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Flash Review 1, 3-23: Watch and Learn
Steinberg's Dance Treasury

By Vanessa Paige-Swanson
Copyright 2001 Vanessa Paige-Swanson

"The past is not dead. It's not even past"

--James Joyce

"Actually, what I'd really like to do is direct."

--New Yorker cartoon/old joke

Because we live in America, land of the independent spirit, the generative artist reigns supreme. In NYC, you can't toss a stale pretzel without hitting a poet, playwright, or choreographer. After all, do most people really care who dances for Big Name Dance Company besides their mom and people who wouldn't date them in high school? The interpretive artist, she or he who brings the original vision to exquisite life, is sadly discounted (outside of Hollywood). Risa Steinberg, in her performance at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church (seen last night) is the consummate interpreter of the modern dance tradition, from Duncan to Morris, Humphrey to Carlson. Watch and learn.

From the roots of modern dance to the post-modern era, Steinberg is flawless, both technically and spiritually. The technique of Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) is about stripping away artifice to embody the spirit of dance. That said, Duncan's dances are stunningly difficult in their simplicity, their lines and contrast of gravity and lightness deceptively difficult to master. Steinberg effortlessly depicts the hedonistic archetype in "Bacchanale" (1907). Her movement is as spare and classical as her vine-entwined tunic; she is at once sprite and seductress with whisper-soft feet. In contrast, the rich patterns of Doris Humphrey's "Two Ecstatic Themes" (1931) emphasize the articulation of the torso. Steinberg successfully embodies the lush circles of the first Humphrey solo with the pristine angles of the second. It's as if she is constructed of coils of pliable wire. She transforms again in Wally Cardona's austere "Blood/the Last Industrial" (1995). Her wraith-like presence evokes alienation with stark shapes and simple gestures.

"Too Beautiful a Day" (premiere) by Ann Carlson uses language and gesture to create character and provoke thought. Clad in a dress made from the American flag, Steinberg intersperses her mundane observations about her day with excerpts from Sister Helen Prejean's "Dead Man Walking." Steinberg's intensity of focus and precision of movement bring the piece to a chilling climax.

Steinberg is on familiar ground with "A suite from A Choreographic Offering" by Jose Limon (1908-1972). Release technique, Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, Improv -- all are valuable yet all pale in comparison to the simple lines of Limon. She invigorates the now classical shapes with an enviable joy and restraint. She absents herself in the purity of line. Steinberg again transforms into a crucifix/dybuk in Eleanor King's "Wrath," an excerpt from "Roads to Hell" (1940-1941). Reminiscent of the work of Hanya Holm, this piece demonstrates that evil unexpectedly flowers within a strict structure, such as government or religion. Despite the containment of the movement, Steinberg's performance is organically alive and vibrant.

Anna Sokolow's "Kaddish" (1945) is a sincere expression of grief to music by Ravel. Colin Connor's "Requiem" (1954) explores the same subject. Steinberg uses her core of strength to show the impetus of sorrow; her spinning in the latter piece seems to go into infinity.

The concert closes with "Bijoux" (1983) by Mark Morris. Steinberg is cast as a coquette in a pink dress, in a lighthearted finish to the evening.

In an era of "Choreographer of the Week," Risa Steinberg is a national treasure. Playful, tragic, classical or dramatic, her generous interpretations represent the epitome of modern dance artistry.

Risa Steinberg continues at Danspace Project through Sunday, with shows tonight and Saturday at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 7:30. For more information, please visit the Danspace Project web page.

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