York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click
here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites
With Body Wrappers it's always performance
at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews
Flash Report, 1-9: It's
More Surprises at Arts Presenters, Day Three
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider
Can we just agree now
that Fritha Pengelly is the hottest dancer in America? This was
the talk around here at The Dance Insider offices already, but until
I caught Pengelly in a solo from Doug Elkins's "Last Train to Philly,"
in Elkins's Elsie Management showcase yesterday at the annual Arts
Presenters conference, I personally didn't fully realize what people
were talking about. So this discovery can't quite qualify as a "surprise,"
but there were still surprises in Day three of the conference in
the showcases I saw at City Center and the New 42nd Street Studios.
Watching Pengelly go
into a patented Elkins hip-hop, trip-hop, and yet still very classy
concert-dancey zone, I understood exactly what my colleague Veronica
Dittman implied when she asked, in Flash
View, 12-22: It's the Dancer, "How are so many talented dancers
today expanding, illuminating, and challenging the choreography
they perform?" In bemoaning the lack of written tributes to modern
dancers relative to those penned about ballet dancers, Veronica
also pointed out that while they may stretch and challenge it, ballet
dancers at least have a technical reference point, the ballet vocabulary.
To varying extends, modern
dancers also have systems in their spines, which might be called
multiple degrees of Martha. No matter how removed from that font,
one might argue, the choreographer working within modern dance,
and auditioning modern dancers, can usually count on his or her
dancers having a technique that's at least passed through the Graham
terrain. But still -- and particularly for those outside of category,
e.g. release technique -- the dancer, as opposed to the ballet dancer
who is able to rely on a set mathematical system, is in some cases,
especially with young choreographers, inventing that system with
the choreographer. By being the first to dance on point, Maria Taglioni,
Fanny Bias, Vaque-Moulin, and Amalia Brugnoli weren't just vessels,
but were inventing this technique with the choreographers. It's
the same thing with many of our post-post modern dancers.
While it might be too
early to identify an Elkins technique, it's not too early to say
that with each year and just about each new ballet, Elkins raises
the barre, not just for himself, but for others working in his milieu.
At yesterday's showcase, he jokingly (I think) called "Philadelphia"
his post-it to Rennie Harris, who has also been endeavoring to corral
hip-hop into the concert hall. Harris, as manifest in his "Rome
& Jewels," has certainly enlarged the hip-hop universe, and made
its expression concert-worthy. But Elkins, as shown in this solo
anyway, has truly fused the two.
The locking, popping,
and releasing are there in Pengelly's dancing, to a trip-hoppy mix
by The Roots, and these are not new to Elkins. What was new, at
least to my viewing, is that while Pengelly's microscale was classic
break dance, infused with a tad of capoiera fluidity, her macroscale
-- in other words, the way she covered the stage, as opposed to
the way she maneuvered her body -- were all ballet, in the scope
of the territory.
Because I haven't seen
Marlies Yearby as much as I have Elkins, I can't compare her to
her. However, I can say that, having winced when I heard the words
"structured improv," I quickly had to retract my wince after seeing
her showcase. Yearby's wiggly, squiggly, fluid body gave her a large
universe from which to select as she made up her part of the dance.
She and musician Cooper Moore and singer Laurie Carlos talked, another
wince-maker for me usually (because the choreographer is often not
as proficient in creating dialogue as in making dance), but they
used words as they should be used in dance -- as sound more than
meaning elements, I thought. At one point, Yearby even cut her own
sound off; her lips kept moving, but nothing issued from them.
Sound, and youthful innocence,
was what impressed me most about Anna Myer & Dancers, whose "Angle
of Repose" included a mostly-duet to a mix of an acoustic silent
night and Vietnam War news reports.
It might be going too
far to call Mark Haim the male Fritha Pengelly, and yet the edges
he gave to Bach's seemingly tranquil "Goldberg Variations" at least
suggest the likeness. His goal, Haim explained to the presenter-heavy
crowd, was to take music essentially written to put people asleep
and see if he could create movement to keep people awake.
Haim, accompanied by
Andre Gribou on what Gribou caveated was a "PLO" or "Piano-like-object,"
definitely found a way to keep the audience awake from the get;
one of the presenters was charged with calling out the numbers of
the variations Haim then danced to. Well, while this music -- you
may have heard the famous Glenn Gould recordings - is reflective,
Haim's dance ideas for it were reflexive -- demanding great reflexes
from him, in a careful, specific response to the notes. Not so much
note-by-note specific -- thank you, that other Mark - but pace and
spirit and mood specific. What's the surprise, you ask? Exactly
that Haim's choreography to this pensive music called for fleetness
and dashing, delivered fleetly and dashingly by his, ahem, dancer
A more strictly lyrical
mood came from Randy James Dance Works's "Moonlight Sonata," to
Beethoven excerpts. Laura Colby, whose Elsie Management hosted the
series of showcases we're breaking down at the moment, had cautioned
at the beginning of the afternoon that the setting was not ideal
one -- i.e. that the City Center studio setting was sans the usual
full-bore theatrical elements. And yet James and his dancers, particularly
in a quartet where they kept huddling together, the women extending
bent legs as the group twirled, made me forget we were in basically
a cold, barren studio. I felt as if in a full-bore, transporting
Now, starting with Dennis
O'Connor Dance, I experienced the first of my three (two good, one
bad) biggest surprises for the day. I hadn't seen the former Merce
Cunningham dancer's work before. And the first work on his 15-minute
program left me cold -- a bit too rangy for me, to a rangier, acerbic
David Linton score. Tho I admired Linda Sastradipradja's intensity
and seriousness of purpose, O'Connor, as dancer, was all over the
But then "The Yellow
Wallpaper" kicked in, or excerpts there of, and, specifically, Jodi
Melnick stepped up, and man! I can see now why "Jodi's Body" inspired
a film of the same name. Call me a dance outsider, but tho I'd heard
of Melnick, I'd never had the pleasure of a Melnick tour-de-force,
which is, I think after watching her solo from the "Charlotte" section
of this work, what all her performances must be. Another talking
dance this -- in fact, Melnick never stops dancing, or, importantly,
moving, in a slithery but exact, quick manner. It soon became clear
-- to me, anyway -- that what she and the choreographer were evoking
was New York City. Particularly when her babble -- a litany mostly
of complaints of annoyances encountered on a city street -- is briefly,
without her losing a breath, interrupted when she flicks her head
to the side and notices, "Oh, a new gallery!" before flicking it
back. Make Melnick another to add to Veronica's requested tributes
to major moderns, at least in this critic's book.
