- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Big Dance Theater from New York City, known for striking multimedia performances that mix music, dance and spoken word, appears at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland tonight and tomorrow with a provocative new work.

“The Other Here” is being staged as a preview performance, a chance to see a new work in its final stages of creation and an opportunity for some last-minute fine-tuning by its creators before the official premiere at New York’s Japan Society in February.

“What we’re most keen about right now is bringing all the physical elements of the piece together in front of a live audience,” says Paul Lazar, co-director with his wife, Annie-B Parson, of Big Dance Theater.

All the creative team is coming to Maryland this week — set, costume and video designers as well as the noted lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, whose work will refine and complete the stage picture.

Seeing all the elements of the work coalesce is a moment of high drama for all involved, but it has been preceded by months of hard work to forge a cohesive whole out of seemingly disparate parts.

Big Dance Theater is known for its daring and provocative juxtaposition of unrelated elements — an earlier work combined impressions from President Nixon’s Watergate tapes; the story of Kaspar Hauser, the 19th-century “wild child”; and archival film of a famous Japanese Kabuki actor.

“The Other Here” is at least as complex and multilayered. The first element the directors settled on was two short stories by the Japanese writer Ibuse Masuji, one called “The Carp” and the other about a fallen aristocrat living in a remote and lonely place.

Juxtaposed against these delicate and introspective stories, the directors looked for something that would stand in stark contrast. They found it in some videos and notes of a real-life gathering of top insurance salespeople. “Verbal found objects,” Mr. Lazar calls them. The group is literally and metaphorically caught up in an unreflective, fast-paced, highly social world.

For the score, Miss Parson turned to one of her favorite musical sources, a group that combines ancient Okinawan songs and Okinawan pop music.

Mr. Lazar acknowledges that finding a thread in such disparate elements couldn’t have happened if they didn’t have the luxury of time to unearth it. Big Dance Theater, which has a reputation for vivid and arresting stagecraft, worked on the piece for more than a year, and gradually it began to take form. The stories wove into a single narrative, during which the protagonist of the original story walks, Alice-in-Wonderland-like, through a mirror into the life insurance scene and becomes part of that world.

Through it all, a potent part of the story is the juxtaposition of the worlds of East and West.

What it finally has become, Mr. Lazar says, is a dialogue about reconciling the past and the present.

“There are figures that can’t be liberated from the past, and there are people who can’t be reflective and live only in the present,” he says. “Watching this conflict about two ideas of where one should live, psychically, in the absolute present or in the past, you discover what you gain when you jettison the past — and what you lose. And what you gain when you steep yourself in the past — and what you lose.

“We certainly didn’t know where it would go when we started, but that is what has emerged.”

WHAT: Big Dance Theater in “The Other Here”

WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park

TICKETS: $30, $7 for students

PHONE: 301/405-2787

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