Full-on freak out 

Zoetic Ensemble pushes it real good

It opened Halloween night, so it was appropriate to find hell's own high-impact aerobic workout, danced by succubi who, despite their seductive forms, had clearly left behind the limitations of flesh. There was Christina Reaves, compact and muscular, double-foot stomping the floor like a tantrum-throwing teen hopped up on Red Bull and rage. On the soundtrack, a crowd called through crazy-crossed rhythms while strobes pulsed to a berserker's heartbeat. Candess Giyan-Maldonado, long-limbed and agile, leapt stage-spanning yards and stood on her hands. Ellen Tshudy, the most delicate among them, tackled the other dancers, was thrown back, and hurled herself right back into the fray.

The Beam was so serene when we arrived for Zoetic Dance Ensemble's PUSH, a four-dance program that included the premiere of the adrenaline-overdosed title piece. Speaking in hushed tones, we slipped into the brick-and-stone horse stable of the old Atlanta Stockade, converted into a performance space in 1996 by Moving in the Spirit dance company.

In the hallway that passes for a lobby, silent video by subMedia's Franklin Lopez showed the dancers in softened slow motion. There were baskets of chocolate bars. We sipped soda, beer and wine.

After a brief fragment of "PUSH," the show began with "Continuum," a re-worked production of the trance dance "Continuum Groove," which Zoetic premiered at last year's SPIN. To mesmerizing organic rhythms, the dancers moved like celebrants of the sky's cycles, merging their movements with the travels of the sun. Daphanie Keit, long and graceful, entered and drew the other dancers into her orbit. Her leaps were patient and precise, and on the ground she found layers of interest in ritual movements.

It ended like an amen, the dancers prostrate on the floor, and there was a pause before the applause, a reluctance to break the reverie. As the dancers prepared for their next number, the room was utterly silent. No whispers. No nervous coughs. Still we could feel the rhythms.

"Hear No, See No, Speak No Evil," originally choreographed for Denver Contemporary Dance Theater by Roger Turner and now a fixture in Zoetic's repertory, began in silence with three dancers curled into the fetal position, rolling from side to side. They rose and formed a sculpture of covered ears, eyes and mouth. Sitting on the ground, they lifted their legs and worked them through articulations fit to make a yoga master weep. It's a dance of details and closed movement, the controlled motions of those who fear their bodies will betray them, send them slipping into sin.

Those fears come to life in "Drag," a bordello scene with weary dancers in black corsets and tights arrayed around a bright red dressing screen, a velvet chaise and a leopard-skin bar. The piece is self-consciously presentational, with the dancers' studied stares seeming to look right through the audience to a room of leering drunks. They danced like music-box ballerinas -- mechanically correct, emotionally absent -- while the exhausted voice of Tom Waits sang, "I can't help feeling as I close the door, I have done all of this many times before" (from "The Part You Throw Away").

It is, in some ways, a playful piece. The dancers worked their various attractions to flirtatious effect and slipped bits of slapstick into moments the paying customers aren't supposed to see. There is also a kinesthetic pun played with the title. But because we also see the fatigue, the cynicism and the sadness behind the scenes, "Drag" is on balance a bluesy dance that smartly deconstructs its own seductions.

But enough of intelligently choreographed inertia. "PUSH" was all drive and intensity set to a high-speed mix with a house sensibility. It's a dance impatient with rhythm, too restless to be restrained. It trades the sleepy saloon of "Drag" for an all-night rave with an oxygen bar: It dances the excesses of energy.

Zoetic has a reputation in the Atlanta dance community as the company to train with to get in shape. There are other companies with more sophisticated choreography, better-funded productions and grander sociopolitical ambitions, but Zoetic develops many of the strongest and most agile modern dancers in Atlanta.

The physical demands of "PUSH" are enormous: gigantic leaps, kicks and collisions, frenzied motion, all-out sprints across the stage. But there are also artful tensions in the dance. Reaves and Cynthia McGuinness crawled slowly past dancers moving fast but getting nowhere. Giyan-Maldonado later paired controlled three-limb studies balanced on one solid leg with Reaves' surreal full-on freak out.

It was an end to the evening that left us wanting the evening not to end. The Beam was quiet again; the steady rhythms of "Continuum" were gone. But we were twitching to a faster tempo. A man wearing a velvet cape and a bowler left with a woman in a gypsy dress. A woman dressed in corporate goth (black power suit, smudged on mascara) was holding a pair of wings in her hand. Out of The Beam we went, much too awake, oblivious to the stars, hearing only the racing rhythm of the city.




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