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Flash Review 2, 1-25: Feelin' Groovy with Irene
Black Tie Optional, Good Vibes Required

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2001 Terry Hollis

Tom Jones's "Sex Bomb" sounds incredible on the sound system at the Joyce Theater. Dean Martin singing "Dream a Little Dream of Me" was the perfect end to a really long day, and Tito Puente covering the Beatles's "Yesterday" turned the theater into the kind of La La Land that I haven't seen since the Paradise Garage closed. One after another Irene Hultman last night filled the theater with good dancing and nice sounds. It was the kind of easy-going atmosphere that made you think nothing could go wrong and everything was groovy. Robert La Fosse turned himself into a heartbroken teenager in the premiere of "In My Arms" and Rufus Wainwright wailed over the speakers. When I turned to my companion to ask him some music history, he had been sucked into Pleasantville and was loving every minute of it. According to the program, all of the pieces were created in close collaboration with the performers and they all did beautiful stuff with Ms. Hultman's choreography. Black Tie Optional, presented as a part of the Altogether Different Festival, is a nice way to see dance.

Don't get the wrong idea, the night wasn't fluff. Ms. Hultman gets some beautiful performances from her group. Gabrielle Malone got the night going with her rendition of "Sex Bomb"; she has a good time taking over the stage and keeps us wondering what she is up to. Ms. Malone keeps the audience's eye as she parades around the stage and entices Andrew Robinson and Andrew Asnes offstage. The three synch up as Tom Jones moves into "You Need Love Like I Do." Powering through winding footwork, the men don't really fight for her attention, they just have a good time while they're there. The choreography alternates between played-down virtuoso phrases and euphoric moments when the performers are having a really good time. Jaime Bishton does a mellow "Dream a Little Dream of Me," practically floating through the song but keeping himself solid. You can barely make out Mr. La Fosse in "In My Arms"; his blonde hair covers his face as he slumps to the floor singing along with Wainwright. He nails the image of forlorn youth right on the head. His loose-limbed gawky walk captures all of that frustration and his helmet of hair keeps him hidden as he stumbles and recovers.

Shelley Washington gives an understated Earth Kitt. A song like "How Could You Believe Me?" would make you think of a woman who loves to be the center of it all. Ms. Washington plays it so nonchalantly, she doesn't need to convince us of anything. The choreography tires out a little and turns into vamping for a while, but when it's on it slicks across the stage without becoming just technique. In the hands of Andrew Robinson and Ms. Malone, "Yesterday" stirs up some real tension between the two. Under the breezy Tito Puente rendition they layer on a couple of intense moments. Ms. Malone and Mr. Asnes ripping through "C'mon A My House" make a day-glo blur across the stage, his bright stripped shirt ducking and weaving and crashing into her while she makes sure he doesn't get too far away. Jodi Melnick was probably the best example of melding the music with the movement. Her body absorbed every note of Eartha Kitt singing "The Touch" and luxuriated in the movements. Ms. Melnick has a beautifully intelligent body and her dancing demands equal time with the music.

The evening ends on a communal note. After a vivacious solo performed by Ms. Hultman to "Day Tripper," the entire cast reassembles for "With A Little Help From My Friends," a song that always puts the good vibes out. Mr. Robinson seems like the most relaxed person on the stage, easily tossing off the choreography and still seeming like an everyday Joe.

In some cases the music in Black Tie Optional dominates the dances and in some cases it doesn't, but the feel of the whole night is so plush and easy, you really don't care.

Irene Hultman returns Saturday night at 8, and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. The Altogether Different Festival closes Sunday. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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