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Flash Review 2, 1-3: Courage at the Kitchen
Dance in Progress

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2000 Diane Vivona

There is something oddly disturbing about reviewing a concert whose title includes the words "in progress." The Dance in Progress series at The Kitchen is one of that theater's longest-running programs, and this longevity alone validates its usefulness for choreographers and dancers; to review works on this program, however, may be premature. This fall, four choreographers met weekly over a two-month period for peer review and support. Along the way a product or product-like thing emerged and, after eight weeks within the peer safety net, this product was introduced to the public over the holiday weekend before Christmas. As curator Dean Moss explained, "This is only a marker -- a stop in the development of the works." This seems to me a paradox; the dance presented is the dance presented now, and not what it may be in the future. It also seems somewhat lacking in courage, which is ironic for this is one thing these four choreographers have in abundance.

K.J. Holmes's piece "Ice (is never silent)" presents an interesting mix of texture and color. The work opens with the choreographer standing still, in silence. Her profile is exposed just long enough that the details of her high cheekbones and long neck become familiar. Softly her limbs begin to feel the air around her and then she sweeps her head in a questioning gaze towards the audience. We are seen too, she seems to say. Behind her Karinne Keithley stands in the folds of Elena Berriolo's set, an oversized mylar and canvas curtain suspended in free floating motion by a single pivoting clasp. Holmes crinkles her fingers and extends her limbs, reaching and exploring with her antennae. She disappears behind the curtain and Keithley dances an inward, weighted solo that seems bent on excluding her environment, pushing against it with her back, her fists, her outstretched leg. The curtain rotates, revealing its shiny side, and the two dance in simultaneous solos, coming together in small moments of suspended unison. Singer Helga Davis is heard before she is seen, her live voice emerging as the taped sound score fades. Her entrance is bold and elegant and she is striking in a bright red floor-length gown. She sings with pleading open arms; the dancers move behind her in small neurotic pecking motions and the contrast seems huge. Davis's entrance distorts the dancers' fluidity. Their energy seems disturbed, agitated. Davis sings, "Clarity awaits me" and with each repetition, we know she is lying.

Trajal Harrell's "Before and After" had a promising set-up. Five light boxes were placed down the center line, dividing the space and providing an eerie other-worldly glow. Harrell enters the space from behind the audience, stops to turn on his music and proceeds onto the left half of the stage. In the light, his costume shows a witty reference to being hugged and held: His shirt-like covering is tied about his neck and waist with what appear to be long gloves. However, this witticism is not carried through to the choreography. Harrell takes a trip down memory lane, remembering a past love with swirling gestures and lithe romantic turns. He swoons and flirts with his imagined amour, changes the music and then dances some more. Harrell has an expressive face and, honorably enough, he presents his lovesick twirls with the innocence of Snow White. This is his fairy tale and he believes it. Unfortunately, his belief does not sway the viewer. Harrell's sentimental world of touch memory is most powerful in his final image: Swaying side to side and holding himself by the waist, his face is cast aside in protection with his neck vulnerably exposed. Harrell repeats this, then breaks into an unfortunate mime moment, and returns. In a gutsy choice, he repeats this gesture over and over, erasing what is left of his dream world.

Cheng-Chieh Yu is a subtly sophisticated performer. Her lithe body and wide dynamic range exude confidence and control. Further, her vision as an artist is unique and engaging. Her story is simple enough and is revealed in her title, "My Father's Teeth in my Mother's Mouth." This is the story of identity through dentistry: genetics, heritage, DNA and molars. This is an original premise and Yu presents this as metaphor as well as fact. She dances with a can of teeth, tossing them like dice in a crap game as if to say, "It's all a crap shoot, how I came to be." There are a few magical moments with the silver folding chairs which are lined up in a smiling semi-circle. Yu balances a chair on her head, the seat covering her face. She is metal-head, literally. She pushes the chairs together, slowly and evenly. Smiles and stomps her orthodontic approval. Then, she reenacts her own birth on a tilted, precarious chair. With the extraction of the child, six chairs are magically removed to the side of the stage. Yu's physical investigation of this dental metaphor produces a plethora of images, most of them easy to watch, some funny, some physical outstanding. With David Quinn's appropriately split costume and an evocative sound score, Yu's work appears complete and finished.

The title of Kimberly Bartosik's work borrows from either the Cunningham/Cage aesthetic or the artist formerly known as Prince. It is a graphic -- the number 1 inside a thickly lined black box -- and this sets the scene for a visual landscape where movement lies equal to color and form. The work begins with Astrud Angarita strapped into a harness. She is standing behind a small knee-high projection screen streaming blue geographical forms. Her discomfort is telegraphed through the tightness of her arms and the pull of her body against the harness. She tries to step beyond her landscape but can't. This spell is broken when Angarita unlatches her harness and easily enough, steps away. Landscape two is red: Cement blocks, monitors of lipsticked mouths talking, a goldfish bowl of red water. Angarita's task is to travel through this obstacle course. She balances and sways as the mouths move and tongues dart, ending in a precarious descent to the fishbowl. She reaches the bowl, grabs, shakes, spills to blackout. Section three begins with Angarita standing over a pile of dirt, her hands clasped and pulled low. Her energy manifests in a circular agitation which climaxes into a frantic tornado of arms and energy. Upon release she walks upstage, where she sits exposing her back. One long arm reaches snake-like above her head. Her hand becomes the head of a cobra, seeking and sniffing for danger. Further upstage, she finds another pile of dirt and is propelled forward, downstage. She ends up sliding face down in the dirt and it is a surprise, it seems, even for her. She stokes the earth, feeling the texture of it over her skin. A shift has occurred. She is no longer of the landscape but rather in it. Accolades to Angarita for her strong performance and to lighting designer Anthony J. DeMeglio, whose beautifully saturated colors enhanced the filmic quality of the work.


Diane Vivona, a dancer and writer, is visiting assistant professor of dance at Richard Stockton College. She received her MA from the University of London, where her focus was aesthetics and the choreographic process.

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