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Stroking Its Ego - Review

Choreographer and dancer Elisa-Marie Alaio, now in the opening throes of a young and impassioned career, has taken up the banner of a young feminist full of bravado, self-discovery and, without a doubt, sexuality.

With her latest production for fireWALL Dance Theater, “Stroking Its Ego,” currently on view at Carnegie Stage, she delves even further into the feminine mystique.

Although the word “its” is obviously open to individual interpretation, the concept of “Stroking Its Ego” is not. With this production, Ms. Alaio builds on her previous works with yet another journey that injects hope into the lives of young artists just beginning to forge their own destinies.

You could see it in the cast, who made the tiny postage stamp stage look larger as they infused her choreography with high-powered, often in-your-face West Coast dance.


But it wasn’t just a commercial style that was seen here. When blending emerging disciplines such as hip-hop and improvisation into the more traditional techniques found on the East Coast, each new piece created its own personality.

Sensuality from posters to productions is often at the root of dance movement. With Ms. Alaio, it is certifiably heightened, adding a modern-day burlesque to the mix while exposing an underlying vulnerability.

This was structurally the tightest work of her prolific output. Maybe it was because the musical and atmospheric inspiration came from rising cult favorite Allan Rayman, who operates on the fringes of the music industry.

PJ Roduta created his most sophisticated sound score yet in collaboration with Ms. Alaio, filling it with signature Rayman touches like a seductive yet disembodied female voice, a ticking clock and the “bang, bang” allusion to his “films.”

Ms. Alaio structured her own journey in three broad sections. “Killing My Lonely” began with a semi-circle of mismatched chairs with her curled at the center. Yet she was the outsider, exposing her bare back in a tension-filled solo.

The group watched her and hung their heads, then formed a tight circle from which she emerged fully dressed, ready to join them. Others shared their own “stories” and gave support.

“P*ssy Is Power” launched with the line “OK, I’ll try to be flirty.” Ms. Alaio was planted in a chair, hair thrown over her face, high-heeled black boots and thigh-high nylons in view.

Looking both haunted and fierce, she gathered her energies and a boot-strutting cast of five women and two men. Shawn Lesniak and LaMar Williams performed a mesmerizing, gender-bending duet.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the final section that Ms. Alaio featured her best work. In “Welcome to the Circle,” the cast in white T-shirts and black bottoms created group movements that were a poppin’ fresh combination of abandon and control. An enigmatic but worthy Rayman-esque ending capped it all.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: She blogs at

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