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Bebe Miller explores our place in the world

Bebe Miller's dusky multimedia "Landing/Place" hovers in that space between sleeping and waking like lucid dreaming. Here, meaning doesn't announce itself but sifts into consciousness. The 70-minute dance will blow your mind wide open.

Sparked, in part, by Miller's trip to Eritrea, the piece explores, in all its complexity, the value of place: How it can both define who we are (home keeps us grounded) and disrupt our sense of ourselves (unfamiliar cultures disorient us). "How important is it to know where you're going?" Miller asks in a bit of spoken text, referring as much to life paths as geography. Can you change your direction in midstream? And what about the people you meet ? Must you translate their language -- spoken and physical -- in order to connect, or risk losing your equilibrium?

Translation may be central to "Landing/Place," but the piece is anything but literal. Images -- projected on two scrims and conjured up through movement, at once elegant and awkward, sensual and stark -- do the talking. Digitalized motion-capture technology cracks dancers into constellations. Vita Berezina-Blackburn's animated houses move about like checkers on a board. Maya Ciarrocchi's video displays an open window with fluttering curtains, behind which clouds morph into poufy characters in a trance-dance. Composer Albert Mathias sits by the stage, plucking at his slide guitar .

Tying the elements together, like a lilting leitmotif, is a tiny wooden house (birds could live there) that now sits center stage, now is tossed among Miller's five lush and thrumming dancers. It's as much a symbol of comfort as of longing. Miller has crafted an iconographic vocabulary of her own, with the help of her dancers: vibrating hips and unison stomping lunges, arms twirled inside sweaters and faces framed by another's encircled arms; even bodies, Miller seems to say, are windows into lives.

In this multifaceted environment, nature is both a nurturer and a destroyer, Miller notes, as images of floods and fires fill the scrims. Landscape begets behavior: torrents of water may collapse houses, but humans will rebuild. Toward the close of the piece, the dancers suck on lemons, natural as day, shortly after the narrator speaks of a woman starting a lemon stand, her part in building a city. It's in our DNA, Miller seems to say, to define our sense of place.


Bebe Miller Company

"Landing/Place," presented by CRASHarts at the Institute of Contemporary Art, last night (program repeats tonight and tomorrow)