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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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