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Taking Up Space

New performance measures dimensions of the mind and body

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LABCO enters its Private Domain.
  • LABCO enters its Private Domain.

For nearly nine months, LABCO Dance artistic director Gwen Hunter Ritchie's life has been about space. During that time, she has been hard at work creating space inside her home -- and her body -- for her soon-to-be born second child. She's also been creating Private Domain, LABCO's latest production at the New Hazlett Theater, where the company will explore many different conceptions of space.

The program's first work, Ritchie's 8-minute solo "La Femme en Flammes" (2004), was inspired by Salvador Dali's anthropomorphic bronze sculpture of a woman who has drawers coming out of her chest and flames running up her backside. The performance, Ritchie says, is about a woman who uses a cool facade to disguise a tumultuous "inner wilderness." Helping to convey that vision will be a nature-themed video montage composed by University of South Florida professor and video artist Lynne Wimmer.

It was the New Hazlett's unique interior architecture that provided inspiration for "Interior Spaces," says LABCO choreographer Jennifer Keller. The 20-minute work will use live and pre-recorded video projections to explore space in its mental, physical and theatrical dimensions.

Set to an original ambient music by composer Andy Hafenpflug, and using a 6-foot moving sculpture made out of old television sets, Keller's work will create a shifting landscape of light and imagery. The trio of dancers, Keller says, will move with an attraction "like moths to a light." The piece also features a duet of sorts, in which a dancer performs with a life-sized projection of herself. In another portion of the work, a camera will be turned on audience members: Live images of their facial expressions will be projected, providing improvisational material for the dancers to interpret.

After seeing a performance of Pavel Zustiak's "Le Petit Mort" last December, Ritchie was so moved that she asked the Czech-born choreographer -- who won the 2007 Princess Grace Award -- on the spot to create a new work for LABCO. The result is Zustiak's "S[even]," a 35-minute otherworldly experience in which everyday objects -- shirt, hat, coat, etc. -- hang suspended in ice blocks, slowly thawing, as dancers, themselves seemingly suspended in time, fill the stage.

Set to Zustiak's own industrial soundscape for the work, "S[even]" tries to capture and preserve moments in life while questioning what determines what will be remembered and what will be forgotten.

As with Keller's work, Zustiak will make full use of the New Hazlett's interior space: Set- and costume-designer Nick Vaughn will be erecting a house made out of transparent plastic to go with the hanging frozen objects.

Costumed in Vaughn's simple 1960s-era gray dresses, five dancers will join Ritchie and baby to make up the seven-member cast of "S[even]." Zustiak sees the work as being series of images that connect thematically rather than having a linear storyline. Its title, he says, was chosen in part for its cryptic meanings in folklore and religion.

"My ambition is to achieve in dance what David Lynch has done for movies," says Zustiak: creating a space "where you are drawn in and you intuitively follow a story that you cannot quite put your finger on."

Private Domain's unique blend of imagery, technology and use of theater space may contain a lot you can't quite put your finger on, but audiences are sure to try.

Private Domain 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 30, and Sat., Dec. 1; 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 2. New Hazlett Theatre, Allegheny Square, North Side. $15; $10 students/seniors ($20; $15 students/seniors at the door); Dec. 2 is "pay what you can." 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org

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