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Flash Review 1, 10-25: This Ain't Your Tanztheater
The American House Party Elkins Lives in

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2001 Faith Pilger

NEW YORK -- When was the last time you got trashed and went out clubbing? (No, I don't mean a morbid act of violence, though it often helps with those unwanted aggressions.... I mean, dance clubbing.) Okay, so maybe it wasn't a club, just a rowdy wedding reception. In any case, we often forget that these improvised social dances are priceless. Unfortunately for some, this is the closest to a dance performance we will get; the silly costumes, colored lights, the exploring of a dance partner's abilities or our own, the ducking away into corners instead of wings.

Last night, the Doug Elkins Dance Company explored this provocative scenario in a new collaboration it is calling "The House Project." Along with "The Look of Love," a work revamped from Elkins's 1999 "Wrench" to a score of shamelessly lovable tunes (Burt Bacharach and Daniel Johnston), this piece on this vibrant group of dancers opened a week-long run at the Duke on 42nd St. as part of DTW Around Town, presented by Dance Theater Workshop through Saturday at 8 PM, and Sunday at 3. I'll admit, I was already a fan, fortunate enough to have seen a range of awesome dancers and pieces created by Elkins. However, this was the first time it occurred to me that this company is as inherently American in it's style as blues, jazz or their eventual bastard grandchild, hip hop. This is definitely not tanztheater.

Opening the program with "The House Project," Elkin's dancers were joined by NY club divas in an improvisation to a range of Asian house music, hip hop and jazz, mixed by Brahms "Bravo" La Fortune. Founding Elkins company member Ben Munisteri helped with additional staging. As noted in the program, the work is still "in progress," and will change and evolve through performance. This adds an element of surprise, along with the possibility of, shall we say, less interesting choices that are inevitable when it comes to improv. I enjoyed this incarnation. Though not edge-of-your-seat exciting and very loosely structured, the performance captured instead a sense of timelessness and truly original sparks from each dancer in personal moments.

"The Look of Love," on the other hand, expressed more clearly to me the flavor which is called Elkins. The choice of music alone, a combination of buttered popcorn and Colt 45, is nostalgic while tongue-in-cheek. And the movements -- short vignettes in solo, duo and small groups -- though stylistically diverse, are also fairly focused and lucid. The partnering work is often breathtaking, both risky and seamless. Like tricks with string, the dancers themselves in knots, only to easily slip away. Their bodies ripple and pop, but always with a sense of weight. I found myself thinking of a boyish awkwardness, an accidental grace. It is as if Elkins has taught even his female dancers to move like men. Or boys.

The tenderness of the relationships that are explored in "The Look of Love" feel like a male perspective as well. The sweetness of the choreography is often spiced with an embarrassing goofiness. I particularly enjoyed a solo for dancer Sharon Estacio to Johnston's "Walking the Cow" and a men's trio (Brian Caggiano, Alexander Escalante and Bernard Brown) to Bacharach's "Tower of Strength." The combination of music and dance in all of the sections were intoxicating and I didn't want the dances to end...until they really didn't end. There are 18 sections in all, which I think is a little much.

Still, I can highly recommend this show for those who long for entertainment, escape and humanity. If you're lucky, you might get a ticket for tonight's show, which includes a post-performance discussion, moderated by Kate Mattingly Moran. I say lucky because Elkins is as inspired a social speaker as he is a choreographer. You truly never know what to expect. For more information, please visit DTW's web site.

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