Beauty. Sex. Power. Dancer/choreographer Elisa-Marie Alaio looks at what those terms can mean to a woman in her latest work for fireWALL dance theater, Eff.Ul.Gents.
The provocative production running through July 16, at the troupe’s home at the Carnegie Stage, is a potent mix of sensuality, sexuality and emotional turmoil infused with strip-club gyrating and writhing, bird-flipping and powerful group dancing.
The July 9 performance opened, in the first of three sections, with the all-female cast of six in undergarments and swim caps. The dancers appeared drawn to illuminated lightbulbs enclosed by mason jars that hung above them. Like moths to a flame, the dancers stared up at the lights, entranced, before drifting off into a dance sequence performed with their backs to the audience.
Alaio has said that Eff.Ul.Gents is inspired by women’s various alter-egos, such as being sexy or powerful. This section introduced the paradox women face in wanting to be attractive and desired, but not wanting that to define them. Dancing to a dynamic score by local composer Reni Monteverde, the dancers vacillated between being alluring and defying the pressure to look and act like objects of desire at all times.
After a racy video by Chris Cichra, showing the dancers in identical black wigs donning lingerie and stroking one another, the dancers brought that sexual vibe to the stage for work’s second section, which sent pulses racing. The tantalizing if mostly one-note section was highlighted by a poignant solo by Alaio, who revealed a vulnerable side behind her character’s eroticism, going from acting the vamp to cowering, anguished, under a table.
The work’s title plays on the word “effulgence,” meaning a brilliant radiance. That most came into play in the piece’s final section, which found the dancers in men’s shirts and ties with cornrowed hair trapped inside a large birdcage. Eventually exiting the cage, the dancers engaged in the work’s most interesting dancing, which had them powerfully sliding on the floor, spinning on their knees, and moving through creative circular patterns.
In the end, Eff.Ul.Gents didn’t cover any new ground or shed any new light on female sexuality and empowerment. Its strength proved to be in the committed performances of its fierce dancers.