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Flash Review 2, 3-15: Cured by Rosen/Bernstein
Do Not Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter this "Triage"

By Karinne Keithley
Copyright 2001 Karinne Keithley

When the bow lights came up after the first piece in "Triage," Amy Sue Rosen and Derek Bernstein's Harkness Dance Project show which opened last night at the Duke on 42nd Street, I realized that my original desire -- to see the piece in a distant, visually pure place (on film, a discrete white space in a black void) -- had slowly been achieved not through spatial distancing but through a persistence of manner. Sustained through the evening was this sense of gentle travel from the physical space of the theater to a saturated, painterly space, but one where images had scent, sweat, duration, and an odd muted form of speech. The three dances that comprised "Triage" -- "Object Lesson" (1990), "One Magnificent Gesture" (1999) and "Abandoning Hope" (2001) -- weren't a triptych so much as a set of worlds with a temporal affinity, all rooted in the visual yet replete with a certain quality of time.

Amy Sue Rosen and Derek Bernstein, a choreographer and painter respectively, have been collaborating since 1983. Their work together is more than an allying of choreographic and scenic/visual media. Rather, something new occurs at the mingling of the two modes: a durable image, a kinesthetically molded image, an image which is only completed by occupancy, by behavior.

In "Object Lesson," three dancers move inside of a set of plastic tubing and water carafes. Over the course of the dance, the fluid in the tubing becomes blood-red, snaking its way across the floor. The piece progresses simply. For a while, Sally Bomer, David Parker and Kristi Spessard gently toe the stage. Events come into place. Spessard is lifted horizontally and placed on the floor. The dancers take crawl positions, resting on elbows and shins, paying minute, unison attention to the placement of their palms on their cheeks. Later there is a sudden burst into muted ecstatic dancing (the performers look as if we have caught them after hours of dancing instead of seconds). It's an ecstasy, an exhaustion and a nonchalance all in one, shaded by particular manners of smiling. The same strange balance is in their manner throughout, and it's this that is most engaging to me. There's a sense of wanting coupled with a lack of urgency. This is balanced by a quiet curiosity, especially in Spessard, who has the implacable and generous countenance of a good hostess, combined with a gentle animal-like inquisitiveness (especially while crawling up and down the corridors of tubing, never disturbing her gaze, which probes the audience without being invasive). The structure of the piece is that of a blood transfusion, made literal not only through the increasingly red set, but all in an instant when, after the ecstatic section, Spessard suddenly drops to the floor. At the end, when she is carried off on Parker's shoulder, I find myself entranced by the joints in her legs, and the positioning of her body five feet off the ground, slowly becoming distant.

"One Magnificent Gesture" is a fantastic dance, the most fully realized of the evening. Performed with dimension and nuance by Thom Fogarty, Ted Johnson, Philip Karg and Laura Staton, it is a French Revolution barnyard tale, or maybe a Dutch Master's daydream. Bawdy, serene, and silly, it still contains the same quiet, restrained manner of the first piece. Again there is a sense of time particular to Rosen and Bernstein's collaboration. This piece is painterly. Perhaps it's the canvas backdrop, or the fact that the design elements are almost entirely cream colored, or the picaresque sense of intrigue. But no far off frozen moment, this -- no crisp, suspended four o'clock. Evoked is not the painting so much as the act of painting -- the model must be sweating, a fly might be buzzing in the other corner of the room -- which gets at something very particular in Rosen and Bernstein's work. This is the extent to which a resolute casualness in manner calmly pushes the visual into the temporal. Think of Robert Wilson without crisp tableaus. "One Magnificent Gesture" offers a whole roster of delights, from the wonderful lewd dynamic between Staton and Fogarty, to an egg chute that drops from the sky. Johnson's clear enjoyment adds a curlicue flourish to the whole affair. Mieczyslaw Litwinski's nutty score, part fanfare, part whoopee cushion, part rowing-in-the-springtime (interspersed with a repeated song from Robert Schuman's Dichterliebe song cycle) keeps the pace up and the mood shifting. And then there's the swan, the jug, the broom, the hook, the eggs, the feathers, and the baskets.

The evening concluded with "Abandoning Hope," a dark, beautiful piece. Though filled with simple, powerful images -- Bomer walking on the offered hands of the four watching dancers; a sheet of rain pouring at the front of the stage into a lit reservoir; a simple sequence of Bomer and Victoria Boomsma replacing each other in a small balance, using each other as a gateway -- the piece doesn't yet possess a cohesive structural arc. I get the sense that it is too deeply personal, and somehow too fresh, to yield the perspective necessary to its completion.

It's been a while since I walked away from a performance feeling so well sated, inspired, moved, curious, and amused. The texture of the evening persists, surviving even the jarring walk through Times Square. This is good, smart, felt work that deserves to be seen.

Amy Sue Rosen/Derek Bernstein perform again tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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