“Drink wine. Eat soup. Ask questions.” These are choreographer Cid Pearlman’s instructions to the audience before curtain at Economies of Effort: 3. These words are far from the soothing “silence your cellphones and locate the nearest emergency exit” that we’ve come to expect at the kickoff of a dance performance, and serve to set the tone for the entertaining and provocative experience that is to come.
The initial two-weekend-long run of the production at Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz (the company moves to the Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco, in April) takes place in a courtyard bristling with fanciful fountains and sculptures made of found objects. The backdrop includes, among other objects, half-melted vintage Apple computers, a phone booth that looks suspiciously like the scene of a crime, and a PG&E utility pole resting at a graceful angle against the gallery fence. Much of the hardware is the handiwork of Robbie Schoen, sculptor, gallery director, and Cid Pearlman accomplice on this and other projects. The area is also strewn about with plywood boxes constructed by the dancers themselves in Economies of Effort:1, an earlier incarnation of this performance series.
At the top of the show, Pearlman’s company of 15 dancers disperses to various corners of the sculpture garden and gallery to engage each other in mysterious and intriguing rituals. Between outbursts of dance, they take turns chopping vegetables and stirring the soup in a stockpot simmering on a burner in the garden.
The audience is invited to wander.
In one spot, dancers haul each other up to kiss the bright light at the top of a sagging street lamp. In another, a sextet of women repeatedly slams into a gallery wall, exploring it, scaling it, attacking it in impressive unison. Elsewhere, a quartet nuzzles and nudges a woman on top of a card table. At first the action seems playful. But when the group starts sloshing a basin of water over the woman's head, thoughts of waterboarding come to mind.
In this whimsical playground, the interactions, though mostly lighthearted and droll, often seem deliberately ambiguous. Inside a plywood box, a pair of dancers clamber acrobatically around each other, and over and around a pair of chairs. A sliver of artificial turf lying outside the box, like a welcome mat or a hint of lawn, suggests that this modest space is their home. Their fun-loving maneuvers morph into something more serious: a commentary on the Bay Area housing crisis.
The most searing sequence is a stylized wrestling match involving three men and a woman, who grapple barefoot inside the tight confines of an area inside the gallery painted checkerboard black and white. The dancers move to the haunting sounds of electric violin and cello emanating from a nearby laptop.
Economies of Effort is a title that suggests hard times and hard work. But for the audience (limited to 35 in each run) the performance feels luxurious. Watching these distinctive dancers at such close quarters, at whatever angles we choose, with the liberty to come and go and share our thoughts with others as we please, is a rare pleasure. We know the show is over when the dancers take their bows in an eerie light thrown off by the steam rising from the stockpot and the murmur of “soup’s ready” ripples through the crowd.
Economies of Effort:3 runs for one more weekend in Santa Cruz (Mar. 24 – 27) then migrates to the Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco from Apr. 8 – 9. Admission is free, part of Cid Pearlman’s “Year of Free.”