Ashleigh Leite has only been choreographing for a few years, and she danced in Stephen Petronio’s company for over eight (1997-2005). It’s only natural that when she flings an arm forward and the opposite leg back in a particular way, little Petronio flashes go off in my brain. But Leite has a distinctive personal style; a small, strong woman, she coats her athleticism with softness and a kind of sensual heat. And she has smart ideas of her own.
Her new Crawl Space teases our eyes with differing perspectives on the same event and invites us to ponder ideas about concealing and revealing. Before the piece starts, the spectators, seated along both of the church’s long walls, can choose to gaze at the actual space or virtual views of it captured by small video cameras. These are attached to monitors lined up along the floor in front us (five to a side). When the lights go out, the monitors still glow; the cameras see what we can’t. It’s scary. Especially when I discern on the monitor farthest to my right what looks like a faraway head of hair. I get it: Dancers, one by one, crawl on their bellies along the floor, close to each bank of spectators. As an invisible live performer slithers through the darkness, her hand gropes onto one screen not long after her feet leave another.
Once Kathy Kaufmann’s sensitive lighting beams onto Gina Bashour, LoMa Familar, Tara Lorenzen, Meredith McCanse, Sandy Tillett, and Leite, the monitors become decor (set design by Denis Gillingwater). But you can still choose to look at the screens’ small, oddly angled views of the reality before you. Leite herself sets the tone—stabbing and kicking the air, twisting, whipping her arms around, springing into canted, turning jumps, and shaking her head as if to get rid of disturbing thoughts. All the women are gutsy, juicy movers, although what they want to accomplish is unclear—at least initially. Two of them (I forget which) attempt unison, but can’t quite achieve it. Familar and Bashour tangle together on the floor; so do Leite and Tillett, but less knottily. Pavel Zustiak’s sound design surrounds them with loops of rumblings, knockings, and speeding trains.
There are some vivid passages of movement: a solo for Lorenzen, a bout for three pairs, a slow solo for McCanse. This tall dancer, glamorous in a silky, pleated gray costume by Emma Hoette, moves slowly into a pause in the action as if born to be heroic, but she’s always slightly, fascinatingly, off-balance. I want to wonder about these women more than I do—that is, I want to see something more than wonderful dancing. During the first part of the dance, an undercurrent of pent-up feelings never quite bubbles to the surface. Then the piece heats up. The dancers, now prostrate facing the altar, start dragging one another back by the feet and wrestling furiously. Whenever anyone breaks free, she races back to lie face down again. It’s a terrific sequence. In twos and threes, the women really tussle; you fear for them. And each encounter ends further from the altar, as if to denoted progress from yardline to yardline in a bizarre form of football. The scraps of military percussion in Zustiak’s score egg them on.
The performers don’t direct their final outburst to one another, though. Instead, they start scattering the little cameras around, tipping some over. As Kaufmann’s calms the lighting, and the noise stops, they retreat slowly, leaving us with skewed visions of an empty battlefield.