'Species' is riveting as it evolves

by Karen Campbell, Globe Correspondent
Published 10/22/2001
The Boston Globe


In the glare of a spotlight, a lone dancer hovers, twisting, turning, and bending, a 6-foot-tall section of scaffolding balanced precariously on his back. As he leans down to the floor, seemingly pinned by the metal frame, it is hard not to reference the past month's tragedy of death and destruction. But just as surely, he carefully rises, the bars of scaffolding seeming to outline the wings of some resilient bird, a phoenix rising from the ashes.

''Endangered Species,'' by the Western Massachusetts-based Wire Monkey Dance, is laden with powerful, striking imagery that puzzles and provokes. The most obvious image is that of monkeys cavorting in the jungle. High atop 20-foot mobile scaffolds, the seven dancers engage in flights of acrobatic fancy, flipping, swinging, balancing with a gymnastic skill and grace enlivened by freeform simian glee.

However, confronted with the encroachment of black-clothed, grim-faced stagehands who move the scaffolds and carry ramps on and off, they cower in fear, huddling for comfort. Are they animals whose habitats are being invaded or humans whose shelters are being methodically, unceremoniously destroyed?

In one section, the scaffolding is pulled apart into two wide-angled frames, each pulled by a dancer circling slowly like a yoked ox. Kathy Couch's vibrant lighting casts shadows of ever-changing geometric configurations against the back wall as the scaffolds revolve and dancers duck and run to avoid being caught in some monster machine.

Humor comes in the form of three yokels pretending to watch TV, reacting hilariously in slow motion. But darkness falls again as the scaffolding pulls farther apart to reveal jagged edges upon which a dancer seems to be impaled. Though it gets a bit literal when the dancers tether themselves as a video shows a spider eating its prey, ''Endangered Species'' is thought-provoking stuff.

The video adds another visual element, though it is mostly an abstract play of color and light. The most important complement is Stephen Katz's terrific score of driving electronics and percussion with natural sounds.

Wire Monkey Dance, led by Saliq Francis Savage and Jennifer Polins, made its debut as a company just last year. With the towering scaffolds and daring physicality of the multimedia ''Endangered Species,'' the company has established a distinctive profile. This new work is beautifully conceived, vividly imaginative, and superbly performed. It is both visually riveting and viscerally thrilling.

This story ran on page C6 of the Boston Globe on 10/22/2001. Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.