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'Prone' explores the impact of perspective

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

CONCORD -- John Jasperse's startling ``Prone" doesn't so much throw open doors of perception as illuminate the contents on the other side of the wall.

The 70-minute blend of movement, original music by Zeena Parkins, and design elements ranging from skirted light bulbs to Mylar panels suspended from the ceiling is an investigation of the particulars of perspective: that is, how truth -- indeed, reality -- depends on your vantage point. It is, in turn, mind-bending and amusing, restful and jarring.

Jasperse -- who both choreographed the piece and designed the set -- has carefully placed 24 clear-plastic blow-up mattresses in a grid in the center of the performance area. The audience alternates between stretching out on those mattresses and sitting in chairs lining two sides of the space. The three dancers -- all strong, sure-footed performers -- step and collapse, slither and collide among the rows of spectators, now jackknifed over a prone gray-haired man, now nearly nose to nose with a seated young woman. In one hilarious interlude, transparent , balloon-like plastic spheres inflate repeatedly between the legs of the resting participants -- peeking out from a skirt here, unsettling the legs of a woman there. They're as incongruous as bubbles on a park bench.

By far, the most provocative place to be is on the floor. The movement, though weighty and intense, is not all that inventive on its own. With the dancers -- Luciana Achugar, Levi Gonzalez, and Eleanor Hullihan -- squatting over you or swinging a leg just shy of your face, or piled up atop one another with sweat marks in their wake, Jasperse's ideas hit home with both an intellectual and a physical force.

You turn your head left and see one thing -- say, a sliver of Achugar's back through the bottom half of Gonzalez's legs. Then you look up into the Mylar and see the reflection of a whole other world. The experience brings to mind the philosophical underpinnings of the novels of French postmodernist Alain Robbe-Grillet , whose repetitions and splintered ``objective" descriptions show that it's the viewer who imposes meaning on scenes and events; the pieces and players don't hold significance in themselves.

In one crystalline example of Jasperse's theme, all three dancers lie on the ground with their arms bent at the elbows, their hands now slapping down, now bobbing or half-waving in the air. Or at least that's what I see (and hear) from my bouncy plastic roost. But if I shift my gaze, there's so much else: a one-dimensional version of the trio's hand dance in the Mylar overhead; the white slipper bottoms of the person (man or woman?) lying at my feet; a child sitting along the perimeter dressed in a fuzzy yellow duck suit.

It's remarkable how much emotion such non-narrative events can arouse. At one point the dancers skitter around placing lavender-scented pillows on the eyes of the prone viewers. The fabric is cool, the pressure soothing. But then the ground begins to shake from thumping runs, and plastic squeaks around me: Has everyone left the performing space but me? Should I take off the pillow and look? Instinctively, I reach out to touch my neighbor.

``Prone" may be about ideas, but in the end it's the humanism at its core -- our vulnerability as participants, how the performers' bodies shape those concepts in blood, sweat, and tears -- that lingers when the lights come up.

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