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Dance Review

A charged premiere from Prometheus Dance

Prometheus Dance performing the world premiere of “Heart of the Matter” at the Boston Conservatory Theater on Saturday.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Prometheus Dance performing the world premiere of “Heart of the Matter” at the Boston Conservatory Theater on Saturday.

I usually spend a fair amount of any Prometheus Dance concert asking myself, “What exactly are the dancers doing? What does it all mean?” And for the most part, that’s exactly what co-directors Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett intend — thought-provoking choreography is at the core of their mission.

To that end, the choreographers have hit the jackpot with the world premiere of the hourlong “Heart of the Matter,” which World Music/CRASHarts presented over the weekend to celebrate the venerable company’s impressive 25th anniversary. For them, “Heart of the Matter” is the essence of our true selves after we strip away the dreams and experiences of life that no longer matter, and they reveal this essence by slowly peeling away the vestiges of civility until we are left with little but primal urges.

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The work starts off very slowly, with two men and six women in evening attire listlessly spinning in a dazed huddle, looking as if they’ve just found themselves lost in a strange place. Adam Noya’s projected film backdrop displays quick edits of a garden — flowers, birds, butterflies. As the dancers disperse, they remain connected by unison rhythmic breathing.

Fairly quickly, however, the veil of gentility drops entirely, thrusting the dancers into chaotic thrashing, writhing, spinning. They bump and shove one another, bodies thudding heavily. Short phrases erupt from contorted poses, and connections are fleeting. Arms that wrap around the body like a hug are often whipped with such force they leave marks on bare backs, a kind of self-flagellation. Dresses and tuxes peel away, and we are left with undergarments the color of raw skin.

Even without a lot of theatrical trappings, this spare work is viscerally charged and dramatic, But too often it feels unstructured, mercurial, hampered by an episodic, mostly electronic score (by Miguel and Adam Noya, with snippets of recorded music by other artists) that chops up the flow rather than providing a sense of continuity and cohesion. The most effective moments are found in inventive partnering among the troupe’s talented dancers. They launch themselves at one another, bodies landing sideways or soaring over shoulders in shapes that range from long-lined to jagged, limbs jutting in sharp angles. Energy is controlled one moment, flung the next, a single motion in one body setting off movement in another. Tenuous balances collapse into weighted couplings and joint tumbles, limbs entwined. In one muscular, aggressive duet between David Glista and Joe Gonzalez, the two repeatedly upend each other.

A brief flurry of club dancing toward the end suggests the group might be coalescing, finding common ground again. But ultimately, they are left isolated, hunched over and stomping, arms punching at invisible demons.

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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