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Flash Review 1, 11-6: Not "Just Around Town" at the Duke
Globe-Trotting with Donohue and Hoffbauer

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001 Darrah Carr

NEW YORK -- Dance Theater Workshop's "DTW Around Town" series took us around the world this weekend, through its presentation of works by Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company and Patricia Hoffbauer. Both choreographers, born in Vietnam and Brazil respectively, draw upon culturally specific text, music, and movement vocabulary in order to engage the audience in complex issues of identity politics. Since September 11 questions of difference have obviously escalated to volatile heights. Donohue acknowledges her latest DTW commission "Both" is not the work she intended to make when the project began. She appears to have used this creative opportunity to make the personal speak even more poignantly to the universal.

"Both" opens with a fluid bungee solo for Donohue performed to Zen chants recited by sister Maeve Donohue, live musical accompaniment from Perry Yung, and spoken word by sister Eirene Donohue. The rich sound score is placed against a backdrop of dancers moving through various stages of the Sun Salutation. Donohue does an excellent job of aligning her movements on the rope with the narrative, without being overly literal. "Seeking answers from the skies," Eirene says, as Maura pushes off the ground, in a strong vertical projection. "Where is the line that divides me?" Eirene questions, as Maura somersaults repeatedly, creating a continuous circle that belies division.

Similar subtle, yet deliberate, connections ran throughout the piece. Tom Lee and Marina Celander encircle each other, with outstretched limbs and gentle shifting poses choreographed by Peggy Cheng, one of Donohue's dancers. The pair singing as they move, their vocals intertwine as well, lifting and lilting until Celander breaks into soft laughter at the end. A quartet for Donohue, Cheng, Nancy Ellis, and Nicole Marshall follows. Donohue in particular moves with a sense of urgency, a violent grace that pushes the neatly packaged trios and duets into a place of heightened emotion. Sitting on the floor and dropping her head in her hands becomes a gesture of grief, then of supplication, then of anger, while dancers upstage examine their faces, and thereby their identities, via hand-held mirrors.

The final section features a collage of faces, projected for the audience to examine. (Donohue's sound/video collaborator was Brian Nishii/Westwell Productions.) A large screen image of the American flag floats upstage, while Celander walks slowly into the projection, allowing the colors to stream over her beautifully naked, fully pregnant belly. The projections become smaller and more focused, until her stomach becomes the screen for a series of baby photos. The scope expands to include families, people of different ages, and different races, while the words "E Pluribus Unum" flash across an image of a spinning globe. In light of the events of September 11, it was an extremely powerful statement about the importance of both diversity and tolerance in the United States, as well as a reminder of what is universal -- the hope and promise of new life.

"Over My Dead Body," Patricia Hoffbauer's new quartet, combines Brazilian pop and folk music (some sung, some recorded) with witty dialogue and inventive partnering. The work's central theme is a "tale of vagabonds struggling with an age-old predicament," according to the program notes; "they resist staying together, yet they cannot move apart." Hoffbauer physicalizes this concept exceptionally well. The four move as a unit, yet remain distinctly individual. One splinters off from the group, only to inevitably return and get wrapped together with the rest, limbs entangled. What was less clear was the connection between the funny, albeit curious, dialogues, and Hoffbauer's well crafted choreographic structures.

DTW Around Town continues this week with a mixed bill of Ellis Wood and Lisa Race. For more information, please visit DTW's web site.

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