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Surrealistic video is highlight of uneven 'Exquisite Corpse'

BECKET -- With all the firepower Richard Move assembled for the debut of his new project at Jacob's Pillow this week, you'd think he'd have a sure fire hit. His new pick up company, MoveOpolis!, is comprised of hand-picked dancers from some of the country's top companies. And for the world premiere on the program, a Pillow commission titled ``Toward the Delights of the Exquisite Corpse," he chose a trio of high-profile collaborators: pioneering filmmaker Charles Atlas; costume designer Patricia Field (``The Devil Wears Prada," ``Sex and the City"); and New Yorker staff writer Hilton Als , who contributed the score.

Then there's Move himself, who has amassed a huge following for his impersonations of the legendary Martha Graham in his ``Martha @" shows. He also moves easily in the realm of modern dance, theater, film, television, and fashion.

All this makes the weakness of ``Exquisite Corpse" that much more disappointing. Named after a Surrealist technique from the 1920 s of creating works in which each section is produced by a different artist, the multimedia piece has a collage like feel, and the whole doesn't add up to the sum of its parts.

The weakest link is the choreography itself. No matter how intriguing the artistic vision, Move's choreography is generally not all that interesting. A fairly routine fusion of modern dance and ballet with some avant-garde touches, it feels a bit recycled and stale. It pales in comparison to Atlas' s surrealistic video, an eye-popping compendium that has little narrative flow but gathers a kind of cumulative power.

Atlas reels from geometric abstractions and neon squiggles to more concrete images -- an eye repeatedly blinking, hands caressing a face, soldiers moving in and out of trenches. The most memorable choreography immediately follows this combat scene, as a blindfolded dancer is led onstage and brusquely manipulated by the others. The reference to abusing prisoners of war is inescapable.

Field's costumes of silver lame and pink make the dancers look like futuristic high-fashion robots. Als' s sound score ranges from a thundering wash of repeated notes on piano to a spoken text about ``gay guerillas . . . someone who would sacrifice his life for a point of view." There is a slightly political subtext beneath it all, but as a whole, the work is fractured and not cohesive .

The highlight of the program's first half was Catherine Cabeen's riveting tour-de-force performance of ``Lust," originally commissioned for the 2001 Jacob's Pillow program ``The Seven Deadly Sins." Retooled to omit the original's stark bobbed wig and paparazzi, the new version is a startling, slow-motion study in self-absorption.

Cabeen, who dances with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, displays extraordinary control and flexibility as she seems to explore the outer limits of what her body can do. There is almost a sense of masochism as she distends, forces, hyperextends, and over-rotates her body into grotesque contortions, as if pain will lead her out of a drug-induced haze.

Otherwise, Miguel Anaya gave a muscular performance of ``Dilemma," and Kristen Irby, Kevin Scarpin, and Blakeley White McGuire sailed through ``Verdi for Three."

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