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Wednesday, Feb 4 1998
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-- Michael Scott Moore

Dancing at the Sound of Light
Sonic Luminescence. Choreography by Kim Epifano. Music performed by Sally Davis, Jeannie McKenzie, Shannon McGuire, and Epifano. At Dancers' Group Studio Theater, 3221 22nd St. (at Mission), Jan. 23-Feb. 1. Call 824-5044.

Local modern-dance choreographers regularly invoke spirituality. Lately, we've seen a mishmash of faiths danced -- Tibetan Judaism in one instance, Hindu cabala and Goddess worship laced with est in others. These concoctions are usually too facile to illuminate. They reject the divided loyalties of modernism -- and modern dance. Like lapsed believers and chronic disbelievers, modern dance relinquishes spiritual and philosophical certitudes. It cherishes wanting over having, chaos over order, and chance over destiny, inhabiting the gulf that separates one from the other. Kim Epifano's Sonic Luminescence is inspired by the recently revived and faddishly worshipped writings and liturgical songs of the 12th-century common-law saint Hildegard von Bingen; it breaks with the trend of weak spiritualities and instead works from modern dance's tradition of urgent contrasts.

After walking through a lobby decorated like a naturalist's shrine -- balls of dried flowers, gathered branches, candles emitting a blue glow, and contemporary and medieval renditions of Hildegard -- we enter Dancers' Group Studio Theater to find the dancers casually, incongruously, warming up. Soon, a tape begins. It's one of those recordings that picks up every noise -- kids wailing behind women talking about bag ladies and their belief in pink sunglasses. You hear the contours of their lives. A world away from Hildegard's monastic austerity, this living room clutter is emblematic of the material Epifano will distill into her own miraculous vision. Sonic Luminescence delivers light out of clatter.

Confluences of disparate music form the heart of the evening-length work. Beginning with the taped conversation, the piece moves between fluty choral music (one of the few taped bits), the thrum of jaw harp and drum, a viola's large wide strokes, the wafting warmth of a bamboo saxophone, the dancers' hypnotic, unworded sung melodies, a cymbal's crash, and silence. The convergences and separations of these streams of music and silence are emotionally electrifying; we sense an inarticulable conviction uniting the parts.

Like the patterns of sound, the movement remains a single entity even as it switches dramatically from solo to small clusters to the full ensemble of 13 dancers who, together in the small space, have the density and vibrancy of a village. While only a few of the dancers mesmerize -- Shannon McGuire and Sri Louise embody the movement's liquid, elongated plenitude and Linda Carr the drama's profound clarity -- everyone moves with intention and necessity, and most lift and touch like they've traced many times the curves of these bodies and clothed them in some bit of the sacred.

Without the piece's occasional poetry and outbursts of story, we would understand that the women are questing but might not recognize it is a quest for the purity of intention offered by belief. When she was a child, one dancer tells us, she took a pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall: "I prayed that my cat Misty would live forever." Another woman says "I am blue" so many times and in so many ways, all while slithering and writhing about, that the words begin to divide into pulsing syllables -- a little life of sound smacking the air. Taken together, these two instances convey the dance's take on faith: Mundane or inadequate responses to the sublime, like praying for Misty, mark its parameters. But distilled into warm, human sensuality -- the work's many layers piling up and breaking apart like syllables on the lips -- the details become its core. It's a faith we can conceive being touched by.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Los Boys
Full Frontal Rudity. Written, directed, and performed by the Latin Hustlers (Al Lujan, Jaime Cortez, and Lito Sandoval). At Theater Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), through Feb. 7. Call 861-5079.

When the Latin Hustlers -- Al Lujan, Jaime Cortez, and Lito Sandoval -- claim to be exploring the place where "the Mission meets the Castro," they don't mean they're surveying Dolores Park. They mean beating pig pinatas in S/M bars, Selena support groups, and late-night Spanish TV that demonizes AIDS. Latino queers who write, perform, and engage in other dangerous artistic practices, the Hustlers exploit their peculiar perspective as gays in a traditionally macho culture, and Latino exotica in the gay world. Raunchy, resourceful, and vaguely underrehearsed, the new trio launched its first fully produced show, Full Frontal Rudity, with an ambitious array of media: spoken word, skit comedy, puppets, slide shows, and drag cabaret.

It's similar to another all-male comic threesome, Culture Clash, which began in the Mission 10 years ago, moved to Los Angeles for a doomed sitcom, and will return this year -- prodigal homeboys -- for a show at the Berkeley Rep. Both groups play with stand-up, storytelling, and performance art, though Culture Clash usually blend it all into a single-plotted show. If the Latin Hustlers' reception at Rhinoceros' Studio Theater offers any indication, they too have tapped into a major satirical artery; at times the audience members were laughing so hard during the two-hour-plus show that they drowned out the performers.

Sometimes, however, the humor suffered when the group went for the in-joke. Punch lines are delivered in Spanish, or draw on such specific cultural references that audience members interrupt their cackling neighbors for translations. A wee glossary wouldn't hurt, but the problems are made worse by deficiencies in the direction and the acting. Instead of layering the material with detailed gesture or characters, the group tends toward broad caricatures, relying exclusively on the words for any nuance. One exception to this is Lujan's unadorned story about brotherly rivalry, in which his simple movements fuse with his poetic language to hypnotic effect. Other especially promising pieces include "Open Mic at the Brown Beret Cabaret," a subtle but sharp spoof of a poetry reading, and "Corrections Connections," a skit about a cable-access dating show for prison inmates.

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