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Flash Review 1, 1-6: Grenke's New Art Form
"Savage/Love" 's Blissful Mix

By Ursula Eagly
Copyright 2001 Ursula Eagly

Dance, theater, visual art, music, and love story sounds like a lethal mixture. Ambitious multi-media works can be scattered, and love on stage can be melodramatic. Yet David Grenke Thingsezisee'm Dance/Theater's new production of "Savage/Love," written by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin and performed at the Pace Downtown Theater this weekend, delicately intertwines these elements, using each sparingly and to its full advantage. Grenke's staging of "Savage/Love" is as multifaceted as it is beautiful.

Six musicians accompany six performers, who are dressed in iridescent evening wear with clear shiny plastic accessories: clear shiny plastic shoes for the women and clear shiny plastic vests or neckties for the men. The set design creates three levels for the performers to move about on: the level of the audience, the level of the stage, and a third level made by a high platform that spans the length of the stage. The placement of performers on these different elevations creates a visually stunning, almost two-dimensional tableau.

Grenke assigns each performer a role. One actor suffers from a humorous, love-induced identity crises. He loses 15 pounds and practices a new smile for a lover he has yet to meet. In another instance, he wonders if his lover dreams of him or of Paul Newman. A long-armed actress talks ambiguously about having killed her partner without him noticing. Another actor addresses his lover. At one point, his words appear projected on the wall above the actress's head. Each phrase hangs for a second before dissolving like snowflakes. A corps of three women dancers amplify the others' movements, words, and music by taking their cues from certain gestures or rhythms. Grenke himself dances two breathtakingly lyrical and heartbreakingly contorted solos. His chin is pinned to his chest and his back arched in an uncomfortable S-shape while his arms create mesmerizing shapes. Together these different characters paint the portrait of a relationship, or of several relationships, or perhaps of love as a cultural practice.

Grenke's investigation of love keeps well away from melodrama because of the extreme restraints he places on his performers. They are almost entirely isolated from each other. Actors never address one another and dancers never touch one another.

Austerity also prevents the use of multi-media from becoming fragmented. The soliloquies are never verbose and the movement is never unbridled. One art form never fights to take attention away from another. Rather, one medium comes to the foreground while the other recedes, each making space for the other in turn. Movement slows to allow for the visual projections, talking ceases to allow for dance. These transitions are so smooth, so unnoticed that the differences between art forms seems meaningless. Grenke has achieved true aesthetic mastery in multimedia art; namely, the media no longer appear multi, but work together seamlessly to create a single, limitless, and entirely new form of art.

"Savage/Love" is performed again today and tomorrow at 2 p.m., and tonight at 8 p.m. For more information, please call 212-280-8021.

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