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Flash Review 2, 2-23:
In the Still of the Night
Coming in from the Cynical Cold with Brookoff & Co.
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier
In the midst of the sudden
whoosh of snow that stilled New York City last night, it was a real
pleasure to come into the friendly Cunningham Studio for an evening
of dances by Matthew Brookoff. The Brookoff Dance Repertory Company
performed seven pieces, four of them premieres, in a program called
"Dancing to Song" that was by turns impassioned, witty, searching,
and adorable. It was also -- something for which I was unprepared
-- completely without cynicism. No small thing.
The evening opened with
a solo for Brookoff himself, a premiere called "From Gypsy Song"
set to music for voice and piano by Dvorak. While Brookoff's falling
arms and leaps into corners echoed the ache in the female singer's
voice, his dancing was suffused with a sweetness that was a hallmark
of the entire evening. The second premiere, "Through Oriel Windows,"
was a tango for Robin Hoffman and Tasha Taylor to k.d. lang's version
of Cole Porter's "So In Love." Here were entanglements and enveloping
arms, shared lifts and extensions that spoke of a gentle, generous,
untroubled understanding. I loved the "breathing" port de bras that
began and ended the piece: two sets of arms like wings. (The lovely
costumes here and elsewhere in the show were provided by Body Wrappers.)
Luz Marina Diaz, in the
premiere of "Shell Game," and Taylor, in the 1996 "Femme," took
us into darker, funnier, more solitary country. "Shell Game" is
a solo for Diaz to jaunty music by Parisotti; it's just the thing
for this petit, unassuming dancer who will suddenly roar out into
space or slam to the floor or bobble her head in dainty faux-perplexity.
"Femme" is the more interesting of these two women's solos. To an
aria from "The Marriage of Figaro," Taylor, barefoot and in black,
does huge developpes and ecstatic leaps and pirouettes. The movement
has roots in ballet, but with raggedy, blown-out edges. For a second
she mimes pistols at her hips, but more Bonnie Parker than Annie
Oakley. At the aria's "morire" (something melodramatic about dying)
she slumps, then continues her stormy private witness. Taylor is
the most surprising of the nine Brookoff dancers. At one moment
she looks fine-boned and petite; at another, as in "Femme," she
The new work "No More,"
like many of the other dances in this concert, is a fairly literal
piece of choreography: the movement echoes the words in a style
that's appropriate to them. Here that simplicity works to fine effect.
This longish almost-solo for Hoffman, performed en pointe to the
Rodgers & Hart classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," is
a grown-up woman's witty-wistful meditation that stays her own even
when the man (Brookoff) comes in toward the end. In everything she
did last night, but especially in this piece, Hoffman brought one
word to mind: lush. She has danced with the Joffrey Ballet and the
Louisville Ballet, among others, and she has a strong, gracious
classical style. She does a deadpan little bourree in place when
the lyric says "I don't even shake"; there is a beautiful series
of turns and, when Brookoff enters, a diagonal of lifts straight
out of Fred & Ginger. It's a luscious performance. That it didn't
look out of place after Taylor's punchy "Femme" is a tribute both
to Brookoff's consistency of purpose and to the seriousness of the
The last piece in the
program's first half, "Aphrodite's S(c)ent" (1996), is another variation
on Brookoff's interest in the dynamics of femininity, an interest
revealed throughout the evening. In this trio for Brookoff, Taylor,
and Kim Larimore, set to the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah," the
two women in nightgowns meet and tangle (as in the earlier "Through
Oriel Windows") while the man keeps breaking through their arms.
He doesn't understand how women love, or how to love them; he uses
what means he has -- aggression, control, a tantrum -- to insert
himself into their circle of affection. They support him in the
air for a moment as he leaps between them. When he grabs their hands
and drags them backward on either side of him, it is an act of violent
desperation. He holds them at his sides. He shudders and winces,
and his movement ripples off each one of them in turn. When the
piece ends, he lies crumpled to one side as the women embrace. Whatever
you think of the conclusions it draws, "Aphrodite's S(c)ent" is
an interesting dance investigation, the most inventive choreography
of the evening.
The program concluded
with "Let's Step Out" (1999), a suite of dances to songs by Cole
Porter that is remarkable for its forthright good feelings. A program
note says it's "set in 1928 Paris, early June," but I can imagine
just about any straight-down-the-line musical incorporating the
material Brookoff has created. He's cribbed from Gene Kelly, Busby
Berkeley, Astaire, and George Balanchine, it looks like, and it
all looks good, if at times a little bland. There are romantic duets
for Brookoff and Taylor (the first, to "You've Got That Thing,"
features him as an earnest, endearingly goofy suitor); a marvelous
ensemble number for six girls in Catholic-school uniforms, in which
good use is made of basic ballet steps; a streetwalker saunter to
"Love for Sale" for Hoffman and six other women (in gorgeous dresses
by Katrin Hutchinson); and a happy finale for the whole cast. The
pas de deux for Frank M. Dellapolla and Therese Wendler is, in pure
dance terms, the nicest of the lot, and Wendler gets a vivacious
solo to "I'm In Love" that showcases her quick attack, great jumps,
and bright temperament. Best of all is a nightclub solo to "Please
Don't Make Me Be Good," in which the long, tall Tomiko Magario,
in a slinky black dress, manages to be both devastatingly elegant
and a hell of a lot of fun.
to Song" repeats tonight and tomorrow at 9 p.m. at the Merce
Cunningham Studio, 55 Bethune Street, 11th Floor. For ticket information,
please call 212-340-4786.
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