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Flash Review 3, 5-15: When We Were '12'
Tanjuaquio + Chin's Simple Arithmetic

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

Art will often conjure a memory, emotional or sensual, that you didn't even know you had. I don't know about you, but a helluva lot happened to me when I was 12. I got beat up a few times by the token bullies at Corbett Community School. My hair sprang up. Sexual feeling sprang up. Political awareness sprang up. My parents broke-up. You know the deal. These memories must have been lurking, but it took "Twelve," a collaboration between choreographer Paz Tanjuaquio, performer and poet Ava Chin, and others presented at P.S. 122 over the weekend to resurrect the flesh of these memories, and that alone suggests an original idea.

Tanjuaquio's choreography is clean and elegant, and the post-mod simplicity, well-executed by the choreographer and four additional dancers (names below), was refreshing after the effects-laden (if enjoyable and often provocative) performances of the recent France Moves festival. We need these elementary reminders, sometimes, of what it's all about: dance. That's the virtue of venues like Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, for instance, which provide a home for dancemakers who have no gimmicks or large production values to offer, just movement explorations, and for audiences who crave this simplicity. It was a nice change to see P.S. 122, which is know for wilder explorations (e.g., Karen Finley, about to return with her nude-honey-swimming act), so warmly encompass (and warmly illuminate, thanks to Frank DenDanto III's lighting design) some pretty pure dance.

Now, here's where I'm not sure if it's Tanjuaquio who deploys a limited dance vocabulary or me that has a limited dance writing vocabulary. Choreographically, this was one of those performances that fell in the middle for me: Nothing to scream about, but not a lot to holler about either, except for the uniform clarity of dancers Tanjuaquio, Blossom Leilani, Mary Helene Spring, Reginald Ellis Crump, and Utafumi Takemura. In Han Feng's brown and beige-themed costumes, the way they caught the light was exquisite. Slicing of arms and swooping of bodies is the best I can do to pinpoint the movement. I can add that the changing numbers in the combinations of dancers had a certain mathematical appeal and relevance to it, especially when set against Todd Richmond's basic patterns on the screen behind the dancers, and Richmond's very spare score.

Unfortunately, I couldn't see how the choreography expressed the concepts of 12 being expressed in Chin's original poetry on the subject. Since, from the advance publicity, this show purported to do that, I think it's a fair consideration to evaluate.

Chin, however, in her movement to her own reading of the second section of "12," approached with the same simplicity, seemed to find a movement that matched her own words. In this section, the poet drew on her journals kept as a 12-year-old, and her slow swaying and swiveling of head during the following refrain, with eyes closed, invited us back to that time when she -- and we -- were twelve:

"and boys were different
and boys were different
and boys were different
and boys were different
and boys
and breasts
and hair
and bras
and make-up

and twelve and twelve and twelve and twelve."

This refrain, more specifically than the choreography elsewhere, invited us into the world of 12, the words making us realize that it was our world -- at the precise moment when that universe was changing from a child's into an adult's. (I also remember, as a budding student politician, bristling when administrators referred to us as "kids.")

So Chin's poetry was the real revelation. I guess what I'm hoping for from Paz Tanjuaquio's movement is that it will more clearly reveal those words and concepts, since this is what she appears to have set out to do. I don't question the integrity or uniqueness of that mission, I just urge her towards more innovation, more movement that less opaquely addresses her subject.

In the meantime, here's some more from Chin's "By Twelve" text, courtesy of the author:

"Twelve was the age I waited for my period the entire school year begging for it to come.

twelve was the year of the bathroom, of seeing blood in the girl's bathroom,
the first bloom of spring
a crimson peony
threatening to blossom on the toilet seat
my first schooling in what was to come.

twelve was the spring I slept fitful sleeps
flapping from my belly like a fish
cultivating a riverbed of breasts
my fertile breasts,
'yearning to be free.' "

And:

"twelve was the summer of:

Karen, the anorexic, who weighed in at 68 lbs.

Nora, the masochist, who carved a boy's name in her arm
and cried for seven days when he asked another girl out.

Angie, with the thirty-year old boyfriend who o.d.'d in his own sportscar.

Sandra who got pregnant and never returned from summer vacation.
The only honors student to drop out of the 7th grade."

And:

"We read the novel 'Forever'' a dozen times
memorized all the dirty parts
asked our teacher in sex ed, what it felt like 'to come'
wondering when it would finally happen to us,
to come.
to finally arrive."

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