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Flash Review 2, 11-16: On the "Verge"
Getting Interpersonal with Miller

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- Ted Johnson forces Darrell Jones's lips into a smile at the beginning of Bebe Miller's "Verge" and though there are a few more spurts of levity, this work lives most often in a deeper, profoundly rich realm. "Verge" premiered in February at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, and is now being presented by Dance Theater Workshop Around Town, through tomorrow night at the Duke. I hear there are still tickets available for the Friday night and Saturday matinee shows. So, dance insider, there is no good reason for you to say you missed this triple Bessie-winning work.

"Verge" is a detailed look at the charged space between bodies. As Miller brought us to focus on the impact of contact and the emotional weight of proximal space, I kept referring back to my favorite "anthropologist," Edward T. Hall. Though this quote from his "The Dance of Life" is about musical composition, it as readily fits Miller's physical symphony: "The rhythm of a people may yet prove to be the most binding of all the forces that hold human beings together. As a matter of fact, I have come to the conclusion that the human species lives in a sea of rhythm, ineffable to some, but quite tangible to others." Miller is one of those "others," capable of tapping into this sea and using dance to express for us that which we already knew, but were unable to articulate.

"Verge" is an obviously sensual work. But not in a coy or seductive way. When Angie Hauser Robinson lays herself down on a track of grass running across the upstage, or when Jones helps Melissa Wynn climb up a free-standing wall, we are as conscious of those points of contact as when the partnering takes on sexual overtones. We see the human capacity for a range of emotions as four people negotiate within the interpersonal sphere.

Miller's work seems the most appropriate of DTW's four-week fall season (self-included) for the Duke on 42nd St. Not because it matches the bright & shiny Disneyland of Times Square, but because on occasion Broadway is home to our nation's finest theater. "Verge" belongs to that select group. While Miller continues to deserve the mantle of master craftsman in the dance world, she's been making some of the most exciting American theater I've been witness to for the past few years. During a post-show Q&A, an audience member asked if she'd ever considered "throwing the dance away" as she developed her highly theatrical work. Miller pointed out that moving towards theater doesn't necessarily require moving towards text and away from movement.

There is text, as gathered and re-arranged by Talvin Wilks, in the "Verge." But the words, along with Hanh Rowe's evocative score, Michael Mazzola's graceful lighting and Scott Pask's inspired set design merge with Miller's choreography to create a fully comprehensive universe. The dancers handle the text with natural ease and still manage to maintain electrically compelling performances. They maneuver through various states of focus and effort with exceptional skill and commitment for the demanding hour long work.

Bebe Miller's Verge plays again tonight and tomorrow night, with a matinee Saturday. For more information, please visit DTW's web site.

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