Li Chiao-Ping's evening-length "Painkillers" elicits no emotional release, but instead dissects pain's roles in our lives. Li -- whose Madison, Wis., troupe Li Chiao-Ping Dance performed Saturday at Dance Place in collaboration with video artist Douglas Rosenberg -- created a full experience, blending video, live music and dance in a program as much installation as performance. Screens on three walls of the stage encapsulated a tense world by zooming in on states of love, lust and fear, investigating pain's emotional and physical roots.
Li's choreography achieves its heights in tiny ways. Her dancers move incrementally, drawing the eye to the arch of one foot or a tiny tilt of one hip. Throughout "Painkillers," dancers trembled, their mini-seizures confined to one arm or leg. The shaking repetition gained voice explosively in a solo, as Collette Stewart heaved in a series of orgasms that were far too literal to fit within the work's abstraction.
Rosenberg's videos worked well. Close-ups of red-lipsticked dancers filled the screens, speaking about their experiences of pain. The best use of video featured grainy gray shadows of flying birds during an early solo by Li. She paused to pose, then gentle shifts of weight pushed her along, her large, slowly changing shadow swept up by the surging birds.
Live music composed and performed by Daniel Feiler and Ryan Smith charged the atmosphere and gave clues to sections' intents, particularly a romantic, Italian-flavored lilt played during a duet of embraces and partnered dips that alluded to the potential pain invited by falling in love.
-- Clare Croft