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Flash Review 3, 6-12: Sit Down and
Eat; No Exit
Dance and Drama at the Church
By Jenai Cutcher
Copyright 2001 Jenai Cutcher
An evening of performances at Danspace
Project at St. Mark's Church Friday turned out to be a relatively lukewarm dance
experience. In two separate programs, Daniel Safer's production of Sartre's "No
Exit" was preceded by that evening's entry in Food For Thought: six works curated
by Peggy Cheng, which offered little more to chew on than the usual ingredients
of modern dance. The evening of duets was generally comprised of safe and predictable
material in terms of concepts and choreography; disappointing as this was in that
respect, it was -- luckily -- not pervasive enough to overshadow some of its merits.
For example, that these relatively young performers are technically proficient
is a good thing.
This skill was certainly admirable
in Jennifer Chin's "The Simple Story." Displaying impressive strength and extension,
Chin danced with a rope tied around her left ankle that stretched the diagonal
length of the space to the accompanying pianist (Arthur Solari) upstage left.
The string of stuff -- or set, as it is referred to in the program -- was made
by Colleen Kong. Although initially interesting to look at, its purpose never
became clear, nor its presence fully acknowledged choreographically. As it laid,
it served primarily to map out Chin's direction of travel before it happened and
she indeed delivered, with some developes and Graham gestures along the way.
Comparatively, in "Queen," Erin Reck's
most striking image was the dance's first, which was predictably cited again at
the duet's close. A female dancer in a long red gown stood on a white pedestal
in the center of the space and immediately evoked thoughts of Napoleon's Josephine
-- a queen of sorts, I suppose. Sharp arm gestures suggested giving orders, placing
a crown on her head, and other queen-like functions. Perhaps it was the pedestal
and eventual entrance of a second dancer, playing the part of an ethereal guiding
figure for the first, that made me feel I was privy to the world of a museum after
its doors closed for the night. Queen was performed by Reck and Amelia Derezinski.
The last two pieces were both choreographed
by Maura Nguyen Donohue. "Brother" opened with Brian Nishii walking the same diagonal
Chin established at the beginning of the evening. He played the flute as he walked,
stopping both activities as he reached Nguyen Donohue sitting in the corner. The
two dancers then engaged in a series of partnering phrases, some impressive for
the strength they required and ease in which they were performed, others nothing
more than typical lifts seen in many dance pieces.
Partnering differed in style in "Both,"
a work in progress performed in two segments, first by Nancy Ellis and Nicole
Marshall, then by Nguyen Donohue and Nishii, clearly the stronger two performers
of the four. The choreography, influenced by martial arts, was the least codified
movement of the concert and when "Both" ceases to be a work in progress, could
be even more interesting to watch. As it was performed Friday night, however,
moments of contact -- especially bigger and riskier lifts -- were met with flashes
of hesitation that, albeit slight, managed to give the movement away milliseconds
before it happened. Anticipation did this, too, as Nishii's head would invariably
duck even before Nguyen Donohue lifted her leg to kick over it. Still, their attentiveness
and focus were refreshing following many instances of the familiar glazed-over
expressions on other dancers throughout the program.
.... Despite being produced by Danspace
Project and being "directed and choreographed" by Daniel Safer, the late Friday
night production of Jean Paul Sartre's "No Exit" featured no movement outside
the realm of typical stage blocking. Nevertheless, it was a well-crafted theatrical
For Safer and designer Ruth Pongstaphone,
Sartre's existential world of hell existed as a tiny, white Styrofoam layer of
floor in the middle of the space, the surrounding audience acting as a barrier
through which there was no exit. Stark white lights shining down at each corner
conveyed the isolation of the characters while also reminding the audience members
of each others' constant presence. (The glue holding these lights to their plastic
posts melted early on in the performance, causing each to fall, one by one, at
the joints. Although unintentional, this random punctuation of lines and even
the absolute interruption of the production to clean it up was regarded as a welcome
coincidence and perfect illustration of chance in a live theatre experience.)
The cast (Laura Avery, Aubrey Chamberlin,
Heaven Phillips, and Fred Tietz) offered intelligent and complex performances
of intelligent and complex characters. As Inez Serrano, Estelle Rigault, and Joseph
Garcin find themselves locked in the same room for eternity, their dialogue revolves
around concepts of life, afterlife, self-destruction, and the tortured nature
of interpersonal relations. The confident development of such characters and concepts,
especially in such close quarters, was admirable. Deliberately or not, Safer managed
to torture his audience -- at least this member of it -- with expectations of
dance. As the play progressed, I became more and more anxious to see how movement
would be incorporated into it. Waiting for it and eventually attempting to predict
it for the majority of the performance proved futile and, in the end, a major
distraction. Had that anticipation not been there, I would have been free to receive
the production for what it was. But, exactly like those subtle forms of torture
that plagued each character, this agitation lingered in me, just underneath the
surface. Sartre, I think, would have been proud.
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