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Flash Review 3, 10-9: O Quebec!
Navas/Haman Translates; O Vertigo Shoots the Moon

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK --The Quebec!NY Festival, already limping from initial cancellations after the Trade Center tragedy (including Robert Lepage's new work), managed to bring two dance companies to us this week, O Vertigo and Compagnie Flak/Jose Navas. I thought it might be a lot easier to write this review than it was a recent one written on 9/12, but since (as I write this Sunday) the U.S. has just started bombing targets in Afghanistan, I'm beginning to wonder. But art, like most of life, goes on, even if it's now mandatory to filter everything for its appropriateness in the wake of 9/11 no matter when a work was created. Having said that, Navas physically translated human pathos purely and simply, while O Vertigo's big spectacle, beautiful at moments, made surprisingly little emotional connection.

Jose Navas and cellist Walter Haman performed "Haman/Navas Project" (2001) (seen at Danspace Project at St. Marks Church Saturday), in which Navas evolved from a primordial being into a fully-equipped dancer by the hour's end. He began by moving glacially, in silence and near total darkness. Slowly a shaft of light defined itself (in amazing lighting design by Marc Parent), through which he moved deliberately in a self-protective, closed-front manner. Cello enjoined, Navas then launched himself onto the floor, writhing and locomoting about the stage for the most part without the help of his hands. Haman, playing music by Hovhaness and Britten, performed this segment all the way downstage, so that the sonorous notes were felt in the audience like sensurround.

The interaction between dancer and musician was literally and figuratively touching; at times Navas covered Haman's eyes, placed his palm over the musician's heart, or rested his head on his thigh. In a particularly distinct section, Navas played with Haman;s aura, pulling wisps of air out of his ears, from his pate, and wrapping his head, like a shaman. Later, Navas broke loose, showing a unique distillation of his experience with Cunningham (transitions made by chasee-ing through a turned-out fourth position), Steve Petronio (extremely vertical, needle-like turns and scissoring, rapid footwork), and Lucinda Childs (quicksilver and repeated changes of directions in whipping turns, punctuated with clean, economical arabesques). Navas's virtuoso dancing was made all the more savory because he worked through stages getting us there. And he performed with total focus, yet completely unselfconsciously.

"Luna," O Vertigo's new evening-length work by artistic director Ginette Laurin which premiered in January, was seen at the Joyce Theater on Oct. 3. There were a number of positives: a honed sensibility for the visually arresting costume or set piece, the ability to garner enough funding to realize these images, and an extraordinarily diverse roster of accomplished dancers. On the other hand, the limited choreographic vocabulary was not able to match the elaborate production standards step-for-step, and the abundance of intimate interpersonal gestures oddly produced little in the way of warmth.

The simple act of breathing became the first percussive element, yielding to an eclectic soundtrack including electronic beats and clipping, cello lines, and haunting vocals. (Lumbar-mounted boxes for the head mikes -- useful but annoying, the cell phones of dance performance -- limited the dancersā abilities to do floor work on their backs, though they were worn sporadically.) The core movement vocabulary was based on gestures and ticks, which passed at times through obsessively interesting to mildly irritating and back again. It seemed as if much of the dancing took place above the waist, though in one engaging section a group of women stood in back degages, soundly rooting their wild arm gesticulations -- a sort of passive-aggressive lower half. Pairs of men executed a section evoking suspension and flight, using the body's geometry to rail against gravity's confinement.

The bells and whistles were numerous, the highlights being manhole cover-sized lenses which were either mounted in brackets, head-high, or rolled like tires across the stage. Magnified by the lenses, the dancers performed a string of affectionate gestures in pairs, their faces distorted and gigantic. While the shape and effect recalled the title of the work, it seemed to be an expensive pony with one limited, if neat, trick. While the primary costumes by Carmen Alie and Denis Lavoie were handsome -- clean, modern tunics, tanks, and pants, for the most part -- the show-stealers were white silk parachute-shaped skirts supported by flexible lattices. They billowed, plume-like, with the slightest vertical jump, and gorged and disgorged men who elevated the women to mythic heights. Films were even projected onto one woman's skirt; and then footage taken from under her skirt, up, was projected on the backdrop. The combination of technology and theater recalled the work of Phillippe Decoufle.

The cast resembled a Benetton ad, with a wide range of shapes and colors. Chi Long was notable for her clean shapes and intelligent, clear intent of movement. Kenneth Gould, a founding member of the company, seemed to be given a bit more range to move boldly, which he did with character. I wish that this good company had been given a little more rope to run with, movement-wise.

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