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Jodi Lomask’s Capacitor takes dance to the stars

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
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The 11 members of Capacitor are classifiably nocturnal creatures, meeting at night and rehearsing in the dark. At the moment they resemble bats, clinging to the studio ceiling by pulleys, flying through the air at random with the release of a rope. But in a few weeks, with the right costuming and pin lights to pierce the blackness, they'll resemble night lives of quite another order: shooting stars, comets, moons, black holes -- the stuff of Artistic Director Jodi Lomask's latest full-evening dance show, Within Outer Spaces.

They'll also look like robots, androids, and human embodiments of analog and digital systems -- the kinds of figures Bay Area audiences have come to expect from Lomask during the brisk three years in which she's elevated her Oakland-based interdisciplinary troupe to a surprising prominence. To some dance watchers Capacitor's intricately rigged, Star Trek-flavored expeditions are not really dance at all; to many others they are, to quote one revved-up Internet forum poster, "the hottest show in town." For those who flocked to sold-out performances of recent Capacitor events future species 1 and 2, the shows are canny manifestations -- and sometimes deconstructions -- of the high-tech hype surrounding us.

Lomask unleashes her 5-foot frame from her bungee harness and steps into the frigid studio hallway while her company's members continue plunging and spinning, as unaffected by her departure as the astronomical forces they imitate. She pulls up a rickety, unpainted chair, her face illuminated by flickering fluorescent lights that shut off every 10 minutes of their own volition. Her own small dwelling, also located close to the freeway in downtown Oakland, offers only a few more modern amenities than the studio. For example, it includes a computer, but no telephone or refrigerator.

Despite her removal from the mainstream, Lomask believes her work "is definitely a reflection of the culture out here. If I was in Kansas around farmers I probably would be making work about corn," she says. "And I think that's the role of the arts -- to reflect what's around them."

If so, Lomask must have ended up in just the right city, one offering not only technological buzz but cadres of the well-trained jugglers, capoeiristas, and acrobats she favors to bring her futuristic musings to life. ("We have a company class and we've taught five dancers to swing torches," Lomask says.) Silicon Valley counts among her most recent influences; before that, it was Lomask's father, a biomedical researcher and inventor who filled their New York City home with intricately wired creations, who inspired her work.

"I'm certain that growing up around some of those machines has gotten into my subconscious, all those machines going bleep, ba-boop, ba-boop, bleep," she says. "I was too young to find out what the lights, the sounds meant, but they affected me."

At 22 and fresh out of the dance department at SUNY/Purchase, Lomask "was way too ambitious to dance in other people's companies." So she checked out of modern life altogether. "I took off to Mexico and threw pottery and took tai chi," she says. "It was totally random. I lived in the mountains and nobody spoke English."

She thinks of that time as a respite from her intense fascination with technology, but it wasn't long before she moved to the Bay Area and began creating works that evoked physics and human isolation, and that instantly found an audience at raves and nightclubs. These days Capacitor is as at home on the mainstream Alice Arts Center stage as it is at the alternative Burning Man Festival. Within Outer Spaces has received a grant from the American Composer's Forum, and Lomask has even founded a think tank, called the Capacitor Lab, of astronomers and architects. "We started the lab right after future species 2 closed, and it's been really fruitful," she says. "In the new show, for every section there's an astronomical fact that works with the choreography, and we're working with images of outer space so it's really helpful to have the astronomers' input on that."

Their input fostered, subconsciously at first, the visual climax of Capacitor's new show: a "bungee cube" representing 3-D space, on which the dancers hang and bounce like children on a jungle gym. "When I started learning about what actual astronomers are thinking about these days, most of the ones I read about are trying to figure out how to map outer space, trying to find out where we are [in space] because that's the most pressing issue," Lomask explains.

To someone who thinks of life and art in terms of science, the predicament is as much an emotional puzzle as it is an intellectual one. "Human beings don't know where they are," Lomask says. "I call it "infinite aloneness.' We all have that feeling. We have it here in the city. The Earth is in a city of heavenly bodies and we don't have the map."

About The Author

Rachel Howard

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