So maybe House of Lucky isn't Ginsberg reading at City Lights. But Wortham's poetic, heartfelt performance does give us an offbeat insight into a Gen-X brand of alienation. There can be a theater that speaks to today's disaffected youth; and, when Impact's shows sell for five bucks a ticket, there's no excuse to keep that Friday night reserved for MTV.

-- Frederick Luis Aldama

Violence at a Distance
Ballet Preljocaj. Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj. Presented by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), Oct. 1-3.

Violence moves to center stage in the three works French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj's strong, versatile troupe performed at Yerba Buena Theater this weekend. The angel in his Annonciation is no fluffy, beatific presence, but a hard-edged woman who is cold and rough with Mary, taking devotion without asking. Pushing the 1923 Nijinska original to its limits, Preljocaj's Noces (Weddings) presents marriage as an inescapably brutal pact with the mob. And his radical revision of Fokine's 1911 Le Spectre de la Rose (The Rose's Ghost) transforms the gallant Rose into a petaled hoodlum and the girl's innocent dream into a fantasy of rape.

Although hardly likable, Preljocaj's violence is surprisingly beautiful. On their knees in Le Spectre de la Rose, the woman (Claudia De Smet) and the Rose (Stephane Loras) press chest to chest over and over again, splaying their arms wide like wings and exposing soft throats. When the Rose pushes her down and pummels his hips into hers, the woman will-lessly jerks up from the ground, then crumples back, a body stirring the dust with sharp and softening waves. By comparison, the ballroom dancing that carries on next to them -- in the frame of an enormous box, with puppet toreadors partnering marionette damsels in sprightly patterns -- is dutiful and dull.

The torrid relationships Preljocaj has exploding all over the stage may excite us, but they're not very illuminating -- either about the story they're set in, or about violence between people. What they do add to the dances, however, is a necessary heat, interrupting and acting as a counterpoint to Preljocaj's prevailing abstraction. When dancers are not throwing themselves together in terrifying abandon, they maintain a strict modernist agenda, retelling old stories not for the pleasures of narrative, but in order to provide additional commentary. The iconic character of much of the movement -- the etched clarity of limbs drawing figures in space -- distances the dance from the drama it describes, with the dancers functioning as omniscient narrators outside the story, as much as characters within it. In Preljocaj's most successful work, Annonciation, the woman playing the angel (De Smet) doesn't flap her wings or perch above Mary, but indicates her likeness to a celestial being by the hovering curves her arms assume, the mystical schema she marks in the air, and the imperious finger she points upward or hooks in the prone Mary's mouth, as if to fish out a jewel. She is a powerful idea of an angel.

A dance that interprets itself -- a metadrama -- is a brave and rigorous thing to attempt; getting us to want to watch it is another matter. It needs a hook. Some smart point about the subjects that the dances don't quite engage would do, but Preljocaj goes another way: He offers bursts of violence so lucid and free they nearly overcome his cold abstractions.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

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