With an edgy, youthful, do-it-yourself attitude, the three-woman dance troupe known as Xdrop is cutting a bold swath into the San Diego dance scene.
Headed up by Liliana Cattaneo and rounded out by dancers Michelle Yepiz and Beth O'Reilly, Xdrop splashed onto the local dance scene last year. The troupe mixes modern dance with yoga, athleticism, outsized and unusual props, and Cattaneo's distinctive style of choreography. It makes for a dance performance that is often raw, captivating and visceral.
In a piece called "Holiday," set to a haunting Tori Amos cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Cattaneo and Yepiz danced inside a large box covered by stretchy black fabric. Indistinguishable body parts emerged and receded like shadowy phantoms trying to break free of the box and each other. The effect was eerily disturbing, totally engrossing, and the audience loved it.
At 18, Cattaneo won a 1999 Tommy Award for emerging choreographer, and in 2001 was named one of the "Top Five" local choreographers to watch by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
While Cattaneo generally choreographs for Xdrop, she said it's becoming more of a collaborative process as the three dancers become closer and more comfortable with each other.
"We have tremendous respect for each other, and we're able to explore and try new things and not be afraid," said Cattaneo. "We do trial and error. It's fun and it gets (Yepiz and O'Reilly) to create and become choreographers. More and more it's about compromise, seeing what we can do -- and playing."
As a tiny nonprofit arts organization, Xdrop struggles with funding, grants and space for rehearsals and storage. Read: Cattaneo, O'Reilly and Yepiz do it all -- with a little help from friends. The oversized props that the group regularly uses in performances, such as an 8-foot tall cross, are stowed in friends' houses all around town, said Cattaneo.
Xdrop will premiere its new work, "Are We There Yet?" beginning Oct. 7 at the Lyceum Theatre downtown. Props include a 6-foot "hamster wheel," a 3-foot cube with trap doors and multimedia created by the University of California, Irvine film department. Pieces will be performed to DJ Shadow and Tool, and post-rockers Labradford and Mogwai -- music that the 20-something, tattooed Cattaneo grew up listening to.
The show is a contemplation of the choices we make right now, without worrying about a future that is neither controllable nor predictable.
"We're always focused on the goal and where we're going. This show deals with why we're always trying to get there and why we're not here, in this moment," said Cattaneo.
Her work is marked by the intensely personal, as is the very name Xdrop.
In Dante's "Inferno," the "tenth drop" in the descent through the circles of hell is purgatory. There, the souls of the dead must atone for their sins before they are granted entry into heaven.
It's an admittedly heavy literary reference, but Cattaneo says it doesn't matter whether you get the Dantean reference, or even whether you choose to call the group "tenth drop" or "xdrop." The meaning is personal to Cattaneo, and has to do with redemption and enlightenment -- common themes in her work that are likely to surface in "Are We There Yet?"
"The show gets you to think, to be aware of yourself," said Cattaneo. "And there's no pointing the finger, no blame. I dance about my own stories and my own issues."
Program: "Are We There Yet?" choreographed by Liliana Cattaneo
Tickets: $15-$20; pay-what-you-can performance Oct. 10
Dates: Oct. 7-10
Show times: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Location: Lyceum Theatre, located in downtown's Horton Plaza
More information: (619) 544-1000, www.xdrop.org