Bitter, funny 'Skirmishes'; 'Taking Steps'; urban Dinosaur; 'Barber'; Stone Age dance

Michael Mao, artistic director of New England's innovative Dinosaur Dance company, seemed to be promising us something different and new with his premiere , ''O Brave New World'' at The Space last weekend.

Unfortunately, he took us thematically back to the Stone Age. Not that the choreography wasn't invigorating. No, this company has many times proved its capacity for provocative work - and this was no exception.

But ''O Brave New World'' took an old, old theme - the loss of innocence - and gave it yet another working over, this time in the framework of an urban nightmare. Dancers became seedy characters from the inner city - a drug pusher, a pimp, gang members, others. Then Mao threw in The Newcomer (Vivien Cockburn) and had her danced into submission by the frenetic, swirling crowd. The dancers deserve credit for their fine performance of this breathtaking flurry of movement - leaping, prancing, and running all over the stage. The mix of modern and balletic movement, with its intriguing angles and forms, was compelling. But at the end, when The Newcomer is overcome and plunges a knife into one of her tormentors, there is a hollow, empty feeling - not the power of tragedy, just desolation.

Walking out into Boston's own version of urban decay, I wondered: Despite the ingenuity and technical achievement of what I'd just observed, did this presentation give a new insight into what was around me (the least we can expect from this type of work), or just reinforce an already depressing picture? Certainly the latter. Is this contemporary dance's ''New World''? I hope not.

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