Before a full house Sunday at Dance Place, Nejla Y. Yatkin's show was innovative in both form and content. The evening-length work, "De/Reconstructing Mata Hari," was a series of solos danced by Yatkin. Part biography, part autobiography, the piece weaves together the various personas of this enigmatic woman -- spy, dancer, artist, provocateur -- at times interjecting Yatkin's own transcultural story.
Trussed in a stiff corset and billowing brocade skirt, Yatkin slowly crossed the stage, casting her shadow on the photographic images of 19th-century European cities that moved behind her. As she began to peel off the constricting costume, she narrated the early years of Mata Hari: her desire to escape the prison of Victorian womanhood and to live a life of sensuous freedom.
Backlit behind a large white screen that also covered half the floor, Yatkin transformed into a Hindu goddess with the snaking arms of a multi-limbed mythic creature.
The second half of the performance featured inventive partnering with simple stage sets. On a dark stage, with flashlights strapped to her body, Yatkin evoked Mata Hari's career descent and identity confusion.
Most striking was her reappearance, flashlight in hand, in a white tutu with black tape across her chest. She writhed on the floor, a creative artist in distress and fallen from society's grace.
Yatkin used the large white screen, which she designed, for amazing visual effects. At one point her upper torso struggled as if in childbirth, pushing its way through the filmy fabric, which was transformed into a large skirt, a giant pulsating costume filling the stage.
In the final, exhilarating solo, the "Epilogue," Yatkin was free of flashlights and constricting fabric, dancing in a simple white dress. She was a 21st-century woman who, like Mata Hari, embodied many social and cultural identities but was free of the confinements of pre-feminist womanhood.
-- Barbara Allen