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Robin Lakes/Rough Dance

at the Dance Center of Columbia College, March 31 and April 1 and 2

Choreographer Robin Lakes has a knack for exploring the simple but essential things in life. In Mouth, her new full-length piece, she muses on that strange opening in our face, thoroughly examining the acts of kissing, biting, suckling, talking, and eating. Their nuances are taken into account, and their ramifications toted up. "All my sins pass through my mouth in one direction or another," she states at one point--proof that there's more to the mouth than lips, teeth, and tongue. But though Lakes's ideas are good and worthy, they don't come off as well as they might. The emotional depth that usually characterizes her choreography is sadly lacking here, and her ideas never really reach the audience.

On a purely intellectual level, Mouth is fascinating. But its potential charm has gotten buried under a mountain of inappropriate music and mediocre acting. Lakes's choreography generally shines with poignant details. Her dancers here play real people doing real-people things--saying grace, scratching their heads, munching popcorn. When filled with emotion, such mundane movements can be captivating. But unfortunately, few of the dancers assembled for this piece know how to fill them. Their interpretation of Lakes's choreography is often shallow and artificial: in most of the scenes, it seems they didn't fully understand or know how to communicate the point she was trying to make.

Mouth is a collection of short dances, songs, and theatrical scenes. Food dominates most of them (so much so that it almost seems Lakes should have named the piece "Food"). Young girls with eating disorders dance obsessively with cabbages, raw meat, peaches, and popcorn. Two dancers in combat fatigues scavenge for food. A couple seduce each other with an apple. Families assemble for a meal, say grace, then start fighting. In other scenes, kissing and biting are beautifully explored as forms of communication, a smile becomes a phony mask, and an infant suckles peacefully at his mother's breast.

Running through and around these scenes is the music of Chicago composer Lloyd Brodnax King. King has quite a bit of experience composing for dance and theater (he won a Jeff award for his score for Shakespeare Repertory Company's production of Macbeth). But that experience doesn't serve him or Lakes's choreography well in Mouth. Lakes offers a number of diverse ideas, but King's music doesn't accurately reflect or amplify them. It's repetitive without being dramatic, and at times it actually seems to work against the choreography.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the long duet created for Jeffrey Carpenter and Ginger Farley, two of the strongest performers in the piece. In one section, they kiss--and continue kissing on and on as they twirl, dip, and swoon. The choreography is sensuous, passionate, and beautifully performed, but King's score plods onward, never changing rhythm or intensity, steamrolling any delicate moments the dancers create.

The effect is like putting a loud plaid skirt with a delicate organdy blouse. Each might not be bad on its own, but together they seem ugly. Perhaps Lakes didn't communicate her vision clearly enough, or perhaps the ensemble didn't have enough time to work out all the details. Whatever the cause, the result is unfortunate, because Lakes's idea has a lot of potential.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert F. Kusel.

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