though there’s also an outburst of Paul Taylor-style stride jumps), with the four dancers locked into wide-leaping, hip-twitching display. Clenched smiles are part of the picture, of course: Grimaldo at one point is even frozen in a grotesque mask of happy surprise. Hubbard, is that you?

As before, these familiar actions look very odd when the punch is subtracted, when performer vitality isn’t what we’re responding to. But in the welcome revival of “Red Ice,” Perez’s dancers (the same four plus Anne Goodman) show that they can project intensity all the way to the moon if required.