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Flash Review 1, 2-1: Noble Humility
Buglisi/Foreman: Against the Ironic Grain

By Karinne Keithley
Copyright 2001 Karinne Keithley

Buglisi/Foreman Dance is founded on a legacy of the Graham dancing body by four principal Graham dancers (Jaqulyn Buglisi, Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin and Donlin Foreman). Ostensibly it is a company that takes that deep Graham foundation and brings it into the contemporary world, not in living reconstructions but as the basis for new work. Watching that new work last night at the opening evening of the company's season at the New Victory Theater brought up a roster of large questions surrounding this pursuit. I found myself wondering whether an essentially historical body is viable outside of the choreography that demands it.

This is a company about dancers. This is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to watching the venerable Christine Dakin, or the easy yet sharp Miki Orihara. But dancers require a form to dance, a vehicle for making-visible commonly known as choreography. For the most part, the choreography fell behind the intensity and possibility in many of these performers. Pieces like Foreman's "Suite; Arms around Me" and Buglisi's "Sand" displayed how wonderful the dancers were, but didn't employ the available artistry to higher ends. (Now, to be fair, it's hard to watch Dakin, for example, without seeing behind her the shadows of all the Graham repertory she has danced -- a tough comparison for any choreographer.)

As an impostor from a totally different aesthetic, I was struck by the extent to which style is a behavioral protocol. As a dancer who's 'classics' are Yvonne Rainer's "Trio A" and Trisha Brown's "Group Primary Accumulation," I find myself as disbelieving (initially) at an impassioned far-off 'I'm feeling something important and serious' facial expression as Martha Graham herself might have been at a concert of the most noodly release technique. But this is a jarring that I can forget in an instant if that protocol is aligned with, or arises from the logic of the choreography. This is exactly what happened in "Suspended Women," the standout of the evening. The duration of this piece was the only time that I didn't feel a gulf of style between my downtown/grew-up-on-po-mo context and the world on stage. It became for a while what it should be: dance.

"Suspended Women" is simply beautiful. With a cast of 11 women in various partial constructions of hoop dresses (Vienna does Cinderella?), Buglisi creates a world of restrained images that never stops moving. Underneath the entire piece is the sense that the ground is just a little bit unpredictable. My attention is drawn to a sense of swirl at the edges, a lush density that reminds me of pictures of fractals -- I can never quite track the end of the edge before it moves again. Throughout, Buglisi stays connected to the outside perspective, offers good clear images and allows them to resonate. There is a gravity to this piece, a sadness, that works well amidst the Ravel that it is set to, amidst the romantic rather than the austere. This is no Clytaemnestra; this is Buglisi's sensibility, which is extremely satisfying to see fulfilled.

Watching Capucilli and Dakin dance in "Suspended Women" leaves me thinking about nobility, wondering if it's even possible to be noble in this cultural moment, when so much of our rating system is bound up in irony, wit, and knowingness. This seems to me one of the principal dilemmas for Buglisi/Foreman Dance, this negotiation of cultural moment and a movement style and protocol that assumes an antique dignity and noble humility. I for one am gratified by their presence on that front.

Buglisi/Foreman Dance performs at the New Victory through Sunday. For more information, please visit the company's web site.

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