Peerless Performance

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One, presented by Stephanie Nugent. At Los Angeles’s Diavolo Performance Space, Sunday, December 10.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

IMG_6153.jpgAppearing recently at the Brewery Arts Center in downtown L.A., Santa Barbara dancer and choreographer Stephanie Nugent shifted into a whole new realm of power, taking command of the stage and devouring space with more impact than her slight frame suggests should be possible. In the opening piece, “In the Shadow of the Red Brick,” Nugent explored the ways in which her family legacy has formed her personality, using playfulness to probe her own habits, preferences, and compulsions. “I’m still terribly stubborn,” said a recorded voice, as Nugent lunged around in a polka-dotted dress, trying to control a miniature chair.

When Nugent returned to the stage for “Circa One,” she lowered her face and held her hands near her belly, holding an invisible substance close to her core. In sections, she closed her eyes, feeling the space around her with fingers outstretched, searching. Rather than looking for herself within the confines of what is visible and tangible, she pushed out beyond the limits of her body, seeking something hidden. “Wintering” split open the raw and painful center of it all, plunging Nugent and the audience into a terrifying yet utterly natural ritual of turning inward. Nugent appeared in a swath of white fabric, which she bunched around her thighs in clenched fists, her body taut with frustration and fear. Standing at the front of the stage she stammered, howled, and yelped, producing the harrowing noises of a tortured animal. Later, she clucked and cooed like a fledgling owl as she picked her way through the barren, wintry landscape of a pile of dead twigs, finally standing again at the edge of the stage, pleading for reconnection. The effect was deeply moving and immensely memorable.

“Untitled Interior” continued the journey to the innermost realm of being. Nugent was inspired by her studies of Iranian laws regarding women’s use of the veil. “Untitled Interior” placed Nugent as a body among sweeping, gauzy fabric sets. At first clad in similar material, she removed her sheath dress to dance topless. Though her body was more fully revealed, she appeared distant, traveling into a selfless space where movement seemed devotional and reverent, and the body became a vehicle for prayer.

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