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Flash Review 3, 11-20: Verging on Banal, Almost Vacuous:
Douglas Dunn's intelligent Gym

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2001 Josephine Leask

NEW YORK -- In his new collaboration with playwright Jim Neu seen Thursday at P.S. 122, Douglas Dunn appears on stage first, moving with a mature but crumpled grace, recalling Cunningham when he himself appeared in some of his later works. Slightly hunched but perfectly trim, the result of many years of dancing, both have bodies that carry a history. Dunn leads us into his world of "Aerobia," a sort of futuristic gym where people come to better themselves, to pump their minds and build self-esteem. This is a gym of the future, "for the hyper alive to succeed themselves, and where you have to know how to be." At Aerobia you will not hear grunts and moans, see beefy muscle or have to suffer lunk mentality. This is the intelligent person's gym, where deep talk, soul searching and witty sound bites drop off the dancers' tongues, like sweat off their well-toned bodies.

When the dancers first enter, they look like the cast of Star Trek on a night out clubbing: Bright-colored lycra two-piece body suits, with glitter-plastered hair and make-up. The dance they perform is an eclectic mix of many techniques, elite aerobics that requires heaps of skill and much more brain power.

Since his days with the Grand Union improvisational collective in 1970s New York, Dunn always had a thing about text and talking. In "Aerobia" he collaborates with playwright and performer Neu to develop a script that, like the dancing, never stops. Pre-recorded and live monologues performed by the dancers themselves are smoothly absorbed by their moving bodies, while phrases and words are exchanged as comfortably as if they were instruments in a jazz band. Likewise the music score by Lenny Pickett provides easy listening and curious rhythms -- a low-fat jazz.

While there is no acting, the cast all have their different characters - Dunn the idealist, Neu the barman of Aerobia's Zen bar who raps through his text, a commentary on what Aerobia is all about. "I love the taste of crunchy achievement," he says while watching the dancers on their transmuscular journey to self-improvement. Aerobia's clientele -- two ambitious women (Hope Mohr and Jennifer Howard), an uptight actress who pretends she's lost her twin (Beth Simons) and a concerned young man (Christopher Williams) engage with each other in a series of casual trios, duets and solos but like people working out in a gym, they never become too intimate or too interested. Each character is self-sufficient and ultimately out for him/herself. On their New Age venture of self-discovery nothing can stop them.

At times the talking descends into idle platitudes or becomes too much like a stream of consciousness. Superfluous ideas are bounced from wall to wall, but the performers reference this when near the end, they all start speaking at once, like telephone wires that have been crossed or short-circuiting robots. But the joy of Aerobia is that its members can sort themselves out. As one of the performers says, "Mixed focus makes for fuzzy living, we need to pull ourselves together. " Finally they buzz of stage, another lesson learnt.

What Dunn knowingly manages to create is a dance play that verges on the utterly banal with meanings that are ultimately vacuous, but that does tap into a future where New Age thought and an obsession with health could be leading us.

"Aerobia" runs through Sunday at P.S. 122.

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