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Flash Review 2, 2-9: TalkTalkTalk
And DanceDanceDance at The Kitchen

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

The second "Talking Dance" program at The Kitchen, curated by Dean Moss and seen at its Wednesday opening, proffered a few different approaches to the use of language in dance performance. Several choreographers/companies integrated text into the performance almost as a formal element. Others directly engaged the audience in a dialogue -- if not literally, then by telling us a story or otherwise involving the content of the text as part of the work. Another tack was to treat text and dance as the subject matter itself. It is clear that the use of language can add layers of meaning. However, that alone does not insure more meaning or richness. In some cases, it can obscure the work or complicate it beyond its parameters.

Sarah Michelson played with text the way she played with movement, props, and costumes. None of it made much sense, but each element was flung onto the stage with the same careful recklessness. Repeated passages included "peaches for skin," and "I have not mistaken pantyhose for skin," alluding to the costumes of ripped pantyhose. Michaelson's scatological style of movement included references to gymnastics and femmes fatales, with frequent circles of coy tip-toeing.

The text used by Elevator Repair Service is from "The Bacchae," and while it may have narrative implications in the full-length version of "Highway to Tomorrow," in the excerpts performed it served as a grounding element in addition to the highly specific choreography (by Katherine Profeta and the company) and the jangly music. The company's style evokes that of the Wooster Group more than contemporary dance, building a tight, rapid-paced vehicle that is as reliant on textual gamesmanship as on movement -- surprisingly appealing -- which comprises quotidian gestures with neurotic ticks.

We were implicated as witness/viewers by a number of the program's choreographers. Katie Duck was mesmerizing -- a muscular, weathered sage -- as she sauntered through the audience, slinking around the stage like a powerful puma, prowling between microphones, the cellist, and sections of dance. Duck began by muttering inaudibly, modulating her voice until it became a preacher's, and asserting her love to a viewer until she shook with intensity. Her dancing was just as pure, yet not as angry, passing through turned-out lunges and opening her torso in confession.

In "Because she was..." Cynthia Oliver, accompanied by live guitar and percussion, basically loses it as we watch, weaving in and out of lucidity, casting spells and attempting to chase away demons of one sort or another. She drops in African/island/American signifiers of both dance and text, loading a simple "mm... hmmm" with a number of potential interpretations, and patterning words into rhythmic structures as engaging as her dance.

Jamie Sneider is a clever comedienne who, in "Bad is Bad. Naughty is Naughty" assumes the role of a casino show performer. Well, showgirl, specifically, as we first see her wearing only a giant pair of feathered wings and a headdress; she later dons a feathered bikini, complaining all the while, and then a catsuit. Now, move aside people, I too must step into the Lisa Yuskavage reference pit. As in Yuskavage's paintings, Sneider's nudity was not only a part of the role she played, it became a subversive element, challenging us to see beyond her Betty Boop body to larger issues of female objectification and stereotypes. What dancing there was mainly included some hilarious faux-Native American Indian warpath mugging and an unselfconscious session of pop-rock dancing. I'm not certain this work belongs in a program of dance, but she made me laugh.

In "Iuj Godog?," Foofwa d'Imobilite also made the best advantage of his body, strategic parts of which were laced through a tubular serpentine "costume." He was forthright about his Cunningham roots and critical of his dancing's influences, yet his precise, strong technique kept pulling this meandering work back on track. The stringent vocabulary cut like a foghorn through the house, seen in maxed-out releves and virtuosic multiple turns in second or back arabesque. In between these explosive dance segments, d'Imobilite continued his self-deprecatory ways. While he talked, most of the time he was on all fours, crawling about, holding his costume's extension in his mouth.

The finale, Miguel Gutierrez's "It's time for another one of those crazy talking dances," was performed with Sarah Michelson, who is a perfect poker-faced partner for Guitierrez. They spoofed the precept of talk in dance, repeatedly chanting, "Talktalktalk! Dancedancedance!" They bounced from topic to subtopic, hitting dance to sounds, and dance while reciting the writings of French philosophers, etcetera, while literally bouncing around the stage. Indeed, it was a welcome light-hearted treatment of a weighty subject at the end of a long evening. The program was hosted by Dancenoise (Anne Iobst and Lucy Sexton), whose expert shtick, and Oscar-worthy costume changes, provided some comic relief to the evening's headiness.

As if to offset the linguistic facet, in a subtheme of the evening, many of the dancers performed naked or nearly so. Is the inclusion of language -- the skill that sets us apart -- so cerebrally tyrannical that it begs for something approaching bestiality to balance it? Or is the prevalence of nudity simply de facto in a society with no limits? Or, is it more question-raising all around? Or are we just supposed to not notice anymore? Enough fodder for yet another themed program, and kudos to The Kitchen and Dean Moss for stirring the pot a bit.

Talking Dance continues through tomorrow night. For more information, please visit The Kitchen web site.

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