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Flash Review 1, 11-9: Scaling
Traversing Inner & Outer Landscapes with Wood & Race
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW YORK -- I will hold each of you
accountable if Ellis Wood & Lisa Race's shared DTW
Around Town program, which opened last night at the Duke, is not sold out
for the remainder of its weekend run. Gather your pennies, face the insanity of
42nd St and get your soon-to-be-turkey-fed, hibernating-for-the-winter-behind
to The Duke and witness a riotous explosion and celebration of perseverance in
its many forms. Though Wood and Race both come from a gymnastics background and
are riveting, lively performers, their styles and work are dramatically different.
However, the two halves of the evening, presented by Dance Theater Workshop, side
well together, bringing the audience on an exhaustive visceral passage through
magnificent inner and outer landscapes.
Ellis Wood is a modern day gunslinger.
Her "Funkionlust Slut" rides into town and takes no prisoners. It is confounding,
disturbing, hilarious and entirely alive. The constantly shifting terrain is brilliantly
constructed in how it captures, confronts, scares and startles us. Wood is a woman
with a mission and an artist ready to be heard. She has taken her latest effort
beyond the physical representation of emotional urgency seen in earlier works
and has risked having her dancers perform their greatest fear: To speak. Since
I first saw her on the DTW stage, in a Fresh Tracks we shared 6 years ago, I have
been thoroughly fascinated by Wood's combustible mix of anger and vulnerability.
In performance, her body often screams like an open wound. In this latest work,
for Leslie Johnson, Michelle LaRue, Jennifer Phillips, Kristine Willis, and herself,
she has the dancers themselves literally screaming. The dance opens with the image
of rising hips and barrels though sequences of ferocious dancing bursting with
raw, assertive sexuality and ripping heartbreak. There is a heartrending undercurrent
running the length of this piece, even when Wood zanily stumbles through a solo
declaring "I want it." Of the dancers other than Wood, Phillips manages the heartbreaking
awkwardness best, shifting from exposed waif who offers herself "for free" to
hearty, self-declared "hot" vamp, with ease.
Wood's work over the past two years
on the Gender Project, which
seeks to heighten awareness of how women dance artists are treated differently
from their male counterparts, has visibly heightened her determination to be heard
and to ensure that other women are heard as well. The ferocity of "Funkionslust
Slut" seems a direct response to what Wood calls the "overwhelming devastation
of her experience" observing the differences in conditions between men and women
in the dance world. Personally, she refers to the examples present in her own
life. Her mother started dancing at five, her father at 25. When both were with
the Graham company, her mother was a member of the chorus, her father a soloist
and rehearsal director. When they left Graham he was offered five prestigious
positions in dance around the world, while she was offered nothing. When they
started the dance program at the University of California at Berkeley, it was
four years before she could get paid half of his salary. It's frightening.
Wood would be a tough act to follow
if you weren't Lisa Race. This dynamo of a performer clears the air with fell
swoops galore in her 1999 solo "Three Wishes." Though Race claims sleep deprivation,
this new mother shows no signs of slowing down or easing up. She speaks the language
of highly athletic movement seamlessly, with full, luscious phrasing. She's so
smooth you don't notice that her movements are bursting with attack. Her new quartet,
"Social Climb," for Anna Sofia Kallinikidou, Paul Matteson, Jennifer Nugent and
Mark Stuver, is as full of risk taking as Wood's contribution and every bit as
While we began digging the depths
with Wood, Race combines with her dancers to bring us to the summit of this trek.
We shift out of our uncomfortable skins as these fearless daredevils bring their
points of contact beyond phenomenal partnering and into a study in endurance.
The performers easily share comments on preparing for long hikes, addressing fear
of heights, welcoming challenges and hurdling U.S. Immigration department mistakes;
physical climbing becomes a metaphor for overcoming such obstacles. Race, with
the aid of lighting designer Philip Sandstrom and rugged costumes from Naoko Nagata
(also the designer for Wood), manages to expand the tightly packed Duke Theater
until we are transported to a mountainside, tagging along as the dancers embark
on a vigorous hike.
The dance opens with a brilliant
flash of height as the delightfully fluid Matteson is momentarily raised over
head before the dancers gracefully tumble to the floor. I found it easy to disappear
into this realm. To forget any other concerns and root them on each time they
got up off the floor dripping in sweat to ascend onward. The choreography is intricate
and the dancing is excellent all around. The playful nature of the dancers, their
easy camaraderie and the seemingly effortless changes of supporter to supported
paint a picture of open air game playing. All four are amiable and cooperative.
The overwhelming sense of solidarity between these men and women is a calming,
hopeful energy for the latter half of the evening. Getting to the top is achieved
through collaboration and No gets left behind.
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