Maria Gillespie's newest work, "La Hora de Salir" (The Hour of Leaving), began in sleep and ended in a kind of wakefulness. Premiered Thursday at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica by Gillespie's company, Oni Dance, the work aspired to insight into individual solitude amid the cycles of life. For one viewer, it was a rather sad dance.
At the start, Noellie Bordelet was suspended in an enveloping hammock above five dancers sprawled on the floor in what seemed to be slightly unquiet sleep. Perhaps it was a chrysalis rather than a hammock because Bordelet began to stretch into beautiful, mysterious shapes before slowly descending to alight onto the other dancers, who had massed into a group.
So began a 50-minute sequence of pairings, solos, trios and ensembles, always inventive and strongly danced and sometimes mirrored in film clips projected on a screen above the back of the stage. A sense of sleep pervaded the work, however, not only in the long opening segment in which the dancers mostly kept their eyes closed but also in the languid, dreamlike pacing and emotionless affect that characterized much of the piece.
There were delineations of need and power relationships. But these were fluid and abstract. Men walked away from women who clutched them, and women walked away from men in exactly the same way. If there was hurt, it was kept hidden.
Only toward the end did a feeling of tender connection between couples emerge. But it was short-lived. The dance ended with Bordelet walking toward the audience in what looked like a movement toward freedom. The others were left behind.
Although no strong individuality in the sense of character emerged, dancers Miyo, Nguyen Nguyen, Carlos Rodriguez, Robbie Shaw and Kevin Williamson, in addition to Bordelet, compelled attention through clear shapes and crisp articulations even when some sequences went on too long.
Unfortunately, the dancers sometimes also had to compete with film clips that drew the eye -- two dancers on opposite sides of a Chinatown street, waves crashing over rocks. These images, however, reinforced the sense of flow in the dance.
The work, Gillespie writes in a program note, "unearths the underlying tranquillity of solitude found alongside change." Tranquillity in this case looked very melancholic. Perhaps the choreographer succeeded too well in portraying a depressing aspect of life.
In addition to Gillespie's new work, Holly Johnston, artistic director of the Ledges and Bones Dance Project, danced a five-minute twisty solo, "Unbridle," from a work in progress.
Where: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica
When: 8:30 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday
Price: $16 and $18
Contact: (310) 315-1459