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Flash Review 2, 3-23: In Gear
Chuma's Exultant Choreographic Logic

By Karinne Keithley
Copyright 2001 Karinne Keithley

I'm going to be short about this review of Yoshiko Chuma's work currently being presented by the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street (an odd haven of non-profit arts amidst the Electric Parade of commercialism that is Times Square). Principally this is because the accumulated alcoholic impact of a day of cough drops has made me droopy. But the work seen last night, especially "In Gear: Reverse Psychology, Agenda II" with the Daghdha Dance Company, doesn't inspire verbiage in me this evening. Which is to say, it was swell. And saturated so thoroughly in dense, exultant choreographic logic that it hasn't yet made it back to the linguistic part of my brain.

"In Gear," created with the Irish group, Daghdha, in combination with Chuma's U.S.-based School of Hard Knocks, is performed expertly by Olwen Grindley, Richard O'Brien, Anthony Phillips, Kasumi Takahashi and Jade Travers. Certainly the drive behind the piece is the meeting of the performers' physical prowess and inventiveness with Chuma's concept and direction. I'm rarely as impressed by astonishing technical capacity as I am by the demonstration of a multi-faceted intelligence about the body, but these five allowed me to indulge in my "wows.'" Sharply intelligent without losing any physical immediacy, their dancing exemplified the extent to which intricate, heady choreography is elevated by access to the speed, force and possibility of highly accomplished dancing (where the two approaches often divide into camps).

I'd rather send everyone who reads this review to see the piece than try to describe it (see above: cough drops), but recognizing that we're not all in New York City, I'll drop a few details. The piece features a large cube, manipulated ever more frequently throughout the dance, creating not only an inside/outside dynamic but also an architectural, illustrative perspective here and there -- changing our view of the body as the lines drawn around it shift. It's set to a sound score of found sounds from Jacob Burckhardt's travels in Ireland, of which water predominates. The work boasts a timing and manner which suggests that the group is ambivalent to the audience or the seductive aspects of performance -- not a disaffected youth ambivalence so much as a much deeper focus on the stage events. The geometric stage design (the cube, a set of hand lights on the floor, visible tape landmarks) enables the relatively abstract movement to take on a referential quality, allowing it to be an emotional reaction to space as well.

This dance takes its time, and though it's physically intense, it doesn't invite the audience in on any catharsis. I sense that this became somewhat alienating to the non-dancers around me (on one side, some guy nodding off, on the other, my friend checking his program), but I was entranced throughout.

Also on the program was "May I Have This Dance?," a piece for Chuma and the Hartt Bass Band, an ensemble of six dancing Double Bassists (and their basses). A sweet piece, though just a trinket compared to "In Gear," it basically allowed us to watch the playing of the score (by composer James Sellars) instead of just hearing it. Most fascinating was the dynamic between the six musicians, and the way that Chuma's staging amplified the tacit communication in a musical ensemble. I liked the piece when her maverick strain went arm in arm with her refined sense of design, creating images that were elegant and kooky all at once.

The show runs through Sunday, with no performance tonight.

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