austin 360: Finding Their Way in a Changing World

by Clare Croft

In a world framed by imminent danger and constant environmental loss, how do people continue to live? Emily Johnson and her Minneapolis-based dance company Catalyst make a complicated stab at creating and populating that kind of anxious world in their evening-length work "Heat and Life," performed Thursday at Gallery Lombardi. With wit, off-kilter, yet aggressive movement, and small moments of simple beauty, the group confronted and nearly overwhelmed its audience.

Constantly recostuming themselves, the six women in the cast appeared to represent characters ranging from a hazmat team in traffic-cone orange to camouflaged nature warriors whose boots and cargo pants matched the color of sod spread through the gallery. Always moving with absolute commitment and focus (which is what made me so willing to trust the dancers even when the work seemed most abstract), the cast ran back and forth, shouting each others' names into walkie-talkies.

Frightened chaos gave way to beauty and humor at times. A projected film slowly lapsed from lush green fields to mountainous glacier walls with clips of oil refineries and other environmental hazards interspersed. Once two dancers lolled on their backs atop the sod as a voiceover remembered the pleasures of childhood-romps through grass. Near the work's end one dancer gave another quick instructions about how to move, creating a fast-paced, hilarious "Simon Says."

All these vignettes occurred amid red, blinking lights and haunting live music by J.G. Everest, a constant reminder that breakdown, be it natural or human, always lingers.