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Laura Peterson's Electrolux: A Review

Laura Peterson. Photo by Steven Schreiber.
Laura Peterson. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Electrolux: The word may sound like some generic term for the latest tranny party doomed to a four-week lifespan before dying out in a fizzle of A.D.D. and urban ennui, but it’s actually the name of one of the largest appliance manufacturers in the world. When dance artist Laura Peterson gave her latest creation the same name, she was probably counting on the obscurity of the Swedish company to leave the allure of the word in tact, but, in effect, it’s kind of like naming your dance “Pfizer,” or “McDonald’s.” This kind of genericism pervades Electrolux, although bursts of originality and sheer visceral action save the piece from falling into disrepair.
The entire dance is set to the music of Led Zeppelin, a scheme that becomes too predictable, although the enjoyment of the band’s music softens the impact.

Plush wall-to-wall mother-of-pearl carpet covering the floor has the same effect, and Peterson’s other visual elements are just as cool. Three white walls–with slits in them to allow Mandy Ringger’s lighting to wash through in Jolly Rancher lime, lemon and orange colors–enclose the open space of Dance New Amsterdam’s cavernous theater. Salvaged foam insulation tubing threads mysteriously along the perimeter. The costumes, also designed by Peterson, are sporty white, silver, blue and day-glow orange jump suits—part futuristic, part Olympic Games.

Peterson opens the work jumping simultaneously with dancers Katie Harris and Kate Martel, while Christopher Hutchings lies face down in the corner entangled in a stretch of tubing. The women take turns turning in place–one, then the other two, then one of them, now all three–at alternating angles, like a living Rubik’s Cube.

I don't have as much of a problem with the literalness of this approach to rock music, which, in practice and in listening, thrives on rhythmic emphasis and precision, but Peterson, as a dancer, is almost always just behind the beat. This becomes frustrating during passages that obviously rely on strict metric synchronicity.

Peterson’s use of materials is also frustrating in its ambivalence. The foam tubing is either aggressively manipulated or self-consciously disregarded. When the performers leap and crash onto the mound of tubing, that’s aggressive. But when one of them crosses the floor doing some kind of dance move and pretends to accidentally hook their foot around a loop of tubing, that’s self-conscious and false.

The former treatment is by far the more satisfying. When one dancer manages to collect all the tubing into a single mass, throws it over her head and writhes beneath it, the previously unremarkable flailing enlivens the synthetic tubes into a tornado of roiling tendrils. This is intentional, and stirring.

But later on, when the performers try inadvertently to hook their arms and legs over the tubes that have now been crisscrossed around the six columns of the DNA space to create a thick, stretchy Cat’s Cradle, it lessens the physical impact of the property since, now, the object is being ignored.

Electrolux ends with the other three dancers winding up the tubes into tight coils, while Peterson spins in place center stage. I’ve seen this ending (the spinning in place to fade) at least two other times in major modern dances, maybe more. And like much of this work, what Peterson seems to think is original, comes off as ordinary. It’s hard to tell which direction she should aim her attention. The best moments of Electrolux seemed to be when the bodies really fell into the music (sometimes literally). But that could have just been the music..


Ryan Tracy

Ryan Tracy is a writer, performer and composer, and is the Editor of


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2008

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