Stage

-- Michael Scott Moore

Into the Wouds
Woud. Choreography by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Performed by Rosas. Music by the Duke Quartet. Presented by San Francisco Performances at Center for the Arts, 700 Howard (at Third Street), Oct. 9-12. Call 392-4400.

Seeing Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Woud ("Wood") is like sitting on a sand dune's crest watching the wildest ocean rise in perfect waves -- and then break against a wall of rock. In the waves' persistence -- their elegant, uncalculating dumbness -- there's something unnerving and familiar. Just before a full surge shatters, I make a wish to a godless universe: This time, let the wave ride right over the rocks, unscathed. In its waves of movement and the larger meanings they evoke, Woud is all about this hope for an accident of transformation: for our individual selves to become something greater, for illusion to turn into truth.

In Woud (which had its U.S. premiere at Center for the Arts earlier this month), the single straight line of the dancers' bodies repeatedly fractures, as if something inside, like breath, had broken out. Just as the dancers are hitting the deepest point of a perfectly straight-backed grand plie, their backs suddenly fold and they tumble to the floor with such force that they're instantly rolled back up to their knees. But the pull of their thrown torsos sends them along the ground again. And, propelled by the pendulum swing of their heads, dancers leap, turning in the air before they slide back to the floor. Rosas, Keersmaeker's company, mesmerizes us with myriad variations on the basic theme of rising and falling.

Over time, these variations begin to suggest a story of elusive intimacies. The dancers first encounter one another through accidents of timing, pairing up by grazing shoulders in some kind of race. Even lifts occur in motion, with men running as they catch women (conventional in this regard, Keersmaeker always has the man lift the woman) and continuing to run even after she's in his arms, arching her back around his waist, or lying -- a thin line -- over his head. They swirl around each other, descending to the floor before their union quickly dissolves. As the small and constant crescendos and decrescendos of the three-part score (Berg's Lyrical Suite, Schsnberg's early Verklarte Nacht, and Wagner's Wesendonck Lied No. 3) move from dissonance to lyricism, the duets stretch out in time, and a few dancers return again to the same partners. But that magic where a chance encounter's suggestion of intimacy somehow slides into fact never occurs. At the close of a particularly playful and gentle duet, an exultant Kosi Hidama dances a faunlike hymn to his god of desire; his partner (Iris Bouche) walks off blankly -- and doesn't look back.

The dance draws us just to the edge of romantic trance -- and then yanks us away. Keersmaeker wants us to notice that some of our dearer things are made of illusion -- which is why they disintegrate when attention is withdrawn. When Bouche turns and leaves, no romance is left behind. Woud is not just sad; it's subtly urgent, too. At the dance's conclusion, a spotlight follows two members of the crew dismantling a few of the silver birches that have served as Woud's setting. After they exit, lights that until now have suffused the stage in a dusky mildness suddenly blare like a bare bulb. A lone dancer (Cynthia Loemij) twitches -- does battle -- among the wreckage: the trees split in half, their insides exposed. No wood core, it turns out, just strips of metal. As we watch the dance tear itself open, just as, earlier, we watched it expose the workings of romance, we realize its interior isn't where we thought it was. The dance might have been in the wood to start, but now it's in us. And if we grow oblivious, it won't be anywhere.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Wild Thing
Just Wild About Harry. By Henry Miller. Directed by Paul D'Addario. Starring Jennifer Welch, Chloe Taylor, and Ian Hirsch. At Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Turk), through Oct. 25. Call 673-3847.

Just Wild About Harry is the only play Henry Miller ever published, and he probably never meant it to be staged, since he ignored the plight of directors and threw in, for fun, a talking bird, an elevated train, and a shattering plate-glass window. Miller was a champion improviser, and if his play isn't what you might call good (meaning focused, involving, infectious), it's still exuberant. He outfits a melodramatic love triangle between two women and a lowlife named Harry with surreal giant rats, Smokey the Bear, a life-after-death scene, a beer vendor (who sells brew to the audience at $2 a can), the aforementioned talking bird, and routines lifted straight from vaudeville.

The two women are a whore named Jackie and Harry's ex-pregnant ex-girlfriend, Jeanie. Harry avoids Jeanie after she has an abortion; he meets Jackie in a bar, learns that she's a prostitute, and becomes her pimp. When Jackie threatens his livelihood by planning to set up a manicure studio, Harry complains and finally hits her. In the meantime Jeanie is searching for Harry with a pistol, which, like all traditional stage guns, eventually goes off.

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