Watching this evening-length performance piece, it's easy to see Martha Clarke's origins in the dance group Pilobolus: Vienna: Lusthaus (Revisited) is filled with strange transformations of the human body. But unlike most Pilobolean productions, Clarke's strings together images in the service of a single aim: re-creating fin de siecle Vienna as she imagines it. This is a dreamlike world informed by the ideas of Freud and Hitler and the images of Gustav Klimt without being tied down by any of them--a fanciful balloon floating above the concrete landscape of history. First performed in 1986 (hence the "revisited"), the piece features an equally fanciful text by playwright Charles L. Mee--the characters' conversations are both clinical and surreal, like Freud's case studies--and Richard Peaslee's original chamber music, played live. Though the tape I watched included only 5 scenes of the 32 that make up the evening, certain motifs were obvious. Clarke likes horses, both for their innate sexuality and for their pride and self-control--but after one soldier turns into a horse and prances around for the amusement of the crowd, he's suddenly stricken and falls to his hands and knees, then crawls offstage. Strength and vulnerability, unbridled sexuality and repression, life and death swap places over and over, as in a dream. And again thanks to Freud, what had been personal--dreams and sexuality--has become public: the performers consistently watch one another onstage even when they have no other role. But in the piece's central paradox, no matter how explicit these subjects become, they're no less mysterious. Especially evocative is a scene in which one dancer wearing a woman's pointy shoes on his hands seems to make love to an invisible partner, shoes waving in ecstasy, then collapsing in exhaustion: there's only the dreamer, who plays all the roles himself. And that's the world we live in today. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, 773-722-5463 or 312-902-1500. Opens Thursday, January 30, 7:30 PM. Through February 1: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $29-$35.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.