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Photo © Kevin Kennefick
[w]HOLE, the latest dance theater piece from the women's troupe Lava, is actually an acronym for the "Whole History of Life on Earth" -- but the show is not as serious as that may sound. In fact, it's unusually casual and cozy. Audiences have to remove their shoes before entering the theater, where the seats are arranged in the round. It's impossible to watch the show without making eye contact with the performers and other theatergoers; the audience is enlisted to participate in the action, and everyone is asked to change seats to view the proceedings from a different perspective. For a show about such a grand and lofty theme, it's refreshingly entertaining and unpretentious.

There is no tightrope walking in the Lava repertoire, but the show itself is something of a tightrope act, balancing between circus, dance, and performance art. In a traditional circus, performers vault through hoops to get applause; but here, emerging through a ring conveys a different meaning. Similarly, choreography in which one dancer circles another would usually appear unremarkable, but it's an unmistakable metaphor when there's video footage of outer space playing in the background.

If you try to interpret [w]HOLE, do so at your own peril; for one thing, the individual sequences are ordered differently at each performance. The overall title is clever in that it indicates something that is both fractured and complete, calling attention to both the show's holes and its wholeness. Additionally, the title is cunningly described in the press release as an "evocatively female acronym." If the content has any deep meaning, it's that we all come from the same origin -- whether one wants to call it the womb, the Earth, the universe, or God -- and creation takes a limitless number of forms. Troupe founder Sarah East Johnson has tackled these topics before in other shows, which have dealt with the formation of volcanoes, plate tectonics, and the relationship between science and faith.

The performers have a relaxed style that contrasts with their often grueling tasks. They interact with the audience with a breezy rapport, and each brings a unique attitude, background, and list of talents to the group. Eugenia Chiappe, an Argentinean immigrant who pursued a PhD in neuroscience, no doubt has lent some of her scientific expertise to the project. "Capital b," the former front-woman of the underground rock group "Bitch and Animal," contributed a deft spoken word recording that plays during the performance. As for Natalie Agee and Sarah East Johnson, both have more than 10 years of choreography under their belts. It's a frighteningly multitalented group.

Kaia Wilson's "Lava Song" -- a folksy brand of electronica -- provides an appropriate accompaniment to the goins-on, and Heather Delaney's video projections are eye-catching. (Maurice and Katia Krafft are credited in the program as "Video Volcanologists.") At any one point during [w]HOLE, a number of things can catch your attention, and no two people will see exactly the same performance. The show is worth checking out in any of its iterations.

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