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DANCE REVIEW

Cut from different cloths

Shimmering batiks upstage the choreography in 'Prayers'

SALEM -- ''Prayers for the Planet" is meant to be a lyrical yet somber meditation on the dynamics of making peace -- with oneself, with other people, with nations.

The multidisciplinary work, presented at the Peabody Essex Museum in conjunction with the World Batik Conference, features choreography by Nicola Hawkins and a set that vibrates with the glorious, rippling creations of batik artist Mary Edna Fraser, whose long swaths of silk are now-raging, now-Kandinsky-esque landscapes of the soul, projected onto the wall and slipping through the dancers' fingers. Composer Evan Ziporyn provides a rooted, resonant score, played live by the highly accomplished Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble.

Pretty powerful stuff. So why doesn't the 30-minute collaboration hang together? Because the choreography -- the tie that binds the elements into a whole -- is too thin. Often the edges of Hawkins's movement are not defined enough, the phrases' rhythmic and dynamic contrasts not sharp enough, to carve impressions in the space and pack a kinesthetic punch.

It's not for lack of trying. Hawkins excels at stretching her dancers into lines so long and elegant they bend into curves. The four women of the Nicola Hawkins Dance Company stir the air with undulating arms, deep back arches, and lunges pushed into the earth. Hawkins varies the tempo in some combinations -- with flexed-foot leg swings here, tiny leaps there -- as she shuffles the dancers in simple geometric patterns. The point is to create a sense of ritual, a fundamental element of prayer. But this is a work of art, not a yoga retreat.

Indeed, Fraser's shimmering batiks (also on exhibit at the museum) are often more compelling than the dancers themselves, technically proficient as they are.

Fraser dyes aerial landscapes into her outsize fabrics, often inspired by photos she takes from the open cockpit of her grandfather's 1946 Ercoupe plane. She's particularly interested in the boundaries where land, sea, and sky meet. In ''Prayers for the Planet," her textiles are awash in the colors of the universe: lime greens, rosy pinks, icy blues. A sunset over a swampy ocean becomes a white-hot orb or a fiery inferno as images shift or the projector zooms in for close-ups.

Sometimes, the dancers seem more like the props and the fabrics the textured performers, as they unfurl, whip the air with a thwack, or tumble like a waterfall into a heap.

Spells of quiet -- as when the dancers hold a banner aloft like a wedding canopy -- are among the moments that linger the longest.

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