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The Kitchen

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Flash Review Journal, 5-18: Dreaming
Both Graney and Mei Leave Imprints

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

I don't need to sleep for a few days. I've been in the dreaming for the past two nights thanks to the vivid, though distinctly different, imaginations of Pat Graney and Yin Mei. Both Graney's "Tattoo," at the Kitchen through Saturday night, and Mei's "Asunder," at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church through Sunday night, are rich in striking surreal imagery. But where Yin resolves her struggle with light and water, Graney pulls us deeper into the darkness.

My first year and a half out of college was spent in Seattle, home to the Pat Graney Company. I made the move solely based on the briefest of conversations with Mt. Holyoke teacher Jim Coleman, in the spring of my senior year at Smith. It was a very supportive place to begin a choreographic career after college. There was more time, more space, green trees, Mt. Rainier and many bodies of water. But in the end, I found, or actually it was pointed out to me, that I was too much of an opinionated Yank for the oh-so-supportive Pacific Northwest arts community. But seeing Graney's company again after several years reminded me that Seattle still offers a viable alternative for artists. Note to self (and editor): Should send a dispatch on the scene when I'm out there for a few days this June.

The realm of "Tattoo" is the dreaming, a place of heightened but unfettered though patterns. Images, thoughts, and moments emblazon themselves into your consciousness like a tattoo. These imprints, however, are probably akin to one carved into your back. Once the scab heals, your memory of it recedes. It's a design imprinted into your skin and thereby forever informing yourself‰ but one that you can only view on reflection.

Some of the tattoos are literal, too; the program lists tattoo designer George Long as a collaborator. Loved that. I never thought to collaborate with my tattoo artist beyond what was/will be going on my own back. But I've used body markings in a few works of my own and had just spent the afternoon discussing with Peggy Cheng, company member and my date for the evening, how we might further use body painting in our next work. So I was delighted to see Long's involved designs for each dancer. The opening image of two naked-but-for-their-tattoos women is mysterious and beautiful. When we see three women with their marked legs and backs beneath sheer white Sunday school dresses, I can envision early missionaries burning crosses into the minds of various Polynesian peoples, christianizing Maori warriors.

Amy Denio's score is exquisitely evocative. It transforms the dark Kitchen theater into a dreamy otherworld. Like the entire work, her music alternates between explicitly announcing itself and slowly seeping into your consciousness until it settles just below the surface of your memory. Composer Ellen Fullman is credited with supplying "additional music," but her rigged electronic skirts provide a highly amusing diversion. The skirts, strung with wires attached to platform combat boots, are amplified so that each step produces a pronounced "BOING." The dancers essentially "play" themselves with each movement. The flare of the skirts allows the smallest shift of the hip to evoke Marilyn Monroe-esque femme while the playful strumming that accompanies each step allows us to witness a springtime promenade for Martians.

The dances don't hit me in that visceral twitchy way I get when I'm watching movement I want to do, though it often bursts into what looks like refreshingly un-New York, possessed folk dances. The dancing from the company, consisting of the very engaging Alison Cockrill and Saiko Kobayashi, as well as Sandra Fann, Amy O'Neal and Kim Root, is good but the strength of the work is in its fleeting images. We see faces bleeding in and out of sharp streams of light, Kobayashi and Cockrill shift their faces from sly smile to happy girls into the most horrific distortions from your worst childhood nightmares. I may not be twitching to dance but I slowly zone in on some sensual observations. I begin to feel a powerful undertow inviting me in.

The final dance, performed amidst a breathtaking rain of fine sand, reminds me of the calling card of Morpheus. The softly falling sand slowly lulls the thrashing dancers into repose until in the final moments I catch a momentary glimpse of our host -- Dream, Death's younger brother.

. . . Yin Mei (seen last night), like Graney, picks her collaborators well. Artist Cai Guo-Qiang is responsible for some of the fanciful visual environment that the audience encounters immediately upon entering the Sanctuary, and I mean that in more way than one, at Danspace Project's St. Mark's Church. A large clear blow up tub sits in front of downstage center filled with water and brilliant Coi fish, which were incidentally the inspiration for a tattoo design my sister created for herself. As the dance begins, with a captivating image of a pink fan headed woman, Robert Een -- voice and cello -- leads his ensemble of musicians Toby Newman (voice), Jeff Berman (vibraphone, dulcimer, and percussion), Bill Ruyle (hammer dulcimer and percussion) into a rousing piece.

Both of these choreographers are working with Bessie Award-winning composers and I have to say it's been a treat. But, I must say, Mei wins. She had her music live and resonating. There were more than a few moments where I wanted to just close my eyes and listen. But in fairness to Mei I couldn't. There was usually something too good to miss on the stage.

Mei is a stunning presence herself, bringing her classical Chinese dance training and aesthetic into a blend with her adopted Downtown sensibilities with refined grace. Even with the struggles of the women, Yin and the always riveting Jeanine Durning, this work feels more like when you wake up to find you've already started making love in your sleep. We watch several times while Yin and Durning both churn through solos filled with movement that translates an agony that is repeatedly saved with an embrace.

Yin Mei is the Gong Li of the modern dance world. In her moments of sensual agony and in repose, she could be the heroine of almost every Zhang Yimou film I've ever seen. A solo moment shows her brimming with the kind of sexual energy that always seems barely contained below the surface in so many Chinese movies. And trust me -- me, my Vietnamese momma and all my ABC (American Born Chinese) friends love our Chinese movies.

Durning and musician-turned-dancer Will Orzo share a couple delightful and exquisite moments together. Their first duet has Durning wrapping her able bodied self all over Orzo's. A shining example of what a strong base, and a strong, willful and, of course, always flexible woman can achieve together. Later after a twisting, arching duet for Durning and a very sexy French horn, Orzo embraces her and plays the horn while she continues to clasp it to her bare breasts. In an incredibly erotic and unsettling moment, he is essentially playing her.

Miroto, Yin's male counterpart in the work, is one of Indonesia's leading choreographers and dancers. I struggled most with his presence in the work. He is fascinating to watch, especially when finally left alone on stage. In a duet with Mei he does not oppose nor compliment her enough. When Mei and Durning duet, they manage to share similar movement but distinctive individual styles. The two women work well together in movement.

There are more wonderful visual images in the work, including a raucous attack of arrows and then the grace of it's aftermath but you real ought to see it. And hear it. This is a soundtrack I'd buy.

 

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