Choreographer Ed Tyler's world is composed of constricting fences and dark, shadowy recesses. Bleak and disjointed, steeped in danger, unmitigated anger and despair, this post-industrial wasteland ravages his dancers at every turn. Funny that Tyler names this disturbing, pessimistic place "Sanctuary." At its world premiere Friday in the revitalized Tivoli Theatre in the District's Columbia Heights neighborhood, Tyler's fastidiously designed evening-length work subverts our mythic cultural desires for safety, comfort and solace, instead laying bare the unhealthy underbelly of postmodern urban existence.
Tyler not only crafted the movement, with contributions from his five women dancers, but also tailored the silvery gray suits and skirts, and designed the harsh scenery, lighting and music collage.
Tyler's "Sanctuary" presents a world weighted with heavy baggage, like one that parka-clad Kelly Bond-Wallis lugs. It's a masochistic place where dancers rush headlong into chain-link fences with brashly malevolent force, again and again. It's where indistinct figures chase, meet and flee one another from behind a translucent plastic dropcloth. And later, delicate but steely Lillian Cho stands Barbie-doll still, popping pills, her plastic bouffant ball gown rustling.
"Sanctuary's" 11 sections form a nightmarish progression that leaves both the performers and audience spent. Tyler's perilous movement choices include boxing, flinging and dropping to the floor, and ceaseless exertion. His harsh psychological mini-dramas feature chesslike relationship games, dancers diving headfirst onto futon mattresses with fanatic abandon, and a symphony of recurrent nervous twitches, shrugs and psychotic tics. But what does it mean?
The Sartrean bleakness Tyler conjures recalls the French playwright's belief that "hell is other people." Though Tyler's dancers make bruising physical contact, they eschew human and humane connection. Little comfort exists as these fearless, lonely women expose Tyler's hidden turmoil. "Sanctuary's" cry for safe haven goes unheeded.
-- Lisa Traiger