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Dancers get down to basic elements in 'Air & Water'

Arts reviews

WESTON -- For her most recent dance project, Christine Bennett pares down to the basic elements. However, "Air & Water" not only uses these elements as raw materials, but as springboards for vivid, provocative metaphors that are not only imaginative but viscerally satisfying.

The evening's first half, "The Net," features Bennett and her dancers (Andrea Blesso, Mary McCarthy, and DeAnna Pellecchia) exploring a visually stunning 26-by-18-foot web of ropes, grids, and ladders (originally designed by Dutch artist Pieter Smit for choreographer Dawn Kramer).

While the netting provides a challenging landscape for the dancers to traverse, it both enables and confines, alternately ensnaring them and allowing them the vehicle to become airborne, spinning, dipping, hovering. Time after time, they move away only to be drawn back, like flies lured to a spider's web.

One dancer effortlessly skims to the top of the netting then inches her way down backward, head first, as the others lay trapped beneath, straining upward. In one duet, two dancers tug at the ropes as if trying to tame a wild beast. In another section, a dancer seems to get hopelessly entangled in the weave until she drops into the arms of her mates.

The most memorable image foretells the "Water" section of the evening. Three women balance on their stomachs on parallel rungs of the ladder, their arms and legs softly waving as if swimming through the air.

Some of the theatrics seem a little overwrought and the piece is decidedly muscular, with not enough attention to connective movements. While compelling, it is less powerful than it could be. However, the imagery is striking, and that's ultimately what resonates.

The first element evoked in the poetic "The Well" is actually not water but fire. Four women (here McCarthy is replaced by Ingrid Schatz) wheel onstage a 4-by-4-foot copper box (designed by Michael Dowling).

As it slowly spins, reddish light glinting off the metal creates flamelike flickers on the walls and ceiling. But when the top is removed, the box is revealed as a well-like tub from which the dancers draw large buckets of water. As they dance in and around the tub the streaming water suggests cleansing, sustenance, baptism, oblivion.

It's fascinating to watch, though the intent never really coheres and the tone is uncomfortably murky in spots. When one dancer flops unceremoniously head first into the drink or another thrashes wildly as if grappling with a giant fish, one isn't sure whether to be amused or fearful. But perhaps ambiguity is the intent.

In any event, it isn't business as usual. "Air & Water" continues Bennett's trend of pushing boundaries. With her penchant for collaborative invention, she has one of the most original choreographic voices in Boston.

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