Make a choice, folks. You can watch Sarah East Johnson’s joyful, lusty [w]HOLE from the seats at either end of the Flea or the single rows along the sides. You may want a particular angle on the videos of a volcano—quiescent or erupting— with scientists prowling, or a good view of the revolving disk-cum–video screen that, thanks to Chlo Brown’s lighting, repeatedly eclipses its own shadow. A side-row chair gets you closer to the hunky performers. At midpoint, Johnson will ask you all to shift seats anyway.
[W]HOLE is an acronym for an ambitious title, The [whole] History of Life on Earth. The word hole might guide us to thinking this is history according to women. Johnson’s aesthetic involves female strength and acrobatic prowess. The members of Lava—Johnson, Natalie Agee, Molly Chanoff, Eugenia Chiappe, Diana Y. Greiner, and Rebecca Stronger—go to circus school. As we arrive, they’re practicing stunts like running up a colleague’s back and standing on her shoulders. Johnson also studies geology; molten magma crystallizing into layers of rock, tectonic plates shifting, the push and pull of magnetism, and lava flow inform her choreographic choices. As the women race around, diving, vaulting, and somersaulting, we can imagine stones thrown up by a volcanic eruption. When Greiner and Chanoff do almost every rough-and-tumble thing possible while roped together, we intuit natural forces jostling.
These performers have gotten extremely skillful. In a comradely, homespun atmosphere, they startle you with their trapeze duos—rotating around each other, or one hanging hooked on her partner’s feet by her crotch and neck. They’re whizzes at diving through hoops set on end atop one another and landing, say, on another’s upraised feet. Stronger can hold all four of her mates off the floor.
Even the less virtuosic acts are enjoyable; Chiappe dons magnetic boots and picks up can lids. Some of the vamping and gesturing seems fake compared with the directness of everything else, but we get the links between humanity and the earth that turn Johnson on. The spoken words of Capital B break through Steve Hamilton’s score: “This lava came up from the core of the earth/Fought its way through gravity/To make the rock of my walk.”