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Maria Hassabi: Dead Is Dead

A highly irritating theatrical experience, Maria Hassabi's "Dead Is Dead," presented at Dance Theater Workshop, assaults the audience aurally, bores us visually, and makes no apparent intellectual statement. Directed by Hassabi, who performs and choreographed the work in collaboration with her five dancers, the hourlong piece is built of pedestrian movements that are repeated incessantly but never developed into meaningful choreographic expression. There is a great deal of angry walking, bodies slamming into walls, and women writhing on the floor doing extreme leg extensions that seem focused primarily on crotch display.

The dancers, who one assumes are city dwellers, navigate their way through their environment independently and uninterestingly. Their encounters with one another are casual, random, brief, and lead to no new insights, revelations, or changes in behavior. The mood is aloof, detached, brain-dead.

The vexing piece is accompanied by a sound score composed of loud urban street noises, forgettable pop songs, and piercing, high-pitched screams delivered live into onstage microphones. The continual on and off illumination of the houselights makes the audience self-conscious and contributes to the generally irksome nature of the overall experience.

From the get-go, Hassabi creates an atmosphere of anxiety that builds to total frustration. The opening-night curtain -- scheduled for 7:30 pm -- didn't rise until almost 8 o'clock. After waiting almost 30 minutes for the piece to start, we are "teased" by an ever-so-slow opening -- a line of dancers posed in front of microphone stands, very gradually beginning to move in super-slow motion through simplistic, unengaging actions. The lights -- fading slowly up, then down again -- take forever to decide to come on with enough intensity to fully illuminate the performers. And then we watch and watch and watch and, 60 minutes later, are still waiting for something of significance to happen.

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