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Flash Review 2, 3-29: Retro Rogers
What's Happened to the Revolution?

By Jill Emerson
Copyright 2001 Jill Emerson

I wasn't here in the '70s, and didn't get to experience the Post-modern scene crashing Martha's party. I didn't do a happening. Despite being only a toddler then and having only viewed vintage Trisha Brown and David Gordon on video, I found Wendy Rogers's program at the Joyce Soho last weekend all too familiar.

So what do I know, not having lived the revolution that uncovered dance as being as much about the process as the product? Well, if I haven't lived the revolution pilot, I've lived the spin-offs. That avant-garde mentality has been binged on endlessly since the '70s and purged into multiple forms. Rogers's form, however, remains fairly true to her beginnings. She claims her work "is rooted in the tradition of modern dance experimentation learned through study and performance." And so it is rooted in tradition. But experimentation? She even assisted in designing the new Masters of Fine Arts in Experimental Choreography program at the University of California, Riverside. Given Rogers's fabulous background, I expected to see something new.

The temptation in this kind of dancing is to believe that self-absorption is something that can carry a show. Audiences are no longer surprised when a program unabashedly says "here I am, watch me be me." (And watch me flail and improv and run across the stage mysteriously.) Having said that, I don't think Wendy Rogers is self-absorbed, though her choreography can come across that way. Sometimes it comes across as dancers loving to dance, feeling sublime as they whip a powerful leg in the air or let an inner impulse lead them to the floor. That can be captivating, but in an evening-length program, it leaves something to be desired. If the dancers could only make the audience feel how they feel -- that's why I go to see dance. To be moved. Please, a tiny nudge. Give me a little high. Please, no more expressionless exploration of movement. Let the dancing meet the underlying text.

I was fortunate to have watched the performance with a painter as the show featured an artist, Terry Rosenberg. My painter friend recognized the kind of sketching Rosenberg was doing as Wendy Rogers danced in the opening piece, called "Prelude." Playing off the movement of her body, Rosenberg let his arm move across the page, producing abstract charcoal scratchings that, when projected on the scrim with Rogers's black silhouette, were quite striking. Rosenberg called the renderings "graphic records of his responses to the human figure in motion" and "a detailed examination of the present tense." My painter friend had mixed feelings about the exercise. He said a version of it is done in every art school. As an artist allows his impulse to carry his arm across the page, he soon finds out there is a limit to what he can do. His arm only moves in so many ways. I see the similarity in dance: Perhaps exploration of movement and process as product is not enough. A so-called political language (which Rogers is known for) not supported by the dancing fails to be very effective.

The best moments were when the audience was allowed inside the dancers' souls, as when Johnny Tu sat in profile downstage, his arm reclining on his knee, head erect, keeping a vigilant watch like an Egyptian god. Or when young Natalie Good allowed her torso to ripple as an after-shock of an immense jarring movement. Is it because she is seventeen that her spirit radiated with purity and a hint of the erotic, almost Lolita-like? In contrast, Wendy Rogers has been around, and when she paused as if to decide whether to look pretty or give into her body's urge to lash out in defiance, she was proud and soulful, a grand dame of dance.

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