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Wednesday, Dec 24 1997
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While "Room" uses only the contact between dancers in a particular room to generate meaning, "On the Rebound" adds one more element -- balls. Dozens of them, from large to small, flood the compact space, radically changing the dancers' interactions. The piece opens with three men in shorts and striped polo shirts (Wells, Freider Mann, and Aaron Jessup) each waiting to begin a game of solitary handball. Wells signals "Start," and they bounce their balls slowly against the wall. When someone's ball strays, a small crack -- momentary suspense -- appears in their perfect unison, but the game quickly returns to its course, so calm it's eerie. Then Mann whips around and slams his ball against the wall behind him; it ricochets hard toward where the three of them were but aren't anymore: They've gone off like a starting gun, tumbled suddenly against walls and balls.

Unlike in "Room," there is little direct contact between dancers; the ball mediates. At one point, two men nearly slide chest against chest, but a ball intervenes; what might have been intimacy shifts to clinical experimentation: How can they keep the ball between them without using their hands? In another scene, an outsider (Jim Owen) in skirt and femmy top begins to drum delicate patterns on a basketball's surface. Eying this effete act with contempt, Jessup starts up a juggling frenzy, balls flying in a wild scatter over his head before he stomps off in unspoken defeat.

This final moment exposes a competitive violence that, until now, has been softened and obscured by the men's attention to their balls. Like the many things males devote themselves to -- bugs, cars, guns, record collections, all manner of sports paraphernalia, etc. -- the ball in "Rebound" fills a void in human intimacy and creates one. No moment in "Rebound" is as tender as any number of them in the women-filled "Room." But neither is "Rebound" as messy. The balls simplify and hone the action, revealing in the men the unbent concentration you see in a child at work. The men's innocence, however, is entangled with unquestioned power. As one man manifests strength through the balls he manipulates, he ignores the effect they have -- the effect he's creating -- on those in the line of fire. "On the Rebound" celebrates and condemns male play, its ebullient innocence and the complacency toward power it allows.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

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