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A CurtainUp Review
(w)HOLE, The Whole History Of Life on Earth

Scene from (w)HOLE
(Photo: Kevin Kennefick )
I confess: I want to be a LAVA girl. And as long as I'm being honest, I might as well tell you that I had a stint as a tumbling student at LAVA's studio last year (the class was not taught by any company members, though they would occasionally drop in for a quick workout), and now, especially after seeing (w)HOLE, I don't know why I stopped, and I want to go back.

LAVA is an all-female dance-theater-circus company. As you may be able to guess from their name, the performance works they create are linked to nature in some way. This particular work at the Flea Theater focuses on geology, and the history of the earth's changes (hence the Stephen Hawking-esqe show title). There are flips, trapeze work, group balancing, and twists and turns, among other things. Performed with the audience surrounding all sides of a square mat area, and with volcano videos off in the corner, the energy level in this small theater is always at peak, whether the music is their own electronic-like theme song or the folksy Devendra Banhart.

The thematic aspects in the content of this show are often elusive, even mysterious. I'll admit that I can't explain some of their prop and movement choices -- beats me why one of them sometimes put on a shiny pilot's cap and sunglasses, or why they chose the moments they did to do weight balancing tricks. But it doesn't really matter. These ladies rule. They are ferocious, fervent, feminine, and not at all frail. If it takes a not-completely-clear throughline for them to create the movement and moments that they do, so be it.

There is, of course, some spectacle involved, but this is old school spectacle of the most wholesome kind and definitely okay for kids . In front of you -- live -- are female bodies being pushed to their limits, and creating new capabilities through their relationships with one another. No special effects, no computer-generated film sequences.

Sarah East Johnson leads LAVA, but there is no one star of the show. Each company member makes the performance their own, sometimes being serious, more often being silly or satirical with themselves and each other. And one is sorry to see the performance end. I, for one, wanted more.

I realize that I lapsed in my tumbling attendance because what I enjoy most is watching these original pros. But still, I grabbed a new class schedule on my way out of the theater, and have serious intentions for the future.

{w)OLE, the Whole History Of Life on Earth
Conceived and Directed by Sarah East Johnson
Created and Performed by: LAVA: Natalie Agee, Molly Chanoff, Eugenia Chiappe, Diana Y Greiner, Sarah East Johnson and Rebecca Stronger

Lighting Design: Chloe Z Brown
Costume Design: Liz Prince
"Lava Song" by Kaia Wilson
Stage Manager: Cara Dehart
Music: Steve Hamilton
Video Projections: Heather DeLaney
Bathroom Video Diaries: Sini Anderson and Bob Alotta
Visual Design: Nancy Brooks Brody
Spoken Words: Sini Anderson and Capital B
Video Volcanologists: Maurice and Katia Krafft
Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street (Between Broadway and Church) 212/352-3101
Thursday to Saturday at 7pm, Sunday at 5pm
From 1/12/06 to 2/19/06
Tickets: $20 to- $25; $15 if you are a repeat offender
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on a January 12, 2006 performance.
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