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Flash Review 2, 1-22:
Durning & Yu: A Tree Plus a Tree is Naught
By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona
Jeanine Durning and Cheng-Chieh
Yu, seen Friday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, are two
performers not to miss. Yu is plush and fluid; Durning a fireball
of explosiveness. Both performers revel in understatement, allowing
the body to speak its own expressive language. Each is hooked to
the postmodern adage that movement has simultaneous meanings (two,
three, four and up) which are equal as well as contradictory. With
subtle sophistication both performers hint at their own amusement
at this, as if to say, "We know what we're doing." And, indeed,
they do, individually. When they get together to collaborate, however,
a backslide occurs.
Durning and Yu were students
together at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts; the
premise of their collaboration over the weekend was to bring together
two performer/choreographers who had developed in dance in distinctly
different ways. This is not a very strong premise for collaboration,
but whim and fancy may lead to greater things. For Durning and Yu,
their experiments led to, guess what? Explorations of identity and
culture. This is not surprising as the multi-culti-ethnicity thing
breeds on thin air, but their explorations of this are... astoundingly...
dull. It is as if, in tandem, each cancels the other's sparkle out,
leaving a flat matte surface.
In Durning and Yu's duet
"A Tree Plus a Tree is a Forest," the stage is lined with an odd
assortment of objects: blank cards, a water bottle (filled), a thick
organizer, two large red fans, a potato on a stick, an Asian-style
'to-go' container, and another potato. Yu dances and Durning joins
her, carrying a blank card and wearing thick rubber slip-ons. Durning
confronts Yu, forcing her to stop. She steps out of the shoes and
Yu steps in. So the metaphors begin: a potato and some Irish step
dancing; a scene in which the potato is swallowed by the 'to-go'
container and a duet in which the potato keeps popping out; and
a final dance which combines Irish and Asian folk movements, each
dancer sweeping the air with the large red fans and slipping her
legs in variations on an ethnic theme. In between there is plenty
of propless, athletic movement. Durning spills to the floor and
Yu embraces the air. The two help each other fly across space or
struggle to prevent it. The difference in their execution and presentational
style is immediately established, but rather unnecessarily. This
could have been easily accomplished with less sweat and more imagination
by a post-performance compare and contrast study of any of their
works. This tree's fruit may have been better savored in private.
The other two works on
the program were significantly more engaging. Yu's "My Father's
Teeth in my Mother's Mouth" is a sly consideration of heritage and
genealogy via orthodontia. I had the pleasure of seeing this piece
at the Kitchen in December as a work-in-progress. (For a more detailed
discussion, please see Flash Review 2, 1-3:
Courage at the Kitchen.) On second viewing, it is still delightful
to watch. Yu exhausts every possible analogy in this precept and
her use of an aluminum soda can as a kind of crap-shooting, orifice-filling,
teeth-holding container is rather astounding and magical.
Durning's "A Good Man
Falls" has this choreographer/performer up to her old tricks. The
set-up is a space-station-cum-'70s-discotheque which is peopled
by two vixen/robot/television broadcasters. The disco ball spins
and the dancers move with fragmented gestures through the ether.
Add to this Durning herself who enters in a full-on space suit with
space gloves and Jetson style bubble helmet and we have a recipe
for tongue-in-cheek that would make Julia Child salivate. Performers
Steffany George and Andrea Johnson provide the launch, taking photographs
and interviewing our hero who fell to earth. Hero Durning is dry
and deadpan, which only makes her delivery funnier. This send up
of television journalism is hilarious, but is only half the story.
Later the soundtrack reveals that Durning's answers are unoriginal.
She is repeating Gwen Verdon's answers to a journalist in an interview
after the Broadway opening of "Sweet Charity." Our easy laughter
deepens to thoughtfulness of context (i.e., context is everything
and nothing all at once). And amidst all of this there is dancing
-- lots of it, precisely executed; but its context seems to matter
not. The same steps appear here and there and here again and each
time they convey an equally flat affect. The glittering production
design by Naoko Nagata and provocative sound score by Robert Gould
override all the frenetic energy of the dancing, primarily because
of their specificity. Even Major Tom was floating somewhere.
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