(W)hole, currently playing at the Flea Theater, is a full-length movement piece from the creative minds of the LAVA girls: an all-woman, six-person dance troupe known for its ability to draw on geological themes and phenomena as an inspiration for its dazzling aerobics. LAVA was founded by director and performer Sarah East Johnson, who later recruited Natalie Agee, Diana Greiner, Molly Chanoff, Rebecca Stronger, and Adrienne Truscott to complete the group. They are the cast of (W)hole, a show that shines with astonishing athletic performances and stunning trapeze feats, but dims in trying to convey the weighty ideas and symbolism that lie beneath the stunts. The LAVA girls are not, literally, jumping through hoops merely to jump through hoops. On the contrary, there is a purpose to everything they do. In the (W)hole press release they explain that such stunts as their "handstand duets and balancing acts" are used to represent "magnetic polarity reversal." However, those witnessing the handstand duet onstage without reading this beforehand (there are no explanations within the pages of the playbill) are not likely to understand the handstand's significance to magnetic polarity, let alone its reversal.
Midway through the show, the LAVA girls bring (W)hole to a screeching halt to play interactive games with the audience. One grabs a clipboard and says, "Anyone who has been upside down in the past five days please stand up." Those who stand (a surprising handful) are asked to come onstage. They are then given 17 seconds to join hands and form two circles moving in opposite directions. When this is accomplished, they return to their seats, and more questions of this nature are asked, encouraging those who answered affirmatively to come onstage and form various molecular patterns with others. This game is enjoyable for those who want to participate, and entertaining for those who don't.
The fun wanes when the LAVA girls give everyone in the crowd approximately two minutes to frantically gather their things and find a new seat in another section of the square-shaped theater. Some audience members gamely participated, while others looked reluctant to find another seat when they were comfortable in the one they had. In some cases, those with good seats who didn't move were not-so-playfully pressured to by those in bad seats, who saw this as an opportunity to acquire better ones.
Before the interactive games, the audience is given a quick, short, and complicated tutorial on how lava is formed beneath the earth, and is told that the point of the games is to show how "alike minerals find one another." But these connections, especially for those who are not science-minded, are hazy at best. Also hazy is the reason behind ushers forcing all audience members to remove their shoes and wrap them in plastic bags prior to entering the theater. Was this a prank or did it represent a scientific theory? There is never an explanation.
Without knowing or understanding the message behind the movements and tricks being performed by the LAVA girls, (W)hole can be appreciated only on its purely physical level. Mixing science and circus to create a comprehensive, full-length movement piece is a difficult endeavor, but with some trial and error, these six talented gymnasts should find the perfect balance.