Review: Bebe Miller’s ‘History’ undercuts the dance at REDCAT
Bebe Miller is a contemporary choreographer of power and pertinence. But in her multimedia retrospective “A History,” she attempts to make navel-gazing into a spectator sport, undercutting her most indelible achievements.
This ambitious, overproduced 75-minute exercise opened Thursday at the REDCAT in Walt Disney Concert Hall for a four-day run. “At once an archive and an installation as well as a performance piece,” in Miller’s words, it enlists text, video, music, title slides and an elaborate scenic environment, but the only indispensable contributions come from Miller company dancers Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones.
Much of the time, Hauser remains composed, centered, even placid while Jones stays unsparingly twisty, flung out and explosive. The contrast appears enforced rather than innate but it certainly keeps you watching.
FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Spring arts preview
Curiously, the use of projected titles or captions seems an attempt to distance the audience from the immediacy of the performances by reminding everyone that, for the dancers, the choreographic excerpts on view are “us now doing us then” or “remembering remembering.” [sic.] But these intrusions seem more schoolmarmish than Proustian, of interest primarily to the Miller in-crowd.
For everyone else, watching Hauser and Jones in a spectacular extended duet on and over a wooden table -- a dangerously assaultive, ferocious culmination of their partnership -- is so exciting that footnotes (“Verge 2001,” followed by “Verge recalled now”) don’t add anything essential. To the contrary: Why that passive, mealy-mouthed “recalled?” “Renewed” is more like it.
The spoken passages prove even more problematic. Jones is edgy enough that you usually accept what he says. But whenever Hauser talks about her feelings, you begin to doubt that she’s ever felt anything at all. It’s almost like one of those red-carpet interviews in which you discover that a magnificent actor is hopelessly hollow. Miller should have protected Hauser from the exposure -- and protected us as well.
Miller declares herself obsessed by her past dances and, after 30 years of creative distinction, she may need some down-time to prepare for the next phase of her career. But Jones and Hauser are in their prime right now, and Miller’s self-referential bull in “A History” keeps getting in their way. Perhaps every Mariinsky ballerina facing yet another “Swan Lake” has a moment of “remembering remembering” [sic]. But the body’s truth is the core of dance. And it’s sad to see it placed off-center at the REDCAT.
The collaborators in “A History” include Hauser and Talvin Wilks (text), Michael Mazzola (lighting), Mimi Lien (set design), Michael Wall and Darren Morze (music and sound design), Lily Skove (video) and Maya Ciarrocchi (installation).
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Bebe Miller Company, REDCAT, downtown L.A. 8:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, $25; (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org
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