I must admit I was skeptical
about KT/Dance when I saw that its raves came from its hometown
of Seattle. See, there was another Seattle company that was the
rage a year or so ago -- 33 Fainting Spells -- and yet when I saw
its concert I called the "Don't Believe the Hype" mantra up. In
this case, tho, I'm here to tell ya: Believe, Believe. I'm just
noticing now that the title of the company's showcased piece is
"Attracted to Accidents," but it makes sense. Highpoints of the
controlled havoc, impact-sensitive movement include when all watch,
their heads bobbing, an accident in progress offstage. At another
point, they all hit the deck face-forward and then, I swear, reverberate,
their bodies bouncing up and down. A female dancer is thrown in
the air by two others, and easily caught on the way down. A woman
talks about an earthquake that hit her hometown, the other four
dancers act it out, and only at the conclusion does she tell us
that she wishes she was there when the quake happened. These dancers,
tho, put us there.
They've given accidents
multiple physical dimensions, and chaos beauty. My only fear, tho,
was that some of our New York choreographers might try to steal
these pitch-perfect performers.
Risa Steinberg is a dance
archeologist. Her "Celebration of Dance" one-woman show includes
not just works of the famous in the modern canon -- like Duncan,
Humphrey, and Sokolow -- but lesser-remembered choreographers like
Eleanor King, whose "Wrath" conjured a witch's brew of sweeping
....I left Elsie's showcase
early to make my way through the persistent Manhattan rain down
7th Avenue, towards the bright lights, big city of Times Square.
As I approached the new New 42nd Street Studios, I had to run the
gauntlet past a horde of screaming teenagers, penned in behind police
barricades, who seemed to be shouting and screaming, on cue, at
something above me. My first conclusion of course was, "Oh, some
enthusiastic Parsons fans," but no, I looked up and saw the "MTV"
logo on the clear window, and the cameras behind it. And yes, I
was tempted to coral these adulants and bring them to the REAL show
happening around the corner.
Well, it's a good thing
I didn't, because the IMG showcase, at studio 3A in this new building,
was packed, SUOHRO (Sitting Uncomfortably on Haunches Room Only).
The 90-capacity room was full of about 200 people, mostly presenters.
Notwithstanding my snide inside joke above, my aching back was the
only reason, really, why I left the studio before the Parsons showcase.
Before that, tho, I temporarily forgot my pain, given perspective
by Pilobolus and, particularly, Matt Kent and Benjamin Pring as,
attached only by Pring's arms behind him around Kent's torso, they
double-cartwheeled -- among other feats -- off the stage. This was
one of several gasp moments for the audience. Maura Nguyen Donohue
has previously reviewed this dance,
so I'll add just one thing about "Tsu-Ku-Tsu," this collaboration
with Taiko drum master Leonard Eto: I'm well-versed enough in the
Pilobolus vocabulary to be able to recognize which old phrases they've
tapped for a new dance and its "new" combinations. Here, tho, every
single phrase seemed new; I liked not just the way Renee Jaworski
(sp.? Sorry, she's great and lithesome and winsome, but she's new,
and unlike Elsie's showcase, no program was handed out by IMG listing
the dancers, at least to me. Oy!) slowly climbed up Gaspard Louis,
but the way she calmly sashayed her upper body while in what must
have been a strainful position. I also liked how Josie Coyoc, tossed
in the air, spun complete around before coming down in another dancer's
arms. (So impressively, in fact, that I've completely blocked out
the identity of the dancer who caught her!) (While we're on the
subject, heart-felt Dance Insider condolences to Ms. Coyoc, who
recently lost her step-mother.)
Adam Battelstein and
Rebecca Stenn, who make up Pilobolus Too, performed a riveting duet
from the ever-poignant classic "Land's Edge." I'm aware that in
my last I rhapsodized at length about Stenn's own company, and with
she a friend, yet, so I won't say more about this piece here, although
I would like to repeat the mantra those of us who support and pitch
Pilobolus Too have adapted: This is not your typical second company.
Stenn and Battelstein, its founding dancers, are seasoned veterans
of Pilobolus and Momix. What this essentially is is a company that
specializes in Pilobolus duets, some old, some new; that can travel
cheaper because of its size; and that excels at teaching residencies.
The New 42nd Street itself,
through the New Victory Theater, excels at teaching children about
dance. Its studios seem to have come through just in the nick of
time for the companies showcasing at the Arts Presenters conference.
Next year, word has it, City Center studios will be less available
to these companies, so the New 42nd Street studios are expected
to help fill this void.
back to Flash Reviews