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Flash Review 2, 10-9: Process Servers from P.A.R.T.S.
Renz & Zuckerman: Boy Meets Girl in the World Series of Love

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas company, The Dance Insider is providing a month of unprecedented coverage of Rosas the company, De Keersmaeker the performer, the Rosas school P.A.R.T.S., and performances by alumni of ROSAS. This is the fourth of our reports, which will span performances in four countries.)

PARIS -- As Arco Renz and Sharon Zuckerman -- students at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's P.A.R.T.S. school, which is performing here for a month -- unfolded their textured tale of a man and a woman last night at the Theatre de la Bastille, I found myself thinking of recent reviews by my colleagues Rosa Mei and Aimee Ts'ao. Rosa because, in reviewing De Keersmaeker's "I Said I" in Brussels, she concluded that De Keersmaeker (in that piece at least) was more interested in process than in engaging the audience. Aimee because of her right-on observations, in today's Mark Morris review, that a critic's real time noted response to a dance as it unfolds doesn't necessarily add up once the dance has been seen in its whole. Watching Renz and Zuckerman develop some vocabulary I at least had never seen before, I at first concluded that De Keersmaeker's prime directive to her students must be to explore movement concepts, but that aesthetic ideas were not so important. But by the end, I realized that these two young dancer-choreographers had, in their dance "Happy Zode," given a new bodily spin to a story as old as Adam and Eve.

Renz makes you think of a young Willem Dafoe, with a staid, steady, jagged Gibraltor of a face that could go diabolical on you any second, and comes near to this in some moments that remind of Prince's line, "Boy Meets Girl in the world series of love" from "You've Got the Look." ("Sure enough do be cooking, in my book.") This look of love, from both performers, includes muscle-flexing and self-congratulatory "Thank you, thank you"'s to the audience. These were also the moments where I started to worry that the exploration was retreating, from a promising beginning, into banal panning which didn't seem consonant with the earlier deadpanning.

Renz, wearing a pale green tuxedo shirt with abalone buttons over grey slacks, starts by thudding the Marley as loud as he can. It is almost a hubba-hubba testacerone if not temper-tantrum, display of masculinity for the benefit of the woman. And this woman, dressed in bright red backless top over short black slacks, and looking like a less mischievous, younger, more somber Inbal Pinto, is watching. 'What is it?"

Finally she decides -- did I mention he has a bunch of gardenias protruding from the back side of his pants? -- that she wants him to notice her. They both, he having joined her at the rear of the stage, start jumping up and down, their bodies straight, arms flat. This goes on for about 5 minutes. It's a pure pristine physical ritual so perfectly executed that, like the spinning in an old film called "Spinning" which I saw at Danspace Project a while back, it's riveting. (Maybe I AM starting to watch dance with the perspective of a dancer; I could watch two well-trained dancers do the same, even pedestrian movement, over and over, as long as it is intensely executed!)

Gradually Zuckerman can't take the face-forward thing any longer and starts darting quick glances at him, as she's up in the air -- to check him out, to see if he's checking her out? I think the ladder, because now she starts to get more fancy. She flaps her arms like wings. Instead of keeping her legs straight, she bends at the knees in the air. She cups her breasts and giggles as if to say, "Wow, look at them go!"

Besides simplicity, there's also originality in much of their vocabulary. My favorite instance of this is when they are embracing, but she -- in a recurrent reaction -- can't seem to savor the moment, and has to get feisty, flailing out spastically. She flips a leg up behind him so that her pointed foot rests on his shoulder. She bats his head back and forth, and suddenly it's one of those dance moments -- usually seen from Pilobolus -- that we can't believe we're seeing, or rather want to ask, "How are they doing that?" as his head rivets so fast it blurs, rubbery. Then, after mirroring his head action, she, extending the marionette moment, injects her knuckles under his chin and pushes his jaw open and shut.

We veered dangerously into male-female grappling -- you know, the bordering on violence thing. This is a direction I'm thoroughly over, so I was grateful that Renz and Zuckerman don't overdo it. In fact, when they finally embrace at the end, he upstage, she down with her back to us, and then she dips her head back to look our way as she groans, her hair tossed over her back, and I found myself saying, "This is the point at which it should end, but it's probably not going to," in fact, it did end, quietly, both performer-choreographers more or less retreating offstage.

And, as vociferous as my notes were, I knew the story was much more simpler. A story which threatened to cleave to male-female relationship stereotypes, but always careened away from that ledge just in time. The story itself may not have been that original: He's the solid, calm, staid, rock of a (German) man; she's the at first hard to get (reserved for all of five minutes!) (Jewish) girl, and then devolves into the neurotic (Jewish) woman, who more or less seems to like him but can't seem to settle down and just enjoy it. (The moment, that is.) She is constantly going spastic on us and him.

Okay, so it's an old story, but what was new, about 75 percent of the time, was the way Renz and Zuckerman told it. I saw much vocabulary up there, it bears repeating, that I'd never seen before. I compare this to much of the just-out-of-college choreographers I've seen in NYC, and one thing is very very clear to me. De Keersmaeker is not interested in just producing clones -- dancers able to choreograph like her. The best school -- of any discipline -- is where the students are not just taught facts, or how to look at facts, but purely how to think, for themselves. Not what to articulate, but how to articulate. The budding dance artists of P.A.R.T.S. -- short for the Brussels-based Performing Arts Research and Training Studios -- aren't using her choreography for a model, so much as her fierce outlook, which prizes independence and ingenuity. Arco Renz and Sharon Zuckerman perform "Happy Zode" again tonight at the Theatre de la Bastille. P.A.R.T.S. a Paris continues through October 21. To read our report on the opening night of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris, in which De Keersmaeker performed, click here.

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