New York Times Dance Review

December 8, 2007
Claudia La Rocca

Many Americans harbor a mythical California of the mind: not the ephemeral Hollywood world of tabloid trash and tans, but an idea of open space and giant natural forms, of dust-wreathed taco stands and endless highways running along the Pacific.

These are clichés too, but of a primal, necessary sort. They are a window into the American imagination, one thrown wide open in “C.L.U.E.” (the letters stand for color, location, ultimate and experience), a film, music and movement installation at Performance Space 122 this week.

Conceived, choreographed and performed by the dance duo robbinschilds (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs), the work features an evocative, driving score performed live by the rock band Kinski, another ace lighting design by Joe Levasseur and A J Blandford’s set, which suggests a rocky outcropping and offers up several surprises.

But the star of the show is an imagistic film by robbinschilds and A. L. Steiner, projected on two walls and featuring Ms. Robbins and Ms. Childs inhabiting a variety of California landscapes, from a giant redwood forest to the Joshua tree-studded desert.

Wearing an ever-changing, brightly hued selection of outfits that toe the line between hipster chic and matronly, the two women cavort on empty highways and do a strange, lunging walk-dance in a parking lot at night. Dressed in vibrant red, they pick their way through a lonely world of scrub and rock; the viewer sees them only intermittently, the way birds reward those watchers who are patient enough to wait. Wearing white, they run through a graveyard of compacted cars like early-morning spirits.

Live, these same minimalist movements (rendered in the same shifting wardrobe) feel less elemental and more performative. The delivery is both childlike and seductive; the women seem paradoxically aloof from and caught up in Kinski’s sonic landscape as they slither up the rocks and over the sand-covered floor. They are restless, and at times you feel restless, too, as if you had spent too many hours in a car, watching stirring images pass by but never directly engaging with them yourself.

Such is the drifty energy of a road trip, and “C.L.U.E.” offers a meditation on this deeply American drive to speed through the world without being fully in it. Often the film runs backward, leaving a landscape emptied of its dancers, or of breaking waves sucked back into the ocean. Artists, like all explorers, need the promise of untouched worlds.

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