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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 towers.

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 dancers.

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.

"Dancing 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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