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Flash Review 3, 3-2: Oy! Vertigo
Run, Don't Walk, Away from this Show

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

As anyone who reads the New York Times knows, 42nd Street has been cleaned up and Disney-fied. However, as I discovered last night at the Duke on 42nd Street, that doesn't mean you won't get cleaned out by a rat. I was robbed of 75 minutes of my life by Vertigo Dance Company and the 92nd Street Y's Harkness Dance Project Wednesday night. That's 75 minutes of my life that I will never get back. I can, however, protect you. I wasn't planning to write about this show, unless it was so good I wanted to encourage you to "Run, Don't Walk" to see it. Instead, I now find myself impelled to write so I can grab you by the shoulders and say in no uncertain terms: If this show gets within 50 feet of you, run, don't walk, the other way!

Now, you might ask, dance insider, why it's necessary for me to be this cruel. After all, no artist starts out intending to make a failure. I agree in general with that, and would even go further to acknowledge that there are some noble failures: artists grappling with a compelling idea, but who are unable due to limitations in their toolbox to actualize it. And indeed, even if one might wonder how Israel, a country in the dance of which Martha Graham and Anna Sokolow played such a pivotal role, can produce a piece of work so riddled with cliches and badly acted, couldn't "Gas Heart" still qualify as a noble failure? After all, it IS intriguing to try to construct a dance play to a play by Dada founder Tristan Tzara. (This piece is credited as a collaboration between Vertigo and the Hungarian theater company Artus.)

But what is ignoble -- or, at least, mind-boggling -- is how and why the Harkness Dance Project would choose to open its first festival "on Broadway" with such a facile, empty-headed, emptily acted, rudimentarily danced, and sophomorically directed and choreographed time-stealer.

Noa Wertheim, also credited with Gabor Goda and Ildiko Mandy as one of the choreographers in this piece directed by Goda, played a body-less head who wouldn't shut up. (Allegedly, according to the program, the rest of the dancer-actors were body parts, although nothing in the choreography or the dancing remotely, cubistically, or Dada-esquely resembled a body part.) I didn't expect to understand the script; the basis here is, after all, claimed to be Dada-esque, so textual incomprehensibility was an available choice. But Wertheim, as "The Mouth," delivered his lines with so little variation, that his monologues sounded like a rote first-reading out of a simplistic script. As for the dance, just when I was challenging myself, "What cliche haven't they used?" the women started hurtling themselves at the men, who of course scooped them up in their arms.

Just about the only person in the audience laughing last night was the Harkness's director, Joan Finklestein; but perhaps she was laughing not at the show but the gag she'd pulled on the rest of us to make us believe the hype. About the only hero on stage was the noble usher who twice crossed its lip to open the exit doors, mistakenly thinking it was intermission, in what was an intermissionless and interminable 75-minute piece. But she got no respect from the Harkness director, who laughed loudly at the usher as well. (I wasn't even going to mention her laughing at the show -- hey, even curators deserve not to have their audience comportment critiqued -- until she laughed at the usher, the height of disrespect. They also serve who try to set our audience people free!)

In both cases, I would like to ask, what was she laughing at? And I would also like to ask, what was she thinking when she programmed this company? Had she not seen any of the much more original and well-executed dance theater extant, even just in New York? Elevator Repair Service. David Grenke's Thingsezisee'm Dance/Theater, which has done fine work dealing with similar topics. DD Dorvilier. Heck, even Annie-B Parsons, of whose work I'm not a partisan, could give a schooling to these performers. At least she has sophistication! At least her dancer-actors can actually act! (To see our reviews of these artists, just type their names into the search engine on our Home page.) And yet with all this native talent -- not to mention foreign talent out there as well -- the Y brings these folks to town? Do they think we're such rubes? This is why I'm steaming: A gig opening the prestigious Harkness Dance Project at the equally prestigious and spanking-new Duke on 42nd Street is a golden performance opportunity, for which there are many worthy candidates who could be engaged -- and who would truly engage the audience and do credit to the presenter. The Harkness has squandered this spot, and wasted our time as well by programming Vertigo. Oy! Indeed. Make that a triple, no, make that a sextuple Oy!

WHY?

I ask this "Why" not just of the Harkness director, but of those listed on the Harkness Dance Center's advisory board. If they're letting their names be used in this capacity, and listed on the program as such, it's fair to question them about the choice. The board members I'm asking why include -- get ready for this, it's a list that includes many well and deservedly known for their taste -- they include, according to the program: co-chair Theodore S. Bartwink, Gerald Arpino, Merce Cunningham, Jacques D'Amboise, Beverly D'Anne, David Howard, Judith Jamison, Bill T. Jones, Pearl Lang, Anna Sokolow (from beyond the grave, no doubt, in which she now may be rolling over), Betsy Davidson, Paul Taylor, and Charles and Stephanie Reinhart. Of course, they shouldn't just take my word for it; I defy any of these board members -- all of whom I do respect, I should emphasize -- to see this show and then defend it. I double-dare them!

The American Dance Festival which the Reinharts direct is known, and rightly so, for advancing the cause of modern dance in this country and abroad. So I am therefore mightily puzzled as to why they would let their names be associated with a festival which, at least in its choice of Vertigo, has so retarded the progression of modern dance, to say nothing of modern dance theater.

When I returned home last night, the photo of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in her masterpiece "Fase" on my wall had fallen off the wall and onto the bed. I can't help thinking that what was presented on 42nd Street last night reeked so mightily that the smell wafted down to West 8th Street and made Anne suffer Fainting Spell Number 34. I am going to collapse on the bed now, hoping this was all just a bad dream, and lulling myself to sleep with the incantation: "There's no Fase like home, there's no Fase like home."

 

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