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Dance and Music Reviews : 25-Year Retrospective of Rudy Perez Career at LACE

At Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) for two weekends, the invaluable 25-year survey of Rudy Perez’s choreographic career also offers a cavalcade of American self-delusion: the subject of so many of his finest pieces.

Danced by Anne Goodman, Jeffrey Grimaldo, Anet Margot Ris and Robert Keane (Perez’s current company), the six-part program traces the evolution of postmodern camouflage, from the unyielding, proletarian, warrior-woman facade shown in the 1964 “Bang-Bang” solo to the mindlessly ingratiating, unisex veneer of the group in Perez’s new untitled work-in-progress.

Beyond their bold spatial statements and inventive sequencing ploys, most of these works are character portraits. Nearly all of them heighten and abstract the defensive subterfuges of our society and then provide startling revelations of vulnerability.

All of a sudden, isolated and self-absorbed individuals may huddle together protectively as in “Parallax” (1975). Or a face-in-the-crowd may stop methodically measuring himself by his job and touch himself tenderly, as in “System” (1975). Perez has a sharp eye for the way we define ourselves by stance and style--but these works are filled with compassion for the fear and pain under all that role-playing.

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In the solos “Coverage” (1970) and “In Plain Sight” (1981), he explores shopworn symbols of masculinity and femininity in our culture: the jock construction worker and the vixen in lingerie.

The movement cliches adopted by these archetypes may be different--forceful athleticism for the man, seductive undulation for the woman--but Perez finds the same desperation underneath, the same agonizing loss of control.

Even the smirking imbeciles of the newest piece periodically slap their necks and wince, as if stung by insects, and doesn’t the pole-wielding Amazon of “Bang-Bang” momentarily slump (soften), too?

If the Perez retrospective confirms that the focus of our counterculture has shifted over the past quarter century from social activism to fashion-mongering, it suggests that we are still unable to efficiently insulate ourselves from our humanity. And that may be our only hope.

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To perform these pieces requires great clarity of gesture and pose, plus mastery of their demanding, interlocking movement disciplines. But none of this is worth very much if the soul doesn’t speak--and the level of eloquence proved definitely muted at LACE last Thursday.

The spectacular exception--Keane’s meticulous portrayal of eroding machismo in “Coverage"--supplied exactly the kind of moment-by-moment permutation that makes time stop in a Rudy Perez work and a chain of hidden insights become brilliantly coherent. If Keane’s colleagues often looked tentative or generalized in comparison, this was still a major event in local dance-theater.

The final three performances of the Perez retrospective take place Thursday through Saturday , with changes in casting for the solos on alternate nights.


